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The Steadfast Sky

by TheGreyPotter


Chapters


I : Celestia

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 1

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Celestia~

I had an old storybook once. Every page had a picture, some bigger, some smaller. Each was one painted onto the paper, with details illuminated in gold and silver leaf. Endless bright fields of flowers and grass. Day with a golden sun and night that glittered with innumerable stars. Regal ponies of a thousand colors, playing in the light. Happy, no, overjoyed.

I wish I still had that book to show Luna, I don’t know what happened to it. All she’s ever known, all I’ve ever known, is endless rows of worn stone. Walls and towers rise high, too high, vanishing into the cloud cover, gripping onto the sky with its black fingers. There are too many shadows in this city. They’re born from the height of the towers, raised by the constant gray sky, obscuring the streets even at noon. At night, darkness itself rises up from the ground and eats bad little ponies who dare go out. And don’t tell me I’m too old to believe in those silly stories. I’ve seen them. Big black snakes, five times as long as a pony, head big enough to bite you right in half. You can’t look at them too long, they can sense your eyes, the lights in your soul. It offends them.

There’s no such thing as fields and flowers here. I’ve never seen a garden, never seen grass or even a single weed. I wonder sometimes, does she even know where hay and apples come from? Do I?

I hate this place, this city of cold rock. I hate Canterbury. I hate Equestria. I’d leave, take Luna with me, but I’m afraid. I like to think that the fields and flowers lie beyond the walls, but what if they don’t? What if I crossed the last boundary, the retaining wall that holds the city, and find nothing beyond but an expanse of the same black cobblestone?

~¤~

It’s difficult to tell in this city when dim turns to actual dark, but I’ve got quite a knack for it. Ponies tell me sometimes, ‘Celestia, if there was a cutie mark for being able to tell the time, you’d have it.’ I know, they’re trying to make me feel better, but it always feels like a backhand insult to me. I’m a year from being a full-grown mare, and I’m still sporting a blank flank. I don’t need ponies giving me vague sympathy about a problem they barely understand.

Usually it’s no trouble going about my business, getting home on time. Mornings, I help Hot Cross at the bakery. I collect that day’s bits at noon, pick up enough hay for dinner, and maybe squeeze in a little time chatting with the market ponies. Flutter your eyelashes enough and people give you all kinds of things. Apples, carrots, a couple more bits for hay… Oh horsefeathers, I hope I don’t get a cutie mark in begging. That would be completely unbecoming of a young baroness.

Well, today it went on a bit long. An older mare, Apple-a-Day, won’t stop talking sometimes. And a lot of the time, I don’t like to stop listening. She knows about special things, farms and trees, birds and bunnies. Today she was telling me about the Sun and Moon, and the changing of seasons. Too often I think Apple-a-Day is full of herself, but she can spin quite the fascinating tales. I’m not the only pony who stops to listen, but I am certainly the oldest who lies by her small apple cart.

So before I knew it, day had nearly ended.

“Oh my, the Witching Hours are almost here…” Apple-a-Day says, craning her head slowly up at the vacant sky. “I best be closing shop…”

“Do you need help with that, Apple?” I reply, rising from my position on the cold flagstones. I stumble a bit, try to balance. My legs were asleep. How long was I here for?

“No, no, best to hurry home dearest.” She nudged her cart with her nose, trying to open a shutter. “I hope you live nearby…”

“Sort of. Just Endwreck Street.”

“Endwreck? That’s a bit far… do you want to risk such a trip, child?”

“Don’t worry, if I canter fast enough, I’ll make it.” I levitated my brown paper bag, tonight’s dinner. Hay again. One of these days, I need to learn how to cook something nicer. Or learn how to afford baking ingredients.

“Then go, go! Don’t let me hold you up any longer!” She shooed me away and I trotted off, still a little unsteady. My bag hovered behind me, glowing yellow. It only took one look at the sky before I picked up the pace, numb legs be darned. Oh, how did I let this go so late?

My hooves clattered noisily on the cobblestones. Only a few others ambled by me as night began to fall. At first they nodded kindly, but that stopped soon enough as they began trotting. Cantering. It wasn’t long until the only ponies I met were in a full gallop, in a panic that caused them to slip across the smooth cobblestone, braying and whinnying.

There was a bit more time left, just a few more streets, I could make it. My eyes were telling the time, and it certainly wasn’t past twilight yet. I could still see my hooves in front of me and the shape of the buildings around me. Nothing to worry about. Nothing. The shadows were just an old tale and, oh apples what am I saying?

A pony screamed to my right. I leapt into a gallop.

Magic fizzled with my jolt forward. My bag dropped behind me. I tried to stop, skidded sideways instead. Dropped down to my flank, bruised it, and stumbled back up. My bag was a half block away, hay scattered around it.

Face darkness or go hungry. Risk unknown, or go hungry. Horsefeathers! I charged back down the street, magic blasting hay and dirt and whatever else back inside. Bag, mouth, no more screwups, home! Just two more streets to safety! Just two!

Down one street, one down. I whipped around the corner, spun around, stumbled back where I came, hooves clattering. Too loud, too loud! Whatever I had seen, it had certainly heard me. A little wormy thing, I caught a glimpse of a tail flit before it vanished. Not a pony, I didn’t hear anypony else anymore. I don’t know where the thing went, it was too dark to tell now. How did I let it get this dark, how? Sitting still wasn’t going to help me, whatever these shadows were, cover of darkness sure didn’t stop them.

I leapt around the corner and charged down the street. Through the gate, across the courtyard, up the steps, all the way to my door, unharmed. Magic open, magic in, magic slam shut and bar it for the night.

Safe!

I spat out the paper bag and dropped to the ground, catching my breath. I’m no sprinter, no master of sport. It must have been nothing out there, there was no way to outrun those shadows once they appeared.

I took a few minutes to myself, then stood. Goodness, how completely unbecoming of me. What would Luna think if she saw me in such a state? I corrected my gait immediately.

The foyer was dim, lit by a single lantern hanging by the door. I lifted the light towards me, carrying it as I circled the room, lighting candles with my horn. I wondered if Luna was napping, or just ignoring her chores. I told her, as it gets dark, light the lamps and candles. Sometimes she complains she wasn’t as good at magic as me, but really, I think she’s just being lazy.

Luna and I were both technically baronesses, but nobody really paid much attention to titles anymore. The only title that mattered was the grand ruler’s… But in any case, Luna and I had a decently sized home to ourselves. It was made out of that same stone one sees everywhere in Canterbury, but the inside walls were thankfully coated in smooth white plaster, the floors made of varnished wood. Decorations were Spartan, of course, no symbol beside the Shadow Stallion’s were allowed. I felt it better to be without decorations at all. I had seen enough of the alicorn imposed on a black star to last me a lifetime. I had taken all the banners in our home down when our parents left and discreetly disposed of them with my magic. When and if they returned, I’m sure they would barely be able to see the burn marks.

Technically the home had two floors, but there was almost no point in going upstairs anymore. Luna used her old room as a playpen, but with just the two of us and no servants, all the empty rooms on the second floor began to take on a dark basement kind of feel. My sister and I spooked each other by swearing there were ghosts up there. Instead of sleeping separately in this empty house, we made the bottom floor our home. We bedded in the drawing room, didn’t even bother to put the blankets and pillows away. Each night was a slumber party.

So, when I had lit the foyer to my satisfaction, I carefully edged into our bedroom drawing room, nudging the heavy wooden door open with my hoof. I magically dimmed the lamp and nudged my nose in the door crack.

“Luna? I’m home,” I whisper. No reply. I push the lantern in front of me, brightening the drawing room. The dim light illuminated just enough to make the shadows have their own form, only moving in the flicker of the candlelight. I’ve had too many shadows today, I am not messing with this. I let the lantern glow to its full potential. The room looked like it usually did. Furniture shoved to the back. Blankets and pillows took up the most space, forming irregular, flat lumps. Not here.

“Luna, where on earth have you gotten to?” I huff. I heard laughter, muffled, but not in this room. Upstairs. “Of course…” I didn’t bother lighting any candles in the bedroom, instead I headed upstairs, to the far end of the single dark hall. I held my ear close to the door, making sure Luna was in there. Nothing.

It wasn’t surprising. I smiled and backed up.

First there was darkness...

Then there was me!

I shoved open the door and blasted the lamplight into the empty ghost room, shouting, “Give me back my sisters, dark evil upstairs ghosts!”

Atop Luna’s old pallet bed sat a tent fort. Her toys and dolls were scattered around the room, untended. There was no Luna.

“Horsefeathers. I guess she’s not in here… No point in hanging around a creepy ghost filled room…” I crept closer and closer to the tent, swinging the lantern in front of me, “I guess I’ll just be leaving now…” a scratching sound came from behind me. I knew what to do.

“AHA!” I spun around and sent a surge of light behind me, expecting to reveal my sister, trying to sneak up on me.

What I revealed was something monstrous.

It looked like a lizard with a pony’s face, the same size as Luna, hugging the far wall, frozen midstride as light washed over it. I shrieked, it recoiled. My spell faded quickly, too quickly, plunging the room back into its cloak. I heard its claws scrabbling and scratching on the walls, out the door.

“Oh no you don’t!” In two beats I was at the top of the stairs, grabbing magically at the escaping beast’s tail. It squeaked and scratched at the floors, uselessly, as I hefted it aloft.

“What have you done with my sister?!” I screamed.


II : Discord

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 2

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Discord~

At last, night finally fell over Canterbury’s face. And the only way I could tell was through Ruin. After sitting in the dark tunnel for almost an hour, he abruptly slithered out of the castle, through one of the many little exits hidden at the foundation. Everywhere around me, cobblestone and brick, smooth and worn down by who knows how long. It’s exactly the same thing in the castle. Predictable. Boring. I don’t feel any more free out here than I do in that dark fortress.

Ruin arched his long back and yawed, snapping his sharp jaws at the sky. I tried to hold on, gripping his uneven horns tightly as he shook out his sleep. Unfortunately, this alerted Ruin to my plan far quicker than I wanted.

“Let go, little one. Walk beside me,” he grumbled, lowering his head to the flagstones. I stayed put, steeling myself atop his head. Heck if he was going to tell me what to do.

“You walk so fast, Ruin, you’d just leave me behind,” I informed him.

“Then run to keep up. I am not your riding horse.”

“Father said we should stick together, and this is the only way we can.”

“He said no such thing.”

“Yes he did, when I said I wanted to come along.”

“He would not be so kind to one as insignificant as you.”

“He’s trying something out, you know.” It came to me then, the perfect cover story. My specialty! “He’s seeing if he can send the young Draconequus out sooner if he teams them up. More eyes on the street is better for everyone, you know.”

“I’ve heard nothing of the sort.”

Dang. He wasn’t buying it. Gotta keep trying. “Oh, you don’t know? I’m so sorry to hear that, but the Shadow Stallion told me to find a bigger patrol Draconequus to protect me while I-“

A claw jammed itself under my body and pried me off, slamming me rudely on the ground. I felt all my innards wrench together in strange ways, pushing all the air from my body. I wheezed a little.

“Stop your tongue, Discord. Do not throw your Father’s name around with no weight or bearing. We depart. You walk.” He raised his claw and began striding forward, the same pace that he always went.

Gotta love my brothers, we have such interesting and one sided arguments. Don’t like reasonable demands? Eat the weakling. Not like Ruin would but... I wonder how anybody around here actually manages to grow up. I begrudgingly ran after Ruin, what else was there to do? Sit around the castle as the Elders silently loathed me for not being old enough to go out on patrol? For leeching off their food and returning nothing?

I guess what I’m trying to say is, life kind of sucks right now. It’s boring, predictable, and nobody appreciates my existence, let alone anything I do. I need to grow up or just get the heck out of here. But right at this moment, I need some air. I need to follow Ruin around and pretend he was still cool.

At my age, I was only a few feet long, but Ruin was huge, easily five times my length. Some of the oldest elders were trapped in the deepest part of the castle, easily twenty times my size. Maybe more. Well, never mind them, right now Ruin made it difficult to run along beside him, what with his massively long legs. How I wish my wings were grown in enough to glide above him. Maybe then I could keep up. No way he could fly up and lose me either, his bat wing was torn off in a fight a long time ago. Father didn’t see a need to gift it back to him. Who’s the inferior one here, Ruin?

The big guy stopped, tensed up, finally allowing me to catch up. I tried to get my breath back, tried to see what he saw. It wasn’t that hard. A blue pony, clearly panicked, galloped not a block in front of us. The creature couldn’t see in the dark at all, but to us, the pony was as clear as it would be in day.

Ruin flowed forward, following the Pony around the corner. I heaved a sigh as I tried to keep up, but by the time I got there, it was already done. Ruin’s shadow flowed around the pony, surrounding it completely, coating it. A moment later, the creature was gone.

I hurried forward as Ruin straightened himself.

“Why do we send the ponies on the streets back to the castle, anyway?” Ruin raised a bushy eyebrow at me. “No, I mean, I know why we send them to the castle, but why only limit ourselves to the streets? These houses must be full of ponies, why don’t we bust down a door and take them too?”

“It is not your place to question Father.” And that was apparently that. He stalked off.

“I’m just wondering!”

“It is not your place to wonder either. We execute his will, and his will states that at night, we take the ponies off the streets. That is all.” He continued to stride forward. I stayed where I was, and pantomimed exactly what I felt about him behind his back. To think, Ruin is one of the more likeable to the Draconequus… Yeah, that stick-in-the-mud. Likable.

Another loud whinny and Ruin took off. I didn’t bother to follow behind.

Maybe coming out here was a phenomenally terrible idea.

I turned down another street, wondering if I should go home or actually try and catch one of the candy coated creatures. I wasn’t especially skilled at shadow magic, but my illusions were something to brag about. I could trick a pony into running all the way to the castle, maybe disguise myself as an ally to drive it on. My proportions would be funny, but in the dark, what would the pony be able to tell? Sounded like a plan, I decided to test it out.

First things first. Find a pony.

The sound of hoofbeats immediately followed this mental declaration. A bit too soon after, honestly. I stumbled in confused circles before diving into an alleyway. Did it see me? What was I thinking, of course it didn’t! I poked my head out of my hiding place. The hoofbeats had stopped dead, but I didn’t see a pony anywhere. Did someone else get it? Should I start building an illusion anyway? What illusion? A dead end, my own disguise? As I mused, the startled pony shot by me, rushing to the end of the street. I leapt out into the street just as it dove into a house, slamming a door after it.

“Yeesh, those ponies are fast,” I said to myself.

Wait, there’s a problem here.

 That pony was on the streets… but now it was in a house? Should I fetch it because of where it used to be, or leave it because of where it was now? I had no idea. And nobody to ask.

Eh, the no house rule was stupid anyway. Breaking in and taking a pony? Exciting! Those stupid elders wouldn’t know what hit em! A Draconequus smaller than a normal pony, capturing one only using only his own wit and charm? That was something to dream about!

No, screw dreaming, I was going to try it!

I strolled up to the house, watching as it slowly began lighting up, despite thick curtains. Was that pony the first to get home? Or maybe it was the only one living there. Perfect! I could manage to trick one pony much easier than attempting to trick a family. How big were their family units anyway? I’m sure the Shadow Stallion didn’t make all the ponies, but then, what did make the ponies? Did they have their own Father, or fathers? How many ponies did said father make each year?

I guess I don’t know much about ponies. But that didn’t matter at all.

I found a window, away from the lights, up on the second floor. It was difficult to shove open, but I did my best, which wasn’t very good at all. I forced myself to squeeze through the stubborn crack of a window and dropped to the ground on the other side. Being a graceful Draconequus, I landed hard on my left shoulder.

“Who’s there?”

This was going just perfectly.

A dim blue glow lit the room briefly, illuminating a pony, the smallest pony I had ever seen. I mean, it was shorter than me, and that’s saying something. It was hard to tell what color it was in the brief flash of light, but my best guess would be blue, like the glow.

No time for an illusion. I sprung away, ducking into an open chest full of nothing but air. I doubted it could see me, most ponies couldn’t. So of course comedy demanded the little pony’s head poked over the lip of the box and stared at me.

“Um, hi there?” it said, “What’re you doing in my toybox?”

“Uh…” I blinked up at it. “Hiding?”

“What, from me?”

“I guess so?”

“Well I’m not going to hurt you. Are you afraid of me?”

“Of course not?” Isn’t that a question I should be asking her? I wondered if the pony really could see me. I must look crazy to her, with my mismatched limbs and snakelike body. Even in a silhouette, I’m sure I looked nothing like a pony. But she smiled up at me, completely ignorant of my appearance.

“Then why are you still in there? Come on out!” The pony’s head disappeared and I rose up after it, peering out, getting a better look of the room I was in. It was small, with white plaster walls and stuffed toys scattered all around. In the center of the room was a straw pallet with a sheet tent built on top of it. This is where the pony walked, hopping up on the bed and turning to look at me, smiling a greeting.

In the streets, every experience I had with ponies held that they were running, panicked, whinnying and nearly wordless. But she, I thought of her as a she, was calm. Her gait was graceful. I didn’t think anything could walk as gracefully as her. My paw, talon, other mismatched bodyparts didn’t exactly function smoothly. When I walked they all slapped and scratched at the ground, serviceable, but awkward. Each one of her steps made the same sound, and their beat made something of a calming tune.

I won’t say it left a good impression, and that I wasn’t still planning on trapping her but… That would just be so normal, so boring, what everyone else would do. Go out at night, trap the lawbreakers, go home. Day after day, so on, so forth, never really get to know them. Understandably, but, it made it interesting to just watch this pony. This was something new, something different. Something that didn’t involve suffering and screams.

It was peaceful. I’m not sure I can remember a time when I could call a moment that. I especially couldn’t remember a time when I thought that was a good thing.

“My name’s Luna,” she said from her tented pallet “What’s your name?”

“Discord,” I replied automatically. I saw no reason to lie.

“Huh, really? That’s a weird name.”

Weird name? That’s all that’s weird? “It’s a family name.”

She nodded happily, “That makes sense. It’s how me and Celestia were named.”

“Celestia?”

“She’s my sister! The nicest most awesome sister in the world!”

“That’s descriptive.”

“Pfft, yeah, I know it isn’t, but do you get a better description from white with a pink mane?”

“I guess that’s a good point.”

She giggled. “Anyway, what are you still doing in that box? Ooh, you wanna play a game? Celestia’s not home yet, and I’ve been kind’ve bored. I’ve been playing princess!” Luna stood up, nearly disturbing her pallet tent. She held her head high, and a strange angle, and her horn began to glow blue. Magically, she dropped a crumpled paper crown on her head. “Hear ye, hear ye! I am Princess Luna, The Ruler of Stuffyland!” She waved a hoof at her surrounding toys. “I decree that Discord is, uh, hey Discord, what do you want to be? Prince? Rival prince? Evil Dragon? You could be an evil dragon pretty good, with that snakey body, but it’d be pretty cool to fight another prince. Ooh, but I’m going to need to make a crown. Where were my crayons…?”

I snorted laughter through my paw, tumbling backwards into the toybox once more. “Stuffyland!” I snickered, “And that crown!”

“What, you don’t like my crown?” Her head poked over the lip of the box.

“No way, I love it! This is great! And you really want me to play?”

“Sure! I havnt had friends over in ages, and you don’t seem that bad of a guy, despite your wierdness.”

“That’s not a word!”

“What are you, my sister?”

“No, no, it’s a good thing! Also.” I stood up on my hind legs, mimicking her regal pose. I spun a small illusion, making a crown appear on my head, “As Prince of Boxburgh, I do decree you are invading my territory!”

Luna giggled. “No I’m not!” She scurried backwards to her bed.

Any thought that I’d bring this little pony back to the castle had been long banished. Why would I? Luna was fun, relaxed. New and interesting. I wondered if all ponies were like that.

I heard hoofbeats outside the door. Luna apparently did to, and urged me to hide, giggling. I dove behind the box, thinking I had stayed in the container far too long. I guess I’d find out my answer sooner than expected.


III : Luna

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 3

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Luna~

I think for a second there everyone went just a little bit crazy. And by everyone, I mean my sister. This was a moment of hypocrisy for Celestia. She was the one who told me not to judge weird looking ponies by their appearance, and now she was treating poor Discord like the bad guy here.

You know, I’m going to tell her that.

“What have you done with my sister?!” Celestia yelled, magically holding Discord aloft, over the loft’s railing.

“What do you mean, what have I done?” Discord piped up in his funny voice. I guess it’s not funny right now, though, being scared and stuff.

“Celestia, I’m right here.” I stride toward her, using the walk she taught me to show I was serious. “And you’re hurting my friend.”

“Luna, dearest.” Celestia looked down at me, wearing her most serious and dire face. She pulled Discord to us magically, not paying attention to him. He would have bonked his head on the railing if he didn’t see it coming and duck. Upwards. “Do you even know what this is?”

“He’s not a ‘this,’ he’s Discord.”

Discord waved. I think he was nervous, which makes sense. Being manhandled can’t be the most fun thing ever. Celestia gave him a sideways glance.

“Do you even know what Discord is, Luna?”

“A Pony?”

“No. He’s not a pony,” Celestia said.

“Really? Huh.”

“Actually, I’m a Draconequus,” Discord clarified, “But that’s like a pony. I think.” Celestia just looked at Discord silently. “I guess I don’t really know.” More silent treatment. She does that sometimes. It makes her look so cool and imposing, but really, she’s just thinking too hard. “Can you put me down now, please? Celestia, right?”

“I don’t trust you,” my sister replied, “I don’t know what you are or what you’re doing here. What if you tried to hurt us?”

“Oh, that’s easy!” I pipe in, “If he was going to hurt us, he could’ve done that ages ago! We were playing Princess when you came in. Well, Prince and Princess.” Now I was getting my sister’s cold stare. But I knew how to deal with it. “So, Discord fell out of my window and hid in my toybox—“

“Luna, dearest,” my sister sighed, “You need to learn how to be more distrustful of strange things like this.”

“And you need to be more trustful of them,” I retorted, “This entire time Discord has been hanging upside down and not trying to escape or hurt you or anything, even though being upside down must make all the blood go all funny in his head.” Discord looked confused for a second, then tried to appear dramatic, flailing his arm across his face in pretend woe. “When he dropped out of my window, he was scared and confused, and probably had the ability to hurt me a lot with those pointy claws. Or just escape through the window again. But instead he played Princess with me.” I nodded like I had won, but with my sister, there is no such thing. She sighed. ‘It’s been a long day,’ she would usually say.

“Playing Princess is not the ultimate answer of whether or not someone can be trusted, Luna.” I opened my mouth to try again, but whinier, but instead she set Discord down on his four feet. He didn’t run away, though the way he was looking around I think he wanted to. “Discord. I am sorry for treating you like I did. May you please tell me why you decided to sneak into our house and play games with my sister?”

“Well, I wasn’t going to play games at first. Like Luna said, I was so scared!” he bobbed his head dramatically again, yellow eyes jokingly huge, “Out there, it’s so scary! All the big shadows making ponies just vanish, I panicked, had to get inside somewhere, where I knew they couldn’t find me. I don’t want to go out there again!”

“Of course…” Celestia turned and began walking downstairs. “Discord, you may spend the night here, but when it becomes day, you need to get home, alright?” She stopped, “Oh, would you like to join us for dinner?”

“Sure!”

I nudged him with my nose, and he gave me back a blank stare “You’re supposed to say ‘thank you!’”

“Oh, right! Thank you, um, Dearest Celestia!” He stood on his hind legs and did a bow with a flourish of his hands. My sister nodded, though I don’t think she was paying attention. She walked downstairs, leaving me and Discord behind.

“This is going to be so cool!” I shout, “We’re going to have a slumber party! I haven’t had one of those in, I dunno, a long time.”

“Slumber party? A party where you sleep?” He adopted a thinking pose, eyeing the ceiling. “Well, never done that before. Sounds fun!”

I whinnied excitedly. I guess I wasn’t that excited. But after so many weeks of just playing with Celestia, mildest and most controlling of all the pony baronesses, something weird like this was great! Discord just looked at me with a sideways head, like a puppy. What was there to be a puppy about?

“No shouting in the house, Luna!” Celestia shouted from downstairs. “Now do you two want to eat or not?”

Discord seemed excited about dinner until he saw what we were eating. When we all got settled on the foyer floor, Celestia offered him hay. He said he ate earlier, though it was pretty clear that he didn’t. I didn’t blame him, hay was pretty boring, if filling. Celestia offered to sugar my hay with oats, like usual, but I offered them to Discord instead. He seemed pretty grateful.

“Luna, you need to chew more. You don’t want to get sick, do you?”

“Farry,” I said through a mouthful of hay being chewed super slowly.

“So Discord,” Celestia began, “I’ve never seen a Draconequus before. Are you from around here?”

Discord immediately shoved a handful of oats in his mouth, “Thath m… h’ng ‘n.” He took a few minutes to chew on those oats before gasping for breath and declaring “Underground!”

“Underground?”

“Yeah, underneath the city. Tons of tunnels and stuff, it’s pretty dreary. I thought, if I came to the surface, maybe things wouldn’t be so depressing. But its… well… I have a question. Do you ponies like all this stone everywhere?”

“No. It’s absolutely awful,” my sister replied instantly. She loved talking about how bad it was here.

“Good, because I think it’s just as dreary as the Underground.” Discord continued, “Dark. Rocks. The same deal. I mean, why live here, like this?”

“I don’t know, I can’t read the Shadow Stallion’s mind.”

“The Shadow Stallion?!” Discord drew back, crossing his arms across his body, dramatically aghast. I laughed through my mouthful of hay. “You mean that he’s here too? Oh, he’s been, been oppressing the Draconequus for so many years! Practically making us into underground slaves!”

“Of course he’s here. Didn’t you notice all of his banners around town?”

“Different colors, in the underground. Since it’s so dark all the time.”

“I suppose that makes sense.”

Discord held a sort of normal adult conversation with my sister. She spoke with him as if he was an equal, not downtalk like she usually does with me. With only a little more conversation, Discord and my sister instantly bonded over how much they hated it in Canterbury. I’ve heard ‘Canterbury is dark and dreary’ enough times from my sister to get sick of it, but Discord kept bringing up something different. He called the city boring, and I felt that was right. But he also talked about the Shadow Stallion. Celestia always avoids talking about him. It was kind’ve weird to hear Discord tell stories about him.

After dinner, the night went by really fast. Maybe too fast. Discord and I played pretend until Celestia came upstairs to put us to bed. I wasn’t sleepy, but as a good sister, I let myself be tucked in. It had been months since I was allowed to sleep in my own bed. Celestia’s been needing me near her at night. She wasn’t sleeping right when she was in her own room. Discord settled into my toybox, and things were quiet for a very small time.

“Luna,” Discord spoke up, “You’re pretty cool. And your sister too, once she stops flipping out.”

“Thanks!”

“Are all ponies this nice?”

“I dunno. My sister says there’s lots of mean ponies and I should be careful around ones I don’t know. But all the ponies I’ve met have been really nice. Except maybe Emerald Shine, she’s a jerkface.”

“What kind of stuff do you do?”

“Whatcha mean by that?”

“Y’know… stuff. What do you do all day, if you sleep at night?”

“Well, I go to school where I learn how to be ‘a proper baroness’ like my sister wants. Basically I learn how to walk nice and levitate stuff all dainty like. My sister works at a bakery, and sometimes, she brings home sweets and stuff. Like cupcakes and tarts and rollover and things like that.”

“I’ve never had any of those.”

“Well, they’re really, really tasty! Maybe she’ll get us a few someday.”

“So… I can come back?”

“Sure! I’d love to play with you again!”

Discord went quiet again, probably tired. But I had something I needed to ask him.

“Hey Discord, why were you lying at dinner?”

“What? I wasn’t lying.”

“Well you were doing all those actor-y poses. You were talking all funny, like you do during pretend. I thought you were telling a story.”

“Not… really?”

“Then why did you behave like that?”

He didn’t answer, and I was thinking of poking in his box. I prepared my night vision spell, but eventually, he spoke up again.

“Sometimes acting, and lying, makes things easier to explain.”

“Really? I always fumble around with lies, it makes things so confusing. I think being honest is much easier!”

“I guess so.”

Things got quiet again. I was drifting off to sleep. A few minutes later, I heard a little scraping sound, my window opening. I didn’t hear anything else the rest of the night.


IV : Discord

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 4

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Discord~

I could not get out of that pony home fast enough. Not only did denounce Father, a crime unto itself, but was completely called out on it by the teeny tiny Luna? Makes me wonder if Celestia noticed. Makes me wonder if I’m going to be written up or reported. Are they spies? Am I doomed? Ah, why did I give my real name? I could have faked one, given out Crusher’s name, I don’t like that guy. I was only joking in the face of the enemy! I really have no problem with Father, he’s… distantly okay.

But if they were pony spies, wouldn’t they have the authority to just kill me outright? I really didn’t know what to think at that point. I just knew that on the surface I had a pretty fun night. Besides the kerfuffle that kicked it off. Most of the time, both ponies treated me with respect. With kindness.

I started thinking on that walk home. Did I know what kindness was before this night? Deciding to not rip off limbs in a fight, I thought that was kindness. A teacher promising to only to smack you once when you fail a lesson, that was kindness. And yet, at the pony home, not one person tried to hit me. Bullied me, yes, but almost by accident. And apparently being held upside down is considered mean to them? That’s what little kids think is cruel before an adult teaches them otherwise.

Holy Flank, is my life really that terrible in comparison?

I mean, I knew that it was bad.

But yeesh. Worse than expected.

I decided to not risk any more mess-ups out here. Night wasn’t even half over, but if I was going to turn right around and try to catch ponies, then I clearly learned nothing today. And what I learned is that I don’t know jack all. Not a bad lesson.

I didn’t meet many Draconequus on my way back. No ponies either, of course. By this time of night, it was difficult to catch anything, since most ponies were asleep. Or smart enough not to go out. I’ve heard that some ponies think themselves as clever sneaking around after dark, but they’re far and few, maybe one or two every few days. With so little to do, most Draconequus weren’t patrolling. They merely spread themselves lazily across roofs and towers, flicking at loose pebbles or chatting with one another in low growls. The few that I passed on my way back to the castle ignored me completely.

Speaking of the castle.

Compared to the vastness of the city, with its huge walls and topless towers, the castle itself would have blended in if it wasn’t clearly separated by a moat. Same stone, same banners, but with an almost crowded feel to it. The shape was like a dozen of the normal towers had been jammed together. Some stopped without clear reason, but the majority of spires jutted up into the sky, beyond the clouds. There was no drawbridge to get across the moat, nor any obvious door on the exterior. Thus, the underground tunnels peppering the city, with over a dozen surrounding the castle itself. Some ponies know about the obvious ones, since the Stallion did need day workers. The grunts came and went through a passage in their barracks. But most entrances were secret, the doors only made operable by a spark of magic.

I snuck in through one of these, an ordinary hole on the side of an ordinary wall, and descended into my home.

Inside, there are torches occasionally, brackets stained black from pitch and soot. It was just enough to let a Draconequus see. A pony would find the castle to be almost pitch black. As for what I told Celestia… we didn’t exactly live underground, this was still part of the castle. The part of the castle with no light from outside. And water on every surface. It may be underground, actually, I can’t tell. I’ve been high enough up the corridors to be convinced I was above ground. But the main body of the castle itself didn’t have that special kind of weakness known as windows, so I couldn’t be sure.

The main body of this castle was built in circles, to conform to the shape of the towers. The corridors would tightly or slowly spiral both up and down. The stone passages would circle around huge open meeting areas, or past dozens of smaller enclosures, staggered of a plane. All rooms tended to have little in them, sometimes they had spartan furnishings for certain needs. But mostly, there was just straw. Everywhere. We slept on the stuff, of course, but straw was multi-function. It could also serve as a couch, a chair, or in trying times, a desk. Cleaning consisted of tossing down straw and letting it get swept aside as people passed by. Also, dogs. Scrawny, silent dogs. I don’t know how dogs helped clean, I think they caught the rats we didn’t get ourselves.

I thought of going back to my bunk, basically a cell I shared with four other young Draconequus, but what was the point of that? Sleep the night away? Anyway, I had missed breakfast sitting on Ruin’s head, and those oats were… new. But not filling, not in the least. I needed some lunch. So I followed the tight circles, the steeper slopes, down into the lower levels. Where the water begins to frost, stinging the soles of my feet as I stepped on damp straw. I was heading for the larder.

The larder wasn’t a very large place, built for the smaller creatures of Equestria. Also, lit for the smaller creatures, with torches and lamps hanging everywhere. But only the younger Draconequus were expected to go down there if they wanted to eat. Adults had their own bunks, their own personal bowls that were always kept stocked. Me, I had to go down here, beg for food, eat it right in the room, and then leave. And I was lucky, Brine didn’t hate me. If anybody got on that guy’s bad side, well, I heard in some cases he would starve the kids until he decided he wasn’t holding a grudge anymore.

Even though the larder was built for smaller beasts, it felt crowded and cramped. Barrels were everywhere. Barrels and sacks, some covered in a light layer of ice. Strings of plants hung from the ceiling, swinging among chunks of meat that hung from hooks. The floor was stained with something nasty, and was usually mopped up inefficiently with water. It made the ground even more slippery and cold than the corridor. Also, the larder smelled like mildewing paper. And if that doesn’t sound bad, it happily overpowered some of the more unsavory scents hanging around.

It wasn’t long until I found Brine, the butcher. I’d call him our cook, but I’ve never seen him cook a thing. There was an oven in here, but I’ve never seen it lit, or even dirty with soot. Brine was a gnarled griffin, thick bodied, but with skin that sagged and hung off his flesh, old scars making his feathers stick out at crazy angles. He only had one eye, but it was sharp, and could cut you deeper than his knife ever could.

This griffin looked down at me between the stacked barrels. With a heavy swing, he wedged his butcher’s blade deep into a cutting board.

“Hey… lunch?”

He yanked down a bowl with his beak and dropped it as his feet. I had to catch it before it rolled away, and hold it steady as he dropped a snapped half of a cucumber, a raw potato, and a chunk of lettuce towards the floor. A slab of red meat slapped into my bowl, hanging limply over the rim.

“Thanks Brine… thanks.” I slinked backwards, dragging the bowl behind me to eat quietly in a corner. I had to find a spot that was both out of the griffin’s way, yet within his line of sight, so he could see I wasn’t stealing anything. Luckily my place was open, a small alcove between bags of potatoes and a barrel of… something. Honestly, this barrel was one of many that never moved.

I squeezed into my spot. Either the potatoes had shifted slightly or I was getting too big for this, who knows which was better. I looked at my bowl before hesitantly picking up the chunk of lettuce. The vegetables were all fine… It was impossible to get all the dirt off the potato, but I managed.  Meat was meat, and that was usually the best part of the meal, crappy as the cuts were. But I knew what the meat was, and maybe I should just… set is aside. For now. If I was going to try and make friends with, or just learn about the ponies, then maybe eating this would be in poor taste. I waited until Brine wasn’t looking before I quietly shoved the chunk behind the potato sacks.

I slid the bowl back across the ice to Brine, who shoved it right back with the others.

I’m not sure what I did all night. Wandered? Half hearted pranks? Sometimes I liked to remove and place the images of doors where they shouldn’t be, that’s good for a few seconds of laughter. But all I knew later was that I was hungry again, not even an hour later. Vegetables are not filling, like those oats. That dinner, when a chunk of red chuck was dropped in front of me I gobbled it up instantly. My commitment to this new line of thinking was clearly thwarted by my base instincts. I crept back to my bunk at dawn with a guilty conscious and a painful stomachache.

~ᴔ~

I didn’t sleep well that day. That was nothing new. Even without a stomach ache, Havoc and Carnage always practice fighting in our cell, and often enough try and turn it into fighting and/or beating up me and Crusher. Honestly, I didn’t see the point. Their technique is all about being bigger and stronger than the opponent, so what’s to practice? I can convince them that Crusher deserves to be fought more than me, but I know I’m smarter than them, so is it fun to practice tricking morons? No. It’s dumb. I get out of bed long, long before the sun has set.

It’s easy to be alone, if you put enough effort into it. Plenty of places in the castle are rarely used, or too small for the average Draconequus. Or even not part of the original design. If a juvie was willing to sneak past the massive basement elders, there was a natural stone wall with a crack in it, leading to an underground river. That’s where all the ‘cool’ kids were, all two of them, and it was best avoided. Instead, I found a small tunnel off the back of the dungeons that lead to something like a drainage grate. I watched day as it passed me by.

Daylight hurt my eyes a little, but it wasn’t as bad as some adults told me it was. It didn’t burn my skin off, blind me for life, or transform me into a pony mutant. It just impaired some of my best vision as my eyes became far too concerned with color.

And boy, contrary to what my night vision told me, the ponies sure were colorful.

Both Luna and Celestia were ‘normal’ as far as I was concerned. Within the range of expected colors from night vision. White, and dark, dark blue. But just watching the street, ponies seemed to be all colors. Pink, purple, tan, black, some with multicolor streaks in their manes. A tattoo was on nearly every flank, making Luna and Celestia seem like the odd ones out. I caught a few names as they passed me by. Dizzy Days, with a spiral tattoo. Garnet, with diamonds on her flank. The Big Guy, with a silver scale. All kinds of shapes and sizes. Some had horns, some didn’t. Some wore clothes, most didn’t. Some had hooves that blended in color with the rest of their legs, and some had a very clear dividing line between hair and hoof.

I wondered, how much could I learn by just watching these ponies wander by? I’ve already learned that they most definitely do not eat meat, or if they do, then they don’t mention it. I learned that a lot of the unicorn ponies are richer than the earth ponies. Speaking of, I learned that an earth pony is a pony without a horn.

Slowly, my subjects drifted away, each cantering at their own pace. Fewer and fewer passed by, until there was nopony left. I came to the conclusion that it was probably night. I squeezed between the bars of the grate, and crept into the dark, abandoned streets.


V : Celestia

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 5

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Celestia~

It was only a few days later. I left the bakery just after noon, taking my time with the walk home, eying the sewer grates and wondering if one of them was an opening to this ‘secret underground’ Discord mentioned. I mean, it sounded like a hokey story from Apple-a-Day, and Discord clearly resembled the snakes that walked the night. Smaller, certainly, but clear. I wasn’t sure what conclusion to draw from that.

Anyway, I’m getting distracted.

That day on my leisurely walk home, a gray pony waited for my outside my home. A pony wearing the star of the Shadow Stallion. I thought it was something serious, maybe something to do with my parents. Well, I suppose it was, but not in the way I expected.

I was given an obligations mandate. Taxes, I mean to say. For my father. It wasn’t totally unexpected, but as I opened the letter I noticed a clear mistake. It asked for far, far too many bits! It must have been figuring in the land taxes, certainly beyond my means! But it was under control. I knew exactly what had to be done.

I tucked the letter into the saddlebags, deciding to resolve it tomorrow.

~¤~

That night I was finally able to encourage Discord and Luna to play downstairs. Letting them vanish upstairs out of my sight… it worried me. I wondered to myself, wasn’t Discord too old for this kind of thing?

Of course the important question was still ‘what is he,’ but one thing at a time.

So now the foyer had become the playpen. And, since I was there, they both insisted on my audience. I saw no reason not to. Luna played the role of a warrior princess, and Discord controlled her army of teddy bears and ragdoll ponies. He’d pose them one at a time, but each one he left held its posture, no matter how bizarre.

 “How do you do that?” I asked halfway through their show.

“Very simple illusion magic,” Discord replied. “It’s really easy. Just change the surface properties of the doll… Altering stuff that’s already there is way easier than trying to create it. I mean, compared to Luna’s crown decorations, I barely have to focus to do this.”

With a tap of his claw, the stuffed pony began to rise slowly into the air. Another tap, and it fell hard to the ground. It bounced sideways, flopping over my head and ricocheting off the far wall. I caught the thing with my magic before it smacked into me. He laughed nervously and took the doll back, posing it.

“See? Easy stuff.”

~¤~

I wanted to get this tax business out of the way as soon as possible. No dillydallying around. No turning into a weight on my mind. I had enough on my plate already. After work, I head straight to Uncle Sollus’ mansion, on the opposite side of town. It would be quite a trip to get back home before dark, but I felt I could manage.

His home was large, probably had the same amount of square footage as our mansion. However, the house was built into one of the walls, and because of that, had more space vertically than horizontally.

I walked confidently up to the entrance and tapped the door knocker loudly, yet not too loudly as that would indicate an air of urgency I did not have. There are very concise rules to these things, and if I had a point of pride, it was my maintenance of appearance. A minute or so later, a bright blue butler charmed the door open.

“Who is it?” he asked, peering out of the bottom of his glasses.

“Baroness Celestia, to see my uncle, Baron Sollus,” I replied.

“Hn… do come in…”

I was lead to their drawing room and told to wait. I was offered tea, and gladly accepted the fine porcelain cup. I hated the drink, but it had been ages since I had been offered something so fancy. A while since I had been in a room so fancy as well. Luna and I had a threadbare couch in our drawing room, an old desk with a loose leg. This room had a fine Persian rug, two cushy couches, a fine rosewood table with a lacey tablecloth… Oh, I almost felt rich again just sitting in that room. I took another grateful swig of tea, hating every minute of its disgusting bitterness.

The butler returned after I had finished my cup. “I’m sorry, but it seems as though the Master has gone out, but he should be back within the hour. Would you like to wait or…?” He left his sentence hanging, in a drawl.

“Oh, it’s no trouble.” I set down the teacup on its saucer, making sure the handle faced to the right. “I’ll just come back tomorrow.” I was shown out the door and gratefully trotted out. The brevity of the wealthy taste merely made the moment sweeter.

~¤~

Another night. I stayed up and watched as Discord, once again, refused to sleep, leaving the drawing room. Why did he feel the need to sneak out? This time, when he exited, I followed. He paused halfway up the stairs, frozen and staring at me.

“Discord,” I whispered, “May I ask you a few questions?”

“Um, certainly.” He skittered down the steps again, in his strange, awkward walk. “What do you want to know?"

“Discord. Please, I hope I don’t offend, but why do you keep coming back every night, and why play with Luna? I mean, you seem closer in age to me than her. I hope you don’t mind… I’m the closest thing to a parent she has, and sometimes—”

“So, you’re her father!”

I stared at him for a moment. Thankfully my jaw wasn’t slack. He mumbled an apology, blushing.

“No, I’m just her sister,” I continued, “But if you want to compare me to a parent, I’d be her mother… I guess.” Mother… the word felt strange to say. Unnatural. I’ve been thinking of myself as her mother for so long, but just saying it tout loud… it didn’t feel right.

“Celestia,” he said “As her sister or mother, why don’t you play with Luna?”

“What?”

“You spend way more time with her than I can, yet I never see you two playing any kind of game. Luna’s always alone with her dolls when I visit.”

“Why it’s…” I tried to gather my thoughts. “Well, its childish. I am trying to be a responsible mare to look up to.”

“Why?”

Discord always had the strangest questions! “Well, every pony has mature, take responsibility eventually. Act as other ponies expect them to, with grace and dignity.”

“What other ponies?”

“Discord, I am trying to ask you a question, and you’re just diverting my attention.”

“If you really want to know, I play pretend because it’s fun and everybody at home only wants to beat me up. It’s a nice change of pace here. So now, Celestia.” He dipped his head forward and made sure I was looking him in the eye, “What ponies here, in this house, are you trying to impress?”

~¤~

Once again, I had gotten a day off early from work. I trotted to the opposite side of town, went to my Uncle’s house, and rapped the little knocker. I wondered if I would be able to have tea again as I was greeted by the butler.

“Is Baron Sollus here today?” I asked.

“I’m sorry, young lady. He’s usually out of the home around this time.”

“Well, I guess I can just leave a message this time…” I floated the unsealed mandate to the butler, already missing the horrible tea. “Can you see that Baron Sollus gets this? Since he is the manager of my family’s holdings, this is something he should be taking care of. It was just addressed to me by mistake…”

“Of course. I will get it to him, mistress,” the butler replied plainly.

“Thank you.” With a small curtsy, I took my leave. This should settle the matter for another year.

~¤~

“AhahahahaHAHAHA!” Luna shouted from on top of her box, sheet wrapped around her like a cloak, “I am the Fright Wight! Fear my flow-y white cloak and tremble!”

Discord crouched low among a dozen weeping dolls, squeaking random pleads in a high pitched voice. He shoved a patched pony to the front with his snout, where it fell limp. His paw shot forward and he carefully posed its arms above his face.

“I’m so afraid, please, I’m just a simple rock farmer,” he squeaked, “If I give you a rock will you leave me alone?”

“NO!” Luna screamed.

“Shouting, Luna!” I snapped, startled.

“Celestia, I’m the Fright Wight. Not no-shouting McGee.”

“Wait, when were you ever—?”

I interrupted Discord, “Promise to use your indoor voice while enacting this façade, Luna.”

“Oh no. She’s pulling out the big words. We’re doomed.”

“Oh, hush, Discord. Now Luna…”

Luna pouted, flicking her mane back under her hood.

“The Fright Wight will use her indoor voice,” she mumbled.

“Good. Now.” I hovered my makeshift paper bag sword in front of me, posing from under my quilt coat. “Fright Wight, you can no longer oppress these poor ponies! Surrender or I shall have to bap you on the head.”

“Neveeerrrr!” Luna giggled.

I gently patted Luna’s head with the makeshift sword.

“Bap!” I declared.

“Nope! Not good enough.”

“Whap! Kabap!”

“Silly pony, I am far stronger than your silly sword!”

“Nooo we’re doomed!” Discord squeaked among the dolls.

“Oh. Well then, I suppose I’ll have to bring out my secret weapon.”

“Gasp!” Discord gasped.

“The Elements of Harmony!” With great care, years of practice, I poked Luna in the side. “Zap!”

She giggled again. It was working! “What, the Elements of, wait, hehe! No!”

“Zap zap zap!” Luna collapsed laughing as I tickled her into submission. I laughed along with her, caught up in the heat of the moment.

“Um,” Discord piped up, “Hooray, the evil mare has been defeated?”

~¤~

“The Elements of Harmony was my favorite story book when I was little,” I explained. We all were bedded in the drawing room, both Luna and Discord tucked under their blankets and held in rapt attention. “I lost it several years ago… I probably dropped it on the street on my way home from school, but I don’t really know.”

“So, what’s the story?” Discord asked. Luna, even though I had told her this story several times, didn’t object. I worked up my best mysterious voice with several careful ‘ahems.’

“No one knows where the Elements came from,” I began, “They represented the will of Equestria… or did in the story. As long as the six bearers of the Elements worked in Harmony, Equestria would know peace eternal. The story talked about the six friends, all unicorns with wings, who ruled with love over every creature in their domain. Though,” I laughed, “About halfway through it stops telling the main story and focuses more on little parables about friendship.”

“Can you tell us one, pretty please?” Luna asked, excited.

“I mostly looked at the pictures at that point, but I guess I could try…”

“The Shadow Stallion is a unicorn with wings. An alicorn.”

Discord looked at his hands, thinking. Ignoring both Luna and I, and the fact that the mood of the room just dropped twenty degrees. He was in silence for far too long, especially after a statement like that.

“I. I didn’t know. I’ve never seen him” I spoke up, “Does he… often visit the Draconequus… underground?”

“Not really, but when discipline comes up, when you’ve been really bad… I saw him once, punishing a guy. He was a really tall pony, with a horn and wings. Ruin called him an alicorn.” He glanced up at us, “I was just… maybe the Element guys came from the same place?”

“It’s just a story. Alicorns aren’t… I didn’t think alicorns were actually real. Or the Elements.” I looked at the thick curtains, finding no other comfortable place to look. “Let me just, just tell a few of the parables, alright?”

~¤~

Weeks later, I found myself at my Uncle’s door once more, actively trying to control my posture and poise. Another knock, this time politely urgent, and the butler arrived once more.

“Mistress…?”

“I’ve just received a notice that my taxes have gone unpaid.” I show him the invoice I had received. The guard who delivered it was wearing armor this time. Armor, as if they expected me to attack. “Baron Sollus should have paid this by now. May I speak with him?”

“I’m sorry, but the master is out right now…”

“I’ll wait. I really need to speak with him.”

“I’m sorry, but he will not be back for the next several days, which may be why he hasn’t addressed this issue… Calm your nerve, mistress. He will take care of this, I assure you.”

“Alright… but, make sure you tell him this is urgent?”

“Certainly.” The door shut on my face before I could say anything else. I walked home, head looking directly at the cobblestone the whole way. I barely made it home before nightfall.

~¤~

“What do you think is beyond the last wall, Discord?”

I spoke with Discord while Luna slept. We’d been talking more and more as time went on, and I grew to trust him. There were still certain things he was lying to me about. It clearly wasn’t dangerous for him to sneak around at night, for one. But I began thinking more that he had his reasons, and not that he meant to hurt us.

“I dunno, but they gotta grow the food somewhere, right? What I’m wondering is, ponies run shops where they sell produce. Do they get the produce from the castle?”

“I’m not sure, but Hot Cross buys his ingredients wholesale from a government provider… Then they turn right around and tax him. Really, what are they pouring those bits into?”

“No idea. Not into Draconequus upkeep, that’s for sure.”

“Anyway… we know there’s at least some farms beyond the walls. You think the clouds go beyond it too?”

“Definitely. Pegasus cloud generation isn’t exact enough to cover a single city.”

“Wait. Pegasus?”

“Um… yeah. Winged ponies.”

“No, I know what a Pegasus is. I just thought they were a legend. Controlling the weather, I thought it was a fairy tale.”

“Well I’ve seen them. Or… yeah, seen them.”

He always hesitates, in the strangest places. I let it go.

“Pegasus,” I said. “I wonder if they grow the food.”

“No idea.”

“I’d still like to see what’s out there, you know?”

“I guess I would too.”

“Do you think we could just… leave?”

“I don’t know. They don’t make it easy, if we could. Why this all of a sudden anyway?”

“Just… thinking of options.”

“But you seem, or seemed, so comfortable here...”

I looked the strange creature up and down, what I could see of him sitting under the blanket. So intelligent, inquisitive. And yet he still plays kiddy games with such heart. I doubted I would ever understand Discord, but I felt… he could understand enough, I suppose.

“Can I tell you something?

“Of course.”

“It’ll be a pretty long story.”

“I’m okay with that.”

I nodded, breathed a bit to steady myself.

“Did you know, Discord? We used to have two parents. We also used to have a cook. A butler. Two maids, one who was here full time as a nanny, and another who was here every other day to tidy. Not to mention Father’s men, an accountant, a lawyer, guards and managers. Mother had a fashion adviser who came here every week, every Saturday, to style her mane and help her pick out dresses.

Then my parents were gone. Nobody really knew what happened to them, where they went. I like to think they were guilty of treason, had to be taken away because they were too smart. It’s almost silly to think that maybe they just stayed out too late. They couldn’t have forgotten about something that small.

I don’t think it was three days past the time they vanished. My aunt and uncle came right up to the door and said that they’d take care of the property we owned. I didn’t have a head for business, but Father’s accountant, Spit Shine, worked it all out for me. All he asked me for was my hoofprint. I was glad at the time to have everything settled. But I was an ignorant foal, thinking I would always be safe.

The butler left first. Then the cook, the part time maid. Our nanny was very sorry to leave, bobbing and nodding her head in apologies, never once looking back. More family members came to take dad’s things from his library, then mom’s dresses, then whatever they wanted. Spit Shine was always there, telling me that this was part of the deal. We had to find some way of making money since my Father wasn’t making business decisions.

Of course, I never saw a single bit. And once the house was stripped bare, nobody was around to even bring us food.

So I got a job. A respectable job in the shopping district my father used to own. I clung to my pride as I was forced to be a baker’s assistant. I took care of Luna, made sure she was safe, she was happy. Everything was fine for her; she couldn’t remember what life was like before. But I remembered. And I played it brave. I took charge. I was in control of my life, and I was keeping Luna and myself off the streets. Out of the shadows that took my parents.

But now…” I pawed my pillow, “After all that I’ve tried to do, Luna and I might be kicked out anyway. This is our house. We own it. But if my aunt and uncle don’t speak up, claim these taxes… Darn it.

I guess, with all this, I feel like I’ve really got to look at my options… you know?”

He looked at me for a minute, head in his arms. Perhaps he thought I had more to say, or was working out what he wanted to say himself. Finally, he spoke up.

“You know what Celestia, we both really hate it here. I’m sorry if I just realized that but… you, and Luna, you both seemed so happy. I think you do make this home a warm and fun place for her. But this city, this fortress, it’s not good. It’s not a nice place, for anyone. I guess, I’m kind’ve surprised I didn’t hear about your problems sooner…”

“I just didn’t trust you enough—“

“No, that’s not what I mean. If anything, the first place I should have heard this from would be Luna. She tends to be pretty straightforward with this kind of stuff.” He silently looked at me from his pillow, “Luna doesn’t know, does she?”

I straightened myself. “I’m the adult, the mare here. I can’t push this burden on Luna.”

With a great FWUMP of blankets, Luna shot up to her feet, holding herself tall and staring straight at me.

“Well I heard it anyway, big sis!” she declared loudly.

“Luna?!” I stammered, “What are you doing awake?!”

“Listening in.” Well that was certainly blunt!

“Well, yes, I get that… but Luna…”

“But Celestia! Do you think I don’t get it when you’re sad and lonely?”

I stared back at her solidly set face. I had no response.

“I’m not that dumb, Celestia, I knew that stuff wasn’t okay. But I don’t want you to be so sad about it, because I’m not!”

“That… that worries me, actually.”

“Don’t be a worry face, sis!” I felt a shift in the blankets, and suddenly Luna was pressing up against my side, hugging me with her neck, “We’re both here for you, and for each other too!”

“Me three?” Discord chuckled, and settled on the other side of me. Not touching, but close. I could see a hint of a smile on his face, through the darkness. “I haven’t known you guys for as long as you’ve known each other, but to me, you’re both better than family. You’re my friends, and I want to help any way I can. Let’s figure out a way out of the city. Or save the house, or something, all right?”

“Yeah!” Luna cheered into my ear.

I lifted my front legs and hugged them both close to me. Luna was comfortable, small and warm, the sister I had held for years. She nuzzled my face happily. Discord was strange to hug, almost recoiled from my touch. I felt his cold scales shift under my leg, feathered wing jabbing painfully into my ribs. But I held him close, forced myself to. I couldn’t afford to be afraid of him anymore. I wouldn’t let myself be scared of a good friend of mine.

“Yes… Let’s try.”


VI : Discord

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 6

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Discord~

I woke slowly, rolling around on my straw. Left side, right side, small turn, left side. Face down, face up… Why is it so hard to kick myself awake? This isn’t some weird hour. Well… okay, it is a weird hour, but I’ve been getting up this early for weeks now. Right side. Okay, this wasn’t working. Time for desperate measures. I slapped my back into the stone wall.

“Cold! Coldcoldcold, yeesh, that’s cold!” I muttered, shivering and rolling away. “Ah, wake up. Wake up. Okay.”

I rolled on my feet and tried to shake off the full-body chills. And the straw. Was it actually past noon? The two bullies and the whiner were asleep in their straw, or in Crusher’s case, a bare corner. So, still day. I stifled a yawn and left my bunk for the hall, ascending.

I had an idea now, how we were all going to escape.

It was only a few nights ago that Celestia told me everything. How much she and Luna had lost, how much more they stood to lose. How much they needed eachother, and me. Such a hard time of things, and Celestia, Luna, they both needed me to help. I was an important part of their group, and I would try and hard as I could to protect them.

Made me wish I had something to offer. They had far more things than me to sell, and I didn’t even know a way out of the city. I wasted time in the tunnels for a few days, but never found anything special. Of course, I didn’t try to pass the basement elders either, but I wasn’t that suicidal yet.

There was only one place that I could possibly find a decent answer. I had to find Ruin. I wasted last night wandering the streets, willfully ignoring ponies and checking rooftops for the one-winged silhouette. I found him almost by accident, while trying to avoid a fight started by two of my brothers. He sat alone, frozen still, looking the few blocks down at the roaring pair of Draconequus. I scurried over to him, gripping my claws tightly in the mortar cracks as I climbed. He didn’t even offer me a glance as I scrambled to his side.

“Discord,” he growled.

“Hey Ruin. Been a while.” I waited for a reply. He didn’t give me one, continuing to stare in the distance. “I have some questions.”

“You wish to continue our lessons?”

“Ah, no, I think I’ve got a handle on all of this magical stuff.”

“There are other topics I can teach you. For example, why are you still not using your wings, Discord?”

“I’ll um…” I shifted my shoulders, feeling my back appendages flare uselessly, “I’ll use them when I’m ready.” I eyed the stump that was once a wing on Ruin. What could he teach me about flying anyway? “I just have a few questions about, well, the city and stuff.”

Ruin sat quietly for a moment. Conversation moves at his pace, of course.

“I will try and answer,” he finally replied.

“Good! Well. There’s… more to Equestria than just this city, right?” I waved over ‘this city.’ One of the combatants yelped in the distance, “Why don’t we patrol outside the walls?”

“There are Griffins to watch other settlements. We are special. We serve our Father here exclusively. His power, his strength, realized through us.” He snorted, “Although I’m sure you understand that there are some of us who are simply unable to handle any other tasks.”

Roaring erupted down the street. Another one of my brothers had been dragged into the street brawl. Majestic and noble creatures, the Draconequus. So intelligent and thoughtful.

“Imbeciles,” as Ruin put it. I laughed, but he didn’t laugh with me. Of course.

“So, there are other settlements out there,” I continued, “Is that where they grow the food?”

“Yes.” Well that was a simple answer.

“How do they get it here anyway?”

“It is flown in by the Griffins and Pegasi. They bring carts to our towers every day.”

“Oh.” Well, I should’ve guessed that. If you have magic flying subjects, why use anything else? But there had to be other ways out of the city, right? It was just… silly to have the sky be the only point of exit and entry. “So, nothing’s brought in on foot? Like through the tunnel systems?”

Ruin’s eye flicked his head around to stare at me, the only movement he made to acknowledge me since I arrived. I couldn’t help but stare back, tensing under his eyes.

“No,” he growled. “Discord.”

“Y-yeah?”

“How often must I tell you? It is not your place to dream. It is not your place to fantasize, or to think of yourself. You exist for Father. You live to execute Father’s will. That is all you are.”

I laughed nervously, trying to look away. “Hey, who said I was dreaming anything? I was just wondering about Father’s kingdom, you know?”

“Do you have more questions, Discord?”

“Oh, I um… uh,” I fumbled, “Well why does the—“

“Do not waste my time, and do not waste your time trying to leave Canterbury. It will be astonishingly easy to find you, and then it will be made sure that you never leave again. Discord,” I flipped back to look at him. That was a weird tone in his voice. Almost like he didn’t have something stuck in his throat. “We have very little in the way of brain power here. The Draconequus need every speck of intelligence we can muster.”

“Oh, Ruin, you do care about me,” I joked, hugging his scaly leg.

“Do not touch me.”

I quickly withdrew.

Yeah, likeable guy, that Ruin.

Back to reality, to today. It wasn’t even twelve hours since Ruin told me to stay put, and here I was, trying to see what was up with those carts. I guess I’m not as intelligent as Ruin wanted me to be, but it’s okay, I can take that. I stretched out my wings, each leg as I walked, as I ascended higher in the castle. I didn’t know where I was going, but as long as I was going up, I was going in the right direction. I’d hit the top eventually.

I was half certain I wasn’t allowed to go up there, but the other half of me said the ‘oh, I’m just so young and naïve!’ trick might still work. I’ve hit an unlucky streak with my lying, but if there’s anything easy to act, it’s stupid!

The castle was dark as ever, but steadily, the torches on the walls became gas lamps. The stone became smoother, fit tightly together in carefully carved and polished rectangles. I saw fewer and fewer Draconequus, and instead encountered more griffins, more earth ponies, both wearing a sort of burnished black plate armor. I even passed two armored ponies with wings. It was the first time I had seen Pegasi alive, and I think they noticed me staring. Otherwise, most everyone thankfully ignored me.

It was somewhat random what path I would take, and which one I wouldn’t. The top was the top, right? Apparently not. Abruptly, the circles stopped, became level, and led somewhere very strange.

I was standing at the foot of a staircase, an actual staircase. The steps were carved out of a pale rock, marble I think, and carefully polished to a slippery looking sheen. Brightly burning lamps lit every other step as they ascended sharply upward, making the enclosed space glow almost like day. At the top there was an archway built of the same stone, carved in a swirling pattern, mimicking clouds.

I stepped up as if the staircase was going to explode under me. Was this what the highest towers looked like? Is this the true boundary I was not supposed to cross? Griffin guards passed by me, but none took the stairs, or came down them. None tried to stop me from going up either. Still, I waited until I was alone to scurry hesitantly upwards.

Why did my talons and claws have to click so loudly on that stone? I never really thought of it, but the main castle was a noisy place, even when it slept. There was water dripping, dogs scurrying after rats, the occasional heated argument and shouts. Even the griffin floors, quiet as they were, were still active, with the noise of passing life.

Up here, it was quiet as death. Nothing lived here but myself. Portraits of ponies twice my size stared at me. Floral vases and suits of posed pony armor stood in accusation, offended that I had invaded their sacred space. The world held its breath, judging me. I couldn’t find another staircase up. It was difficult to even find a door. It was stupid to think that I could find any exit at all from this place. Crates and barrels wouldn’t be carted through here. That would be a desecration beyond words.

Yet I continued to walk through this unwelcoming area. A look around couldn’t hurt me, right? There was no guard up here to catch me, so what was the harm?

I was instantly proven wrong, but lucky. In such a silence, the gentle pattern of hoofbeats was clearly heard long, long before any pony appeared. I carefully and quietly ducked behind a suit of armor. I wished I could weave shadows around me to hide better, but it would stand out far too much in this light. Feeling exposed, I made myself small as possible, waiting for the guard, or whoever, to pass.

At the end of the hall, there was another ornate archway, much like the first I encountered. I stared at it, feeling that was where the sound was coming from, praying whoever it was didn’t come down here.

The steps grew louder. I blinked, squinted, then carefully looked up at the lamps on the wall. Were they guttering out? It seemed to be getting darker. With how many lamps were around, it must be difficult to manage them all. My eyes were only gone for a second, but whoever that was passed by my hall. The pony continued to the left, his shadow told me. The steps faded, I heard a door open and close, and then silence once more.

I eased out of my hiding spot, and with extra care, went down the hall and turned right.

I had to find a way out of here, a way up. If I could just get to the roof, this silent and unoccupied of a place would be perfect. If they only had one guard wandering around, I’d be able to watch the carts come and go for ages without fear of being discovered.

After only a brief walk the corridor ended. I think I found where I was going.

The hallways ended in double doors but not any ordinary wooden doors. They were huge, rising far above my head, and so unlike the rest of the pale stone around it. The doors were made out of iron, and decorated with raised surfaces of gold, or bronze so shined and polished until it almost glowed. Gemstones studded its surface, and the two circular handles, splitting the door exactly down the center, seemed to be carved out of solid stone, like pink quartz, or granite.

I don’t know why, but I thought this could actually be an exit. Why not? If the sky was the true pathway out of Canterbury, then why not dress it up a little?

And if it wasn’t an exit, then really, if one finds a door this fancy, there’s no resisting the urge to see what’s beyond it.

I eagerly tugged at the bottom of the handle, up so high that I could only barely wrap my claw around it. I tugged, and the heavy door softly moved forward, inch my inch, quiet as a dream. I opened it wide enough to just barely squeeze through, and ran right in, excited to see what was beyond it.

I don’t know how the room was lit, but I could see. Black cloth, spun out of what I assumed to be pure shadow, spilled from the ceiling, folding and rolling to the floor in heavy lumps. The floor seemed to be the same cloth, but faded steadily into a light gray. It was massive room, suitably reflecting the massive door, yet it only hosted a single dais. A pedestal that seemed itself to grow out of the black cloth.

I stepped forward, and chalky dust sprung up from beneath my paw, apparently responsible for the floor’s steady fade in color. When I walked, the floor folded and gave under my feet, sending little puffs everywhere. The dust clouded my vision, clogged my nose. I gripped my mouth shut to try and stop myself from sneezing as I approached the single dais. While small in comparison to the room, the top was just high enough for me to barely be able to catch a glimpse at the top, and what was held there.

Sitting half buried in a thick pile of glittering dust was a single light gray stone, crudely carved into the shape of a butterfly.

My taloned hand moved itself forward and immediately picked it up.

I panicked. Why in Equestria did I do that?! Why did I take this clearly valuable object from a vault of Father’s? Why am I still holding it? It had a weird vibration to it, like a beat, a periodic warm breath that washed down my arm.

It was creepy, that’s what it was. A creepy, valuable, probably evil rock in the shape of a butterfly.

I waited for a few minutes for the guards to come running like I knew that they would. When they didn’t, I blew the dust off the rock and tucked it under my feathered wing for safekeeping. If they were going to make it this easy to steal a valuable heirloom thing, then it deserved to be taken. It was fate.

I remember a moment from childhood… younger childhood. I was chasing mice, it was a fun little game. Finally, I trapped one in a corner, and caught beneath my paw. For the first time, there was something alive, squirming, and very warm touching me. It never bit me, but I immediately jumped back, surprised. It was a shock, to suddenly have something so strange touching you.

That’s what it felt like holding this rock. Like I was holding a live creature. Moving, breathing, but never hurting. Just there.

I left the room thinking that this was incredibly easy. No alarm? No guards? Not even a lock for cripes sake? Did I just steal from the Shadow Stallion? From my own Father? And actually get away with it? I guess this makes my betrayal official. Weird word. Betrayal. I didn’t feel any different. I made my way down the tower, silent as I was in ascension. The only thing was that now, I was carrying a strange rock.

Finally, I reached the first and only staircase. Relieved to finally be rid of this place, I scurried down the steps.

And immediately ran into an angry band of griffin guards.


VII : Celestia

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 7

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Celestia~

That day, I thought my biggest issue would be my shame about begging from the shopkeepers. It was just silly before, picking up a little extra treat or two. But now… it was depressing. I left the shop early, after a very brief round, not even stopping to listen to Apple-a-Day. I would have gotten home before Luna that day, if we both mutually understood I couldn’t afford school for her anymore. To be perfectly honest, she seemed glad about that news. I didn’t know if that should have made me happy or very, very disappointed.

But as I walked, I noticed something was different on the streets. Guards. Guard ponies in black armor, wandering in pairs. There were always a few around, just enough to be barely noticed. But today, they were everywhere. Not arresting anyone or looking to be in a hurry, just watching, looking at each face as a pony passed, taking and asking brief questions of passersby’s.

It was hard to stop myself from galloping home. The guards made me uneasy. I thought one would realize I hadn’t paid my taxes and grab me. A silly worry, no one knew who I was, right? Goodness… I forced myself to canter calmly. Now was not the time to stand out in the crowd.

Arriving at home proved me wrong. There was something very close at hand to be worried about, and it had nothing to do with taxes.

It was day, barely mid afternoon. Yet, when I got home, I found Discord. He was collapsed on the foyer floor, trying to catch his breath, clutching an unevenly shaped stone. Luna hovered by his side, but bounded over to me cheerfully as I entered.

“Welcome home, sis!” Luna yelled with a smile.

“Um, hello, Luna.” I walked past my sister and hovered over my friend, staring at him, stunned. “Discord?”

“Yeah. Hi.” He raised his paw in a brief greeting, still breathing heavily. I was getting a sinking feeling. A very, very bad drop on my insides.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, throat tight.

“This. This is why.” He raised himself into a sitting position and pushed what he was holding towards me. It seemed to be an ordinary stone carving, and a crude one at that.

“What is this?”

He shrugged. “Touch it.”

I tapped it with my hoof. It was warm, from Discord’s paw, I assumed. I felt it shift under me. I yanked my hoof away.

“But, but what is it?”

“A weird cool rock that Discord found, that’s what!” Luna piped up, jumping towards us. I ignored her.

“Discord. What. Is it.”

He laughed nervously. “I don’t know, something crazy.”

“Where did you get it?”

“Ehhhheheh….”

He avoided my gaze, trying to laugh off the situation. I didn’t let him. This was serious. There were guards everywhere and a magical thing in my house. If this was nothing, I’d let it be nothing. But if this was the cause of the hubbub outside… I put my hoof down, snapping his attention back to me.

“Discord. Please. Please tell me where you got it.”

“A vault.” Not good enough. I kept my silence. “In the castle.” Still not good enough. “In the, uh, Shadow Stallion’s personal quarters?”

 “The… the what?!” I squealed, “Why did you think this was a good idea?!”

“Hey, I didn’t learn it was his place until all the guards started screaming it.” Was that supposed to be a defense for his actions? How could he be so relaxed about this?!

“Then why didn’t you give it back?!” I retorted.

“I dunno. I dunno, I guess I still thought it we could sell it.”

“Sell this?” I forcefully waved my hoof at the rock. “Something so precious? Who did you think would buy it?!”

“Hey, you ever try and think when you’re in a blind panic?” Now he was shouting back, standing and trying to get my eye contact. “Try it some time! It’s not exactly easy!”

“Why did you do this at all?! What did you think would happen, that you just waltz off scot free?! Whoops, seemed we misplaced our weird magical rock, I guess it wasn’t that important!”

“Hey, if they didn’t want me to take it, they should’ve locked the door!”

I tried to wheeze out a response, but all I could offer in reply was my head turning at a further and further angle, as if sideways logic could be seen better at a ninety degrees. “No! No, you’re not getting away with that. That has no basis, no place in reality. That, that is moon logic!”

“Well gee, Celestia, thank you for thinking I can make intelligent and rational decisions all the time! I will try and be logical and never make any mistake for as long as I live, because I’m just that perfect.”

“This isn’t just a mistake, this, this goes beyond that! This is the dumbest, most stupid—!”

“STOP FIGHTING!” Luna stomped her hooves between us, shouting. “And don’t tell me not to yell, cuz I needed to, to be heard over you two.” Luna looked right up at me, neck straining upward in an attempt to look regal, “What Discord did is done now, and you told me that complaining about past stuff is silly, Celestia. What we gotta do now is figure out how to help our friend, and not make him feel really bad for something he already feels really bad about.” She snapped her eyes over to Discord, “And you DO feel really bad about it because you just told me so. So stop pretending to Celestia that she’s the big bad meanie here.” She backed away and glared at the two of us, “Now hug!”

The room fell quiet. I stared down at my little sister, knowing she was right, how she could just do this. This entire situation was a bad one, terrible, and I saw no way out of it. I closed my eyes. No sane way out of this.

“I SAID HUG! Hug or I’ll scream!”

Discord nervously pulled me into a hug with his forelegs. I patted him on the back with my hoof, looking elsewhere. At least his wing wasn’t jamming into me this time.

“Close enough!” Luna declared, proudly nodding. We broke apart, and the room was quiet again. Awkward quiet.

“Alright…” I began, “I have an idea.” I steadied myself, gathering my thoughts. “There’s no other option now. We leave the city. We’ve got to find a way out, and go.”

“I was told,” Discord quietly said, “That the only way out is by Pegasus cart. We’d have to find a way up to the top of the walls, then sneak aboard one.”

“Fine. Then we’ll try to do that. Luna… pack your things, okay?”

She nodded with a squared jaw, and began tearing through the messy foyer trying to find her saddlebags.

“Celestia,” Discord said, “I’m sorry… I was trying to help.”

“It’s, it’s alright,” I replied, forcing a hesitant smile. “We’ve all wanted to get out of here anyway. This was just an extra push, that’s all.”

He nodded, “What can I do to help?”

“Just, just help Luna for now. Make sure she doesn’t pack all of her dolls.”

“I can’t pack all of my dolls?!” Luna squeaked, but I was already walking upstairs.

Just a few steps down the hall, and I was at the door of my room. I paused for a moment, trying to get my breathing under control. I guess this is really happening. How often did I dream this would? Not under these circumstances. Not like this. In a situation under control. This was too much, too fast. Guards outside, no easy way out…

Control, Celestia. Control your breathing, control this situation. You are the mare here, the adult. Put on your brave face and smile, for Luna. For Discord. You can do that, for everyone.

Pacing myself, I eased open the door.

It had been too long since I had been here… I didn’t need it, I had outgrown it. Outgrown the soft pink decorations I thought matched my mane. Outgrown the shelves full of little trinkets and toys. There was an order to things that was lacking in Luna’s own room. Decorations, my shelves, they were orderly decorated, and my bookshelf was organized neatly, by topic. Fiction top shelf, Reference second, Other nonfiction on the third and fourth, arranged by topic. My sheets were tucked carefully into the pallet, with pillows and two stuffed animals placed with care and purpose.

Of course, that was my room before… all of this.

The cloth was valuable, and none remained. Only a few books lay scattered on my shelf, the oldest and most worn down. Some of my trinkets were scattered around the shelves, rooted through, leaving behind the sentimental items. A small bundle of feathers, an old coin...

Better not to linger. I pulled my saddlebags away from where my nightstand used to be, blew the dust off of them, and walked out.

I don’t know entirely if I’m ready to leave, despite always wanting to. But I think I will be happier, once we leave these bad memories behind. Right now, there was a much more pressing problem.

What in Equestria do you pack when you plan to never return?

There were the obvious things, of course. I packed the hay I had bought today, as well as the small bag of oats from the kitchen.  Beside it, I tucked away the rest of our savings, thirty bits. I was certain that this was a universal currency, but just thinking that immediately made me doubt what I knew. I packed them anyway. I also packed a brush. It was very important. Then I stood in the foyer like a foal and wondered what else I could possibly take.

A blanket was my first thought, but there was no way I could get that heavy thing in my bag. A sheet might take up too much room as well. I started thinking about bringing a towel before I stopped this silly line of thought. What on earth would I use a towel for?

Should I bring a pen and paper? I almost went to my father’s old study to get some, before also concluding that was silly. If it rained, the paper would be ruined, and if I accidentally fell, an inkwell would shatter and stain my bags readily.

I thought, maybe my old dictionary? Oh yes, I could use that as a blunt weapon, it was so heavy and useless.

Luna and Discord and finally narrowed down exactly which doll Luna would be taking. Tottering Trottingham, a stuffed purple pony mother had bought me when I was a foal. It was old, and the stuffing was loose, giving the doll a limp appearance. At one point it had been able to regally stand on all four hooves. I approved the choice and asked what else she had packed. Discord’s stone butterfly and a bag of marbles was all. I didn’t bother to oppose the bringing of more toys. It’s not like I had anything better.

Okay, I needed to get serious. I began rooting through cupboards and drawers for ideas.

I found a bottle of unopened rubbing alcohol in the back of a kitchen cupboard, and immediately packed it, wrapping the glass carefully in a sheet. I could tear up the sheet for bandages if we got hurt, I thought. Or better yet, could cut the sheet into strips. I packed a pair of scissors, still in the old drawing room desk. I had no idea how to sew, but I thought some thread and a needle would be worth taking. After raiding several drawers, I gave it up as a lost cause. I’d probably lose them anyway, small as they were.

Discord had crawled up to the top shelves in the kitchen to help me look. Nothing had been up there in years. He opened a cupboard. “What about these cups?”

“I don’t think I want more breakable glass in my bag…” I replied

He carefully climbed over the next one, digging his claws into the cracks of wood. He eased open the next door and looked inside. He drew out a small brown paper bag.

“Oh? What’s that?”

Discord carefully opened it with his paw. “Sugar…?” he dropped down to the counter and dipped in a claw to taste. A sour face, “Bleh, no, salt. Maybe only a cup’s worth.”

“Better that than nothing. Let’s take it.” I hovered it over to myself, carefully folded the top, and tucked it next to the hay. “Alright.” I nodded, “Alright, I think that’s everything.”

We sat in silence for a moment. Or five. At a loss for what to do next.

“Okay, let’s go then!” Luna started marching towards the door with purpose on her face, but I stopped her.

“Let’s take a look outside first, alright? Discord can’t exactly walk out unnoticed.”

“Oh, right!” Luna scampered over to a window and popped her head on the other side of the heavy curtains. She ducked back, face serious.

“Hey guys? Guards have completely surrounded the house.”

“What?!” I squealed, “How did they, why, oh my dear goodness, oh horseapples… Why? How did they?”

“Well that shouldn’t, uh…” I turned slowly to Discord. Should have known. Should have. “Yeah, I gave the guards the slip, but I guess I didn’t try and conceal myself while running through the streets.” He rapped his head sullenly, “If they talked to the right ponies… Yeah. Sorry.”

“Feathers. Horsefeathers!” Celestia, calm down. Calm down, there’s a way out of this. If you calm down, you can think of a solution. I jumped a little as a pony knocked on the door. Oh, why didn’t I have more time to think?

“Okay,” I squeaked, “Okay, let me try something. Both of you… both of you, close your eyes and count to ten.” I put my foreleg in front of my face, and Luna nodded happily. Discord looked blank.

“What is that supposed to do?” he asked. Luna took Discord’s paws and shoved them in his face, closing her eyes and grinning.

I took a deep breath, prepared my spell, and threw open the door, releasing a furious and intense light the guards won’t soon be unseeing.


VIII : Luna

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 8

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Luna~

Ponies always tell me, ‘Luna, don’t run!’ Yet here I was, galloping, laughing on the inside each time my hoof hit the cobblestones, giggling as the wind tugged at my mane. My friends ran beside me, actually urging me to go faster.

Teachers always tell me, ‘Luna, don’t shout!’ Yet here we were, talking fast on the top of our lungs, getting right to the point as we zigzagged through the city streets. I screamed every word and no one cared to stop me.

Celestia always tells me, ‘Luna, act like a lady!’ Yet there Celestia was, her perfect mane getting messy, my mane getting tangled. We splashed through a puddle and I squeaked with joy, hooves chilled to perfection.

This was how to live!

“Try and find a guard tower, one that’s built into a wall!” Discord shouted behind me.

“What?! Why would we want to go there?!” Celestia shouted back, over her shoulder.

“It’s our best shot at getting up on top of the walls, unless you want to go through the castle!”

“If you say so!”

We whipped around a corner and tried not to trip or slide or anything else that had slowed us down. The crowds of ponies were being smart and getting out of the way as we ran, some pointing and others shouting hard-to-hear words. All ponies were nice like that, except a very special few.

“Look, guards!” I shouted happily.

“Got it!” Celestia called back.

With a brief flare of her horn, Celestia slammed the guard’s helmets down over their eyes. Following me, Discord slapped the cobblestones. Ponies began to stumble as the rock became even more slippery. The two guards flailed at their helmets and fell to the ground before they even knew we had run by. I laughed as we kept galloping, unstopped.

Another corner, a market, and a long street later, Celestia began shouting again.

“There, a guard post!”

It was a tower like any other, but it had a sign out front with a painted on shield and star. Me and Discord stopped as Celestia charged in. There was another large flash of light, and we followed after her, running past whinnying Earth ponies scraping at their eyes.

“Over there! I found the way up!”

The entryway vanished in a flash as we began charging up the uneven ramp in wide circles. The occasional door popped up and vanished again on the right wall, but otherwise, there wasn’t much in the tower. There were no windows, only a torch every once in a while, which was very strange to me. Wouldn’t windows make it easier for the ponies to see?

“I hear hoofsteps,” Discord said.

“That’s just the echo of the place, right?”

“No, someponies are coming down.”

“Shall I blind them again?”

“Ooh, ooh,” I jumped forward as my sister and my friend started to slow down, “Can I try something?”

Celestia laughed nervously, “Luna, this isn’t the time for fooling around.”

“Get in the doorway, please!” I demanded.

Discord immediately scampered into a door, and Celestia hesitantly followed, looking down at me with one of her big word looks. ‘Incredulous,’ I think she would say. I didn’t let that stop me. I stood between them and let my magic come to me. It’s a pretty easy trick, really. I made the shadows move in front of us instead of behind us, and then pulled some other shadows around, hiding us in the dark corridor. Guards, coming from above, thundered down to the lower floor. I let the spell fade when they passed.

 “Luna…” Discord started, staring at me, “You know shadow magic?!”

“Um, yeah, how’d you think I kept winning at hide and seek?”

“Luna! That’s cheating!” my sister shouted. She’s been doing that a lot today. Maybe later she’ll understand why I do it all the time. But first, I needed to reply.

“It is?” I said, “Well, according to rule seventeen, article B, part eighty: Nuh-uh.”

Discord snickered. “She has a point.”

“Oh, be quiet. Luna, if you could do that, why couldn’t we have used that to sneak out of the house?”

“Well that’s just silly,” I replied, “Who’s ever heard of a moving shadow in the middle of the day?”

“Look, guys, let’s drop it for now,” Discord laughed, “We’ve gotta keep moving.”

“O-Kay!”

We running up the ramp, still bursting with energy. Another patrol came up after us, and a different one came down again, but they could never see through my trick. Eventually, they stopped coming at all, and we slowed down. We were getting tired, after all.

“How tall is this tower anyway?” I asked, “We havn’t seen a door in forever. What do they have up here?”

“It’s a good thing, that means it really does go all the way up,” Discord replied. “We got really lucky there.”

“Lucky? Us? We’re like, a super duper team! Did you see how many guards we battled past?”

“I dunno, a lot of them?” Discord had a really silly grin on his face, looking out the nonexistent windows.

“A whole stinking lot of them!” I loudly pointed out.

“What, would have, happened,” Celestia panted, “If we, had been, caught? Oof, could this staircase, be any longer?”

“You uh.” Discord rejoined us in reality, looking back at my struggling sister. “You don’t really want to know.”

“Yes, I do. Tell me.”

“Celestia, are you doing alright?” Discord acted, “You seem pretty winded!”

“Don’t change, the subject,” she gasped for breath, “Though can we, maybe, stop for a bit?”

“Yeah, we can slow down.” He looked at me. “Luna, you alright?”

“Doing great!”

“I, am a lady,” Celestia huffed, “I’m not used, to all of this, exertion.”

“Yeah, yeah, so you’ve been saying… Oh.” He stopped.

“’Oh’ what?” my sister asked.

“We’ve made it.”

“Oh!”

The ramp ended, going right up into a large trap door. Discord walked up to it, placing his paw on the latch.

“Well, cross your…” He stopped, then looked at us, “Hooves, I guess.”

Discord nudged the door up. It didn’t move.

“Ahem.” He slammed his shoulder into the door and heaved his body into it. It rose a little. “Um, help?” Celestia and I fell in place beside him, pushing up as well. The door was silly in how heavy it was, but all together, we forced it open, and the light of day blinded us all.

There’s a word I don’t think I really understood before. Infinity. Forever and ever. Yeah, I thought it was a lot, but I don’t think I quite grasped how many lots infinity was. There’s a word for that kind of nonunderstanding, and Celestia would probably have it. But I couldn’t think of it then. The only word I had for the moment was Infinity, because I finally understood what it meant.

The sky was infinity. When we stepped up out of the tower, I looked at the sky, and I saw no end. No corners or cut offs. Just blue. Not like a painted on blue where you can still see that it’s paint. It was an impossibly flawless blue, untouchable and unreachable. Forever and ever. Ponies could move through the sky? I felt like they would get lost the instant they stepped off the walls.

It was like, a void. Except it had stuff, and the stuff was blue?

I feel like Celestia would have the words for this, I just felt silly for trying.

Speaking of my sister.

“Oh my goodness…” Celestia sniffled, wiping her face on her fetlock, “Oh my goodness, it is true. There is a sun… It’s gorgeous…”

I flipped around, trying to see if the sun was true, and grabbed my eyes as it stung me. The sun was apparently a black hole in the sky that burned a shadow in my eye, suggesting that it was orange. My sister must have gone crazy, that thing is not pretty at all.

“Guys,” Discord whispered, eyes glues upward as well, “We’ve gotta keep moving.”

“Yes… yes, let’s keep going.”

We walked on top of the walls, and that was impossible too. Walls have a top, that’s why they’re walls, right? Walls are supposed to hit a ceiling or a roof. If they didn’t hit a roof, then they would be partitions. That’s what Celestia said.

I guess we have to call them walls, because there’s no way the poor things could ever hope to reach the sky.

Towers peppered the clouds, another sea beneath the sky expanse, and the walls circled and waved in patterns, all connected, with a little sunken pathway on top. All paths eventually reaching the final border, the last wall that we walked on top of.

And beyond that, there was nothing. Forever.

I heard the phrase ‘end of the world’ once. I think it fits the hoof. Nothing beyond this island in the clouds.

“Look,” Celestia squeaked. There was a speck on the sky. A string of little horse-drawn carts floating in the middle of nowhere.

“That must be the supplies!” Discord started to run forward again, trying to figure out a way around the paths. “C’mon, let’s go!”

Discord had his eyes glues on the carts. Celestia returned her eyes to being glued on the sun, though I dunno how she was able to look at it so long. So, instead of looking at either of those things, I had my eyes glued on a tower, where a tiny little worm seemed to be sprouting. It spread its itty bitty wings, then began to fly.

“Hey Celestia, what’s that?” I asked, trying to point to it with me hoof.

“Hm…?” she blinked slowly at me, then looked where I pointed. “Oh, what is that?”

“Hey, why are we slowing down?” Discord ran back to us, making a pouty face, “C’mon, we gotta catch that cart!”

“There’s something… coming towards us?” Celestia said.

Discord took one look, then shouted, “Morons! RUN!”

I’m not sure what happened then. Rocks burst around us, and the creature flew over us in a flash, a huge version of Discord. I was in the air, between the two infinities, unhurt, but with nothing to hold me from falling.

I paused midair, yellow glow around me, Celestia trying to keep her hooves on a crumbling wall, and failing. Discord grabbed her tail as she skidded off, and he quickly followed behind her.

Hm.

It’s a weird feeling, falling.

I thought running made a sort of windy noise, but falling drowned out everything. The stone rushed by me fast, blurring together. I twisted my neck and looked over to the sky horizon, completely still. For a second, I thought the gray clouds were ground, a different kind of stone. I had always wondered what they felt like. I hoped they weren’t solid.

Something grabbed me. Discord’s uneven front feet had me around the waist, his eyes screwed tightly shut. His wings snapped open. I felt like I was yanked upwards, body snapping like a rubber band. My head hurt, but the roaring wasn’t stopping, no matter how much Discord flapped his wings. Celestia dropped by us, chomping onto Discord’s tail as she passed. His face screwed up like his eyes and he opened his mouth to yell, but no sound came out, lost in the wind all around us. His wings trailed behind him, trying to flap, unable to slow us both down.

We hit the clouds together. I gasped a few breaths of thick, greasy air before we dropped out the other side. A few clumps of gray clung to Discord’s feathers, but otherwise, the clouds hadn’t slowed us at all.

I looked at the uneven dark green blur beneath us and wondered. If that’s the ground, and we’re not slowing down, what should I be feeling right now? My brain didn’t seem to have a reply.

Where I looked, the ground and clouds began to glow a patchy gold. Celestia’s horn glowed brightly, forehooves tightly gripping her head as she tried to concentrate and encircle us with her light. I pawed it, hoof passing right through. It was nothing but air.

Discord stared at the light, like I did, face blank. He spun on Celestia, let go of me, and thrust his paws forward. The light turned solid, into a sparkling rubbery substance. The wind stopped, Celestia’s eyes snapped open.

Things went mute right before we hit the ground. The bubble buckled, squished, slowed, sunbeans holding us tightly in the center. My nose gently touched the ground, pressed flat under the magic shield. For a moment, time stopped, and I realized something important.

“Hey look! The green stuff everywhere is grass!”

“What!?” Celestia squeaked.

We shot back into the air, Celestia screaming the whole way.

“Why?! Why why whyyyyy?!”

“Oh sweet life it worked!” Discord shouted, punching the air. “It worked it worked it worked! I’m a genius! Ahaha!  AHAHAHAHAHA!”

I began laughing too, laughing and screaming and everything else as we flew, smacked into the ground again, and bounced off into the unknown.


IX : Luna

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 9

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Luna~

Night in the forest was just as dark as night in the city, with shadows cast by large and leafy trees instead of giant walls. After seeing the sun and sky for the first time, I think we were all hoping that maybe they would join us out here, beyond the Shadow Stallion’s reach. It didn’t happen. We were still followed by the heavy blanket of gray clouds, with no end in sight. And we had gotten pretty far in two days travel. We couldn’t even see Canterbury anymore.

Not seeing the city anymore was one thing. If you listened to Discord and Celestia the first day, all they were able to talk about is panic. Are we being pursued? Should we keep moving, or find a good hiding spot? Double check the skies, they could be above the cloud cover! Celestia didn’t even notice her cutie mark had appeared until I pointed it out, and by then she had forgotten why she even had it.

I didn’t let them wind themselves up like that for a second day. The moment we started walking I wondered aloud why Celestia’s sun-shaped cutie mark was yellow, when the sun was obviously orange. We talked. We told Discord about the meaning of cutie marks. Celestia eventually explained what she thought her cutie mark meant: She wanted to spread the sun’s light to the world. Literally or figuratively. We joked about it almost all day, with almost no paranoia. By the second night, we hadn’t seen anything, and they weren’t too worried anymore. I think we all feel a lot safer now. Last night, when we bedded down in this field, Celestia actually laughed at one of my jokes.

So this was where I was, waking up slowly in a cozy little field. I was warm and right where I left myself. Dropping down on a pile of leaves or small patch of grass just felt right, for me at least, and the meadow was especially comfortable. My sister was currently snuggled up beside me, head resting across my back, like a heavy, breathing blanket. The crickets were quieting down, and birds began to wake up, cooing and tweeting. So it was still before dawn, but I couldn’t tell how long. Hours? Minutes? It had to be pretty close.

With a little flash of my horn, I pushed the shadows out of my eyes, and looked again at the less dark world around me. As expected, there was no Discord. Silly guy, he has nowhere to go, yet he still sneaks off at night, after only a few hours of sleep. It must be a bad habit.

I leaned forward gently, trying not to disturb my sister as I grabbed a bite of breakfast, a few stems of the tall grass. There was plenty else to eat beyond the walls, though it was mostly just a bunch of leafy things. Celestia always was trying to make sure I didn’t grab snacks off any old bush or shrub. This grass was one of the few things sis let me eat freely. It was like hay, but twice as tasty!

I heard Discord before he appeared, pushing through our meadow like there was no one to wake up. His head poked through the long stalks of my soon-to-be-breakfast, holding the oat bag in his mouth. He looked over me and Celestia as he pushed aside some grass to sit on, taking the little sack in hand to talk.

“She’s using you as a pillow again,” he laughed quietly.

“Mm-mm...” I shrugged and swallowed my mouthful of grass.

“Right, yeah,” he whispered. “Anyway, I found some berries while exploring.”

“Ooh, what kind?” I whispered back.

“Blueberries, I’m pretty sure.” He reached into the sack and pulled out a red branch covered in thick bunches of tiny little black berries.

“Those don’t look blue at all! Are you sure they’re not blackberries?”

“Nah, blackberries look like blue raspberries.”

I giggled quietly. “So blackberries are blue and blueberries are black…”

He shrugged, picking apart the branch. “Don’t look at me, I don’t name the stuff. I just know these are definitely blueberries.”

“Don’t.” Celestia slurred, jerking awake. “Don’t eat weird berries… You two…”

Discord slapped a paw to his face in surprise. “Oh no, we woke mother up!”

Celestia snorted, rolling off me. “Yeah, don’t I wish…” Celestia’s horn began to glow and I quickly released my own spell as a bulb of light sprung to life near us, illuminating our little meadow. She squinted at the branch Discord was holding, rubbed her eyes, blinked once, twice, and then said firmly:

“Those are not blueberries.”

“Oh really?” Discord grinned. “And how would you know?”

“Having worked at a bakery for as long as I did, I think I’d know what a blueberry would look like,” she replied.

“Yeah, but have you ever had wild blueberries?”

“Have you?”

“Nope.” He popped the fruit mush into his mouth. “Have now.”

“Okay. Okay, just do what you want. Don’t cry when you get sick later.” Celestia unsteadily got to her feet and walked beyond the treeline, taking the light with her and yawning loudly. I turned back to Discord.

“So, are they tasty?”

He shrugged. “They taste like berries. You wanna couple?”

I hovered a few off the branch and popped them in my mouth. My whole face immediately tightened. Sour! Or… tart? Is that a better word? Didn’t matter, those weren’t like any blueberries I’d had before! But I usually had them baked, so... I yanked out another chunk of grass and let him have the rest.

Not long after, Celestia trotted back into the field, her mane perfectly in place and coat clean and fresh for the new day.

“I still don’t know how she does that,” Discord mumbled through a mouthful of mush.

Celestia sat beside me and began to comb my mane as well. I didn’t really see why we bother out here, but sometimes it’s better to just let Celestia do what she needs to.

~Θ~

It was the third day on our long walk away from Canterbury. We weren’t able to see the giant stone pillar anymore, but that didn’t stop Discord from serving as a constant eye on the skies. He spent more time with his head in the trees than struggling through bushes with me and Celestia.

Not that he didn’t have his own problems.

I watched as the branches shifted over us. Discord was almost hidden as he clung to the thicker boughs. A hesitant step forward, then a retreat as the dead stick fell under his weight. He tested another one. Brittle as well. He stared at the next tree and sunk on his branch, tensed up his wings. And there he sat.

“Luna are you coming?” my sister asked.

I stood, still as Discord, watching.

“I cleared a path for us…” She walked up to me, then looked up into the trees. She sighed. “This again?”

Discord carefully unfurled his wings, tested them, and leaned back a hair further. With a flap of his wings, he leapt forward, throwing himself to the next tree. He slammed his stomach into another bough, cracking it, scraping his claws across the bark as he tried to right himself. Discord hastily yanked himself up, chuckling nervously.

“Oh, just get down here before you hurt yourself!” Celestia reasonably demanded, turning back to the bushes. Discord didn’t need another excuse. He scrambled down the trunk and snapped to attention beside us, a silly grin smacked over his face.

“So! What’s the plan?!”

“Keep trying to find a town. Or a road,” Celestia said as she began pushing past bushes. “Goodness, a road would be wonderful…”

“Gotcha.” Discord nodded and followed briefly before stopping. “No wait, not gotcha. What are we going to do in a town anyway?”

“Well uh…” Celestia shoved aside a bush with her hoof, glancing up at the clouds. “I’m not really sure! See if they need a new baker, I suppose?”

“That’s it?” Discord scampered in front of my sister, staring up at her. Making sure she looked him in the eye. “All that running and screaming and panicking, and we’re just going to go to a town and become bakers?”

“That’s pretty lame, sis,” I said, I nodding. “Pret-ty lame.”

“Well, do either of you have any better ideas?”

“I dunno…” Discord ambled alongside my sister, helping her push bushes out of our way. Or my way, since I was in the back. “You keep going on and on about how you want to somehow bring the sun back to Equestria, or worship the sun as your god and master or something.”

“I’ve mentioned that only twice!”

“Three times, and we haven’t had much else to talk about so far.” He shrugged. “I dunno, maybe we should work on that? On getting the sun back?”

“Ooh! Hey! You guys!” I bounced forward, jumping in front of my sister. “We could become adventurers! We could have this really cool adventuring party while we roamed the countryside, helping all ponies in need!”

“I don’t know…” Celestia watched me bounce, failing to get caught up in my excitement. “We’ve just gotten ourselves out of a terrible situation. I don’t want to go charging right back into danger. Maybe I just want things to be nice, safe, and stable for a while.”

“Well I don’t. Stable life is a stale life,” Discord dashed past a bush, and moment later he was up in a tree again, striking one of his theatric poses on a sturdy branch. “We just had our first taste of adventure. Of excitement every day! Of outwitting the enemy through your own skill! Of travelling to new places and seeing all it has to offer. Y’know, like these trees!”

“I do like the trees!” I pipe up, “But I dunno if we wanna name our adventuring group after them.”

“Yeah,” he replied, “The Tree Three would be a pretty terrible name.”

I giggled. “Tree Three!”

“We don’t need an adventuring party name!” Celestia pleaded, looking up at Discord. “You both don’t understand, we almost died!”

Discord scratched his chin. “Risk comes with adventure, yes…”

“We. Almost. Died!”

“But then we didn’t!” Discord retorted, “We’re more clever than that!”

“No, no we’re not!” My sister stomped one hoof forward, neck straight as she glared up at Discord, “We’re just two fillies and a colt! We have no special powers or amazing skills, and the second we try and do something dangerous again, we are going to get hurt so fast…!” Celestia whirled around and began flattening bushes again, this time with her horn. “When we find a town, we are going to find a way to live normally, the boon we’ve been granted by our freedom!” She blasted a bush out of the way, leaves falling all around her. “If there is a town at all in this forsaken wilderness!”

Discord watched Celestia quietly as she plowed forward, head on his paw, acting as if her entire fit only made him bored. I made a pouting face up at him, but it took my friend a second or two to notice me. I heard him scamper down as I rushed to catch up with my sister.

“But Celestia…” I said, “We do have something really cool and special about us.”

She sighed, trampling a bush. “Yes, Luna?”

“We have… each other.” Silence. Celestia looked back at me, and was forced to see me making the biggest puppy eyes I could ever make. “We are,” I said with gravity, “The Adventuring Trio!”

Celestia groaned as Discord burst out laughing. A really loud laugh too. I wondered what the joke was. Celestia didn’t get the joke either way. She kept walking.

“Wait, what’s so funny?”

“Oh, you know,” Discord chuckled, “Trees… Trio… It was a pun, right?”

“No.”

“Oh.” He coughed into his bird foot and straightened himself. “Well, I thought it was funny.”

“Yeah, but now you’ve made Celestia mad.” I look back at her, already stomping away at bushes. “Aw, c’mon big sis. We have tons of time to figure this out! Don’t be huffy!” My sister stopped for a second, then broke into a gallop.

“Um, sis? Celestia? Come back!” I began trotting after her, getting my face smacked into by all kinds of branches. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings that much! I mean, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings! The second one!”

“There!” Celestia shouted over her shoulder. She stopped, pointing a hoof off into the horizon, “Do you see that?! Rising into the clouds? Chimney smoke! A town!”

I squinted upward, spun my head in a few directions, and then finally jumped up on my sister’s back, pushing aside her saddlebags. She stumbled on her hooves as I tried to balance. As well as see over her poofy mane. Finally, I saw the little black streaks rising into the cloudy cover.

“There they are! Hooray!” I declared. I threw my forelegs up in celebration, unbalancing my sister even more.

“Finally!” Discord moaned, catching up. “Maybe there we can find a nice bed, a good meal, a bakery for Celestia to drool over…”

“Wait, Discord.” Celestia threw up a hoof to stop his advance, shrugging me off her shoulders. He raised an eyebrow up at her as she continued. “Now that we’ve reached this point, there’s something I think we need to talk about.”

“Um, what about…?” he asked.

“Now, Discord, not to be rude, but honestly, you are very strange looking to a normal pony.”

He looked down at himself, raising his scaly leg as if to double check.

“Um, yeah, thanks for pointing that out?”

“Do you think you can cast an illusion to make yourself look normal, at least while we check out the town?”

“Hm…” He looked down at his paw, over his shoulder again. “I don’t know,” he admitted, “That would be pretty hard…” He perked up his tail, tried standing with his legs straight. “I’m not really the right shape. And the illusion would still walk funny if I was. Even if I could get all the parts right… I’d have to really concentrate, and who knows how long I could get that to last.” He shrugged. “So no. Unless you want to wait for night. Then I could pull off a pretty convincing silhouette.”

“Drat. Well, we should at least give you a name that doesn’t sound so… evil.”

“What do you mean by that…?”

“You need a pony name. How about Resonance?”

He gave my sister a blank stare. She smiled back at him, trying as hard as she could to deflect Discord’s disbelief.

“How long have you been thinking about this?” he finally asked.

Days.”

“Big sis,” I chipped in, “Discord is really weird and stuff, but we should pretend he isn’t. People would see we were trying to hide his scariness and we’d be even more suspicious. We should just walk right up to town and show that we’re not scary, and neither is Discord.”

“Yeeeaah, I’m going to have to go with the honest version on this one,” Discord said. And that was that.

We began walking again, conversations kept quiet as we all kept our eyes on the sky. Finally, the trees stopped as we ran into a simple, sunken dirt trail. I don’t know about the other two, but just a road was getting me excited! Smoke was one thing, but this was actual proof! There were ponies out here!

“Okay everypony.” Celestia said, eyes on the road. “Just act natural, try not to stand out.”

Discord and I strolled right out from the bushes and began walking down the dirt road. My sister fumbled out after us, straightened herself, and strode forward. Her old walk was back, the one she used to use around Canterbury to show how important she was. At least she wasn’t asking me to imitate her yet.

The forest slowly grew thinner, and eventually stopped. Stumps increased, with lumpy rows of earth overtaking them. Some fields were covered in sparse random plants, most with spotted brown and yellow leaves. I wondered for a while what kind of plant that could possibly be, and why there seemed to be so many different kinds of it. Little bushes, vines, stalks, flowers… It took me until I saw the patches of green, so vibrant and healthy, before I realized that maybe these plants weren’t usually a wilty yellow.

Earth ponies wandered through a few of the withering fields, but most seemed to be gathered around the green spots, close to a little river that was between us and the village. The ponies seemed to walk slowly down the dusty dirt rows, as if their hooves were too heavy, though they looked no bigger than most ponies I had seen in Canterbury. Many were dressed in simple things, old cloaks and plain shawls, the colors of their coats and clothes blending together in the dusty dirt. A lot of the farmer ponies looked at us. Lots of them. Some longer than others. But no one approached us, or ran, or reacted any differently.

The farmers also seemed to crowd around wells. I thought at first that was where they came together to talk. If they all needed the water, then they could get it from the river, of course. But when we reached the bridge, I realized it only went over an empty clay rut. Looking down, there was only the smallest of streams trickling down the center of the riverbed.

But what stood out the most, what made all of us try and read each other’s face, were the decorations on the bridge itself. Flapping quietly in the wind were banners of the Shadow Stallion’s star. I don’t know if we ever really thought we had escaped him, but… Discord met my eyes, clearly nervous. But what could we do now? Run?

We crossed the bridge in silence, and stood before the town itself. The houses were made of the trunks of trees and packed with dirt, the same color as the dark brown fields. The roofs were straw or hay, and several houses had earth ponies atop them, weaving more straw into place.

“Guys,” Celestia said quietly, “Why are we here?”

“Because you wanted to become a baker?” Discord joked, giving out a very short laugh.

“Y’know,” Celestia looked around the town, as other ponies hastily looked away, “I-I feel a bit silly… Was so excited to see a town… The baker thing was a dumb idea. Let’s just get some supplies and head out.”

“Yes. Yes, let’s do that. I mean.” Discord looked over his shoulder. “We’re not that far from Canterbury. Now that we’ve found some roads, it shouldn’t be too hard to find another town.”

“Aw, we’re leaving already?” I cried out. Depressing town or no, it was still a town! “But it’s almost dark!”

“Well, Luna, I thought you enjoyed sleeping out in the open.”

“Yeah, but you don’t.”

Celestia paused for a moment.

“I’ll manage.”

We entered the main body of the town, crossing its only square. From here, I could see both where the houses started and ended. Everything was lined up along this little dirt road, and the town fit comfortably in the space of what would have been three city blocks in Canterbury. A few buildings had signs swinging above their doors, bearing only simple pictures. A shoe, a barrel, a bowl… Celestia stared at them, trying to figure out their purpose while we passed by the square’s large central building. It was built like all of the other structures, but Stallion banners hung across the entrance, the only building in town decorated this way. I wondered what the building could be. A town hall? A jail?

It wasn’t long until I got a non-answer. The double doors of the center building slammed open, whining on their hinges. I leapt sideways as a thick-necked red earth pony was thrown into the streets, stumbling to stay on all four hooves.

“Cursed Broncburgh-ers! You think you can just shut me up this easily?!” he shouted, voice hoarse, shaking an angry hoof. “Conmen! Thieves!” He kept swearing and stamping long after the double doors where slammed after him. He spun in place, whipping his head back and forth, as if he was looking for something.

He spotted me. I realized then that I had stopped to stare.

“The heck are you looking at, pipsqueak?!” the red pony yelled, thrusting a hoof at me.

“Um, why are you so mad at this town mister?” I asked.

“What? You don’t know?!” He looked over me, then at Discord, leering and backing away. “You’re definitely not from around here, are you? Who the heck are you?”

“Well…” It hit me. A great idea. I gave Discord a smile. He returned a blank stare, then smiled too, like he knew! I snapped myself into a tall pose, the pose Celestia always uses when she wants to be taken seriously.

“We!” I declared proudly, “Are the Adventuring Trio! We are here to help however we can!” I waved a hoof regally, just like my lessons. “Whatever is troubling this area so much, good sir?”

The red pony stared at me for a moment, looking at me, at Discord sideways, eyes squinted thin. I held myself a little taller, shook my mane haughtily, trying to look older than I was. I wonder if the saddlebags hid my lack of a cutie mark. Could I pass for a short mare yet? Finally, he dropped the glare for a better face: relief.

“Oh! You’re a unicorn!” He laughed once and extended a hoof to shake. “Barely Buck’s the name. Thank goodness you’re here, because do I have a problem for you!”


X : Celestia

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 10

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Celestia~

What we found wasn’t the endless stone prison of Canterbury. It wasn’t a ruin of Equestrian soul. But with the clouds still obscuring the light, and dust across coats and hearts, this town could be considered gloomy. It hurt… Beyond the walls, I had hoped for paradise. A place of freedom and joy. To see the Stallion’s shadows spread here, far from his keep…

We still had to walk through the town. Grass is nice, as well as free, but we needed a bit more to balance our diet. Some oats, maybe a few other vegetables, if we could obtain them. The town square was just as unfriendly as the fields, empty, save two ponies resting on blankets, peddling goods from the forest and decorative charms respectively. Signs squeaked above shop doors, displaying near useless pictograms. I can imagine a small town can manage by simply memorizing which stores are which, but what about the convenience to travellers such as us?

It reinforced within me the idea that this town had no want for us, each building, every face staring as if politely asking us to leave. What did I think I could do? What was I hoping for? To find a town and be welcome? To impress with my regal bearing and unicorn magic? I’m such a foal… still only a filly, cutie mark speaking of pretention, not hope. I shrunk internally as the farmers around us stared. Why didn’t I press more for Discord to hide himself? Why didn’t I simply ask him to stay outside the town? What have I done?

I was just glad to hear my friend’s agreement to leave. We’d find someplace a little more welcoming. Outside Equestria, if we had to.

We silently passed by a large central hall, a civil center by the looks of the banners. Further proof of the stallion’s influence… It made me nervous and I picked up my pace. It was like his eyes were on us, even though we hadn’t seen any sign of him or his forces for days.

The double doors of the center slammed open. A thick-necked red pony was thrown before us, stumbling to keep standing, whirling around to shout at the closed and locked doors.

“Cursed Broncburgh-ers! You think you can just shut me up this easily?!” he shouted.

I hurried past. Don’t get involved, Celestia, just ignore him and keep walking. I swiftly strode away and did not stop until I saw a pictographic sign of an apple and a hammer. If that didn’t mean general goods, then I’m not sure what did. I entered out of step, feeling small and nervous. Just get what we need and leave. My mantra. Just what we need.

The shop I entered was both messy and cleaned out. Shelves were nailed into the wooden segments of wall, but some were propped up with brooms and books. There were a number of different things on the shelves, from spinning tops to large segments of rope. But no matter the item, they were stacked unevenly in mismatched piles, forming into tangled messed. But more often, there were shelves covered in dust and nothing more, as if their purpose was to remain unused. Among the clutter and lack of clutter, a bored looking earth pony rested his forelegs on a scratched counter, wearing a gray apron, and surrounded by a number of barrels and bags. He glanced up at me, and swatted lazily at a fly with his tail.

“Oats…?” I asked from the doorframe. His expression remained unchanged as he dipped his head slightly. Was that a yes? “How much per scoop?” I continued.

“Five bits,” he replied.

I consciously made an effort to pretend not to be surprised.

“E-expensive,” I stammered. Failure.

“There’s a drought ‘round here, miss,” he pointed out, flicking his hoof at a fly, “I hadda buy half these goods all the way from Stringhalt. Now, d’ya want anything or not?”

“I um…” I approached the counter, “Two scoops of oats, please…”

The earth pony heaved himself off the counter, dropping loudly to the ground. He pulled a dusty scoop from a pile of hammers behind him and nudged open a barrel with his nose, ducking his head deep inside. I pulled out ten bits. A third of our money, gone already… how long was it going to last if every town was like this? The earth pony dropped my oats in a little burlap sack and turned to me. He stopped, stared just a moment too long. I floated him the coins. Was that what he was waiting for?

“Don’t see too many unicorn ‘round these parts,” he said, voice softer. He eyed the floating coins, then pushed one with his hoof.

“Um…” I let the bits fall to the counter, stacking them neatly. He continued to stare.

“Be willing to give ya a discount if you can do a job or two,” the shopkeeper said, sorting through the coins. “Heck, if you can cast any water spells… Well, the whole town’d be mighty appreciative.”

“Sorry, my specialty is light magic…” I stopped myself from adding how much I wish I knew water magic. I don’t even know if creating water is possible, but if I studied the theory…

“Shame…” the shopkeeper placed the bag on the counter. “Well, you do any heavy lifting? Any fine work? Y’see…” He leaned on the counter, as if to get closer. With barely a thought, I took a step back. “Celery Seeds is the unicorn around here, but he doesn’t stop by near enough to make himself useful. Lives over in Rearing Town, you see. We’ve been having a little bit of a tiff with them lately, since the river dried up,” he explained with a wave of his hoof.

“I, I’m not sure I want to take away someone else’s job…”

“We’ll pay ya! We don’t got much right now, but a unicorn’s always helpful to have around.” The earth pony leaned on the counter, hoof curled over my bits. He looked desperate. Everyone did around this town…

A unicorn’s always helpful… Maybe there was something I could do here. Maybe there was a way I could help, just by being myself. This town was unfriendly, but if I could find a way to help them… I gave him a smile, if only to make him sit down again.

“I… I’ll think about it,” I said.

“Thank ya kindly, miss!” the pony dropped back behind the counter, “That’ll be seven bits.”

I quietly paid, taking back the few bits of discount and tucking them in my bag, beside the oats. I thanked the stallion and backed away, out the door.

“Okay you two! I’ve got an idea! Let’s go and find—“I turned around to a square just as empty as I left it. No Luna. No Discord.

“You know,” I said to myself, “I should have noticed this.”

I barely had to run around the entire square. I found the two right where I last saw them: outside the town hall, talking to the angry red pony.

“What are you two doing?” I demanded, falling into place between Luna and Discord. They both exchanged secret smiles. It was the least assuring thing I had ever seen.

“Ah, is this the last member of your adventuring trio?” the stranger asked, much calmer than I had last seen him.

“Adventuring…?” I began.

“Barely Buck here!” Discord loudly interrupted, “thinks the people of this town are cheating on water rationing! He wants us to check some things out for him, and will pay us if we find anything.” Discord raised his eyebrows, as if it was only the thought of money that would tempt me. I ignored him, stepping forward to shake hooves with the earth pony.

“We’ll get to the bottom of this, Mr. Buck,” I told him firmly. He nodded and took my hoof, shaking it only twice before retreating.

“Thanks! You can find me over in Rearing Town.” He turned and pointed to the river, “Lemme give you some directions. You head upstream to when it first forks…”

“We’ll manage. We’re a specialized team, you know!” He accepted the explanation and galloped off without another word. Discord and Luna turned to me, grinning ear to ear.

“Celestia, does that mean that you—“

What do you two think you’re doing?!” I hissed, snapping my head between the two of them just so I could glare at them more effectively. “An Adventure Trio?! We were only joking about that!”

“Dang.” Discord sat down in a defeated huff. “I really thought you were behind this for a second. Sure fooled me.”

“I’m sorry sis…” Luna hung her head, sighing. “I couldn’t come up with a better name, even though I had all morning!” Discord barked a single laugh, grinning as I shot him a special glare.

“That’s not the problem here. Guys…” I shook my head. “Are you both crazy? We can’t do something like this! Investigate the water problem… What do you think we can do that no one else has already done?”

Discord shrugged. “I dunno, but he’s not paying us until we’ve done whatever, so what’s the harm in trying?”

“The harm?” Again, I turned to look at my Draconequus friend especially. I suspected him to be the main perpetrator of this… Luna knew her limitations more than this, didn’t she? Knew what was acceptable and what was just, just crazy. “What does it matter the harm,” I said to him. “You’re only doing this because you want an adventure.”

“I am not!” he snorted, shaking his head, “I want to help these ponies.”

“Do you now?”

“Celestia.” Now it was his turn to glare at me, standing up and getting his face in mine. “You went on and on about how you wanted to be some sort of sun priestess, and help ponies see the sky or something like that. And yet you’re not going to help these poor farmers with their water crisis because you can’t think of a way how.” He backed away. “We have a means to help them now. And you’re saying you don’t want to, just because of its association with one tiny little word?”

“If it helps…” my sister stepped forward, head still low, “I didn’t really see this as something adventure-y. We both just want to help. Don’t you?”

I looked between the two of them. It’s not that I didn’t want to help… But wasn’t there something easier to be done? I sighed.

“Okay. Put away those puppy eyes you two. Please? Thanks… NOW!” I stand regally before my two friends, trying to add a bit more weight to my little smile. “This one time. ONE. TIME. Got me?”

~¤~

We headed out of town, walking alongside the riverbank. If it could even be called a river at this point. The width of the banks expanded and shrunk, passing through fields both used and left fallow, yet the running water never grew to be more than a trickle.

“So, the story goes like this,” Discord began, marching with an excited step at the head of our group, “Broncburgh and Rearing Town share this river. Ages ago they carved some canals and constructed a gate to divide the water evenly, and so on. With the drought going on, things have gotten tense. Barley Buck thinks Broncburgh is cheating on water rations, but the mayor of Broncburgh accused Rearing Town of cheating, and it’s all becoming quite messy. There’ve been fights already. Nothing big, but tensions are high.”

“And he told you all of this without ever once wondering what exactly he was talking to?”

“Oh, he said a few things… Like how many weird creatures are wandering around lately…” Discord spun around and crouched low, as if to pounce. His smile switched to a smirk, getting even wider in the change. “Also, I told him I was a specialized unicorn experiment to make the most perfect super warrior!”

I stumbled over a laugh. Ridiculous! An obvious lie, no matter how strange a Draconequus looked.

“And he believed you?” I asked.

“He believed me!” Discord repeated, ecstatic. “All this time, I thought I was a bad liar!” He laughed. “I guess all I had to find was a pony dumb enough to believe me!”

“Discord!” I snapped, “That’s horrible thing to say!”

“I mean, uh, well… Hmm…” He fell back on his feet and started walking alongside us again, staring at the ground.

“Me and Discord,” Luna began, “We both thought the whole drought thing was weird. Pegasus control the weather, so why would they let things get all dry and stuff?”

“These two towns would be primary food sources for Canterbury,” Discord pointed out, “Letting them wither away is a bit like a shot in the foot, if you ask me.”

“And the forest isn’t drying up, so it’s clear that other places are getting water,” Luna said, shaking her head. “But Barely Buck wouldn’t stop talking about the rain upriver, and the snow melting off mountains… They think this is normal.”

“Rare, but normal. Most importantly!” Discord’s little grin was back, “The two towns are so busy bickering with each other, that they’ve overlooked a very key question!”

“Why is it only this river that’s drying up?”

The two of them walked in front of me, grinning silently in unison. It was a few moments of this forced hush before I realized they were done.

“That’s it?”

“Yep!” Luna shouted.

“But how could two towns overlook something so simple?” I asked. It can’t be nearly that simple… the farmers aren’t foals, they must have noticed what was going on with other streams and rivers. They must have.

“Is it that hard to believe?” Discord responded, “Things get overlooked all the time, especially when everyone thinks they have the right answer.”

“More like… I don’t want to believe it’s that simple.”

Our conversation got quiet, just for a moment. I stared at the bottom of the riverbed as Luna looked up at me, a question in her eyes. Oblivious, Discord scurried forward.

“Anyway,” He said, “Over there is the dam, gate, canal… Thing they built.” I looked where he pointed. Lean-to’s had been built, hastily constructed out of sticks and string, cloth or planks flung over the top to serve as a makeshift roof. Farmer ponies patrolled either side of the river, glaring at each other across the empty embankments. Between them, stuck right across the riverbed, stood a modest log contraption. It looked like a heavy bridge, with only two ways for the water to flow out the bottom, evenly dividing the riverbed and the tiny stream in half. As we passed it, the other side had a makeshift wedge nailed to the back, curved at strange angles to try and stop the unruly stream from simply flowing to one side or another. Several ponies stood around this wedge, silently glaring at one another as they nudged the contraption’s hinges back and forth.

“Seems like they’ve got all of this covered,” I commented.

“Yep!” Luna replied, galloping forward. “Nothing more to see here!”

We heading upriver, following the stream as our surroundings got wilder and wilder. Trees replaced fields, and the terrain grew hilly and steep. More often than not, we walked the edges of slopes, sometimes walking in the sandy riverbed itself to avoid the irritation of trying to stay upright on a loose hill. Night gradually fell as we walked. It was still hard to tell when exactly night began, but I had another way to measure it: crickets. Loud, roaring crickets that never, ever quiet down the entire night. I’d say they drown out conversation, but they drown out a lot of things. Like thoughts.

“How far upriver are we going, anyway?” I asked, struggling to sound dignified as I was forced to shout over the crickets.

“I have no idea!” Discord proudly declared.

“Should we stop and rest, keep trying tomorrow? I don’t want to be walking all night…”

“C’mon, it just got dark,” Luna complained. “We’ve gotta keep looking, even if it’s just for a little bit longer!”

“How can we keep looking if there’s nothing to see? Why don’t I—”

“Ooh, I can fix that!” The shadow of Luna bounced in front of me, face floating from the darkness as her horn began to glow. She reached up to my face and rubbed a hoof over my eyes, pressing uncomfortably. I yanked my head back and politely pushed her away. I blinked my eyes open. Once, twice. The world had become nearly as clear as in daylight, silhouetted in shades of black and gray.

“I-I guess that’s better,” I admitted, “I was just going to cast a little flare spell.”

“But this way we fight the night on its own terms! Through darkness!” I laughed softly as Luna hopped forward to Discord. “You want to see in the dark, Discord?”

“Don’t worry, I can already do that naturally.”

Cool.”

Two bends of the river later.

“I think we’ve found it.”

I almost couldn’t tell what I was seeing at first. With the spell cast over my eyes, it looked like the river simply stopped, running directly into a gigantic black mass. But as we approached, I noticed its edges. It was a wall, a massive one, filling the entire riverbank. It rose high enough to bridge hillcrest to hillcrest, and dwarfed all the trees around it. I was immediately struck by the size, reminded of the Stallion’s walls in Canterbury. But this wall seemed much more crudely built. It was a crammed together mess, haphazardly constructed with stones and logs, muddy straw serving as its caulk. Water spurted from various cracks and holes, enough to create a small, but steady stream that dribbled into the riverbed.

Without a word, we scampered up the steep hill to get a better look, sliding off the loose soil in our haste. The slopes that we stood on were damp and waterlogged, and each step sunk into the ground, leaving behind thick, muddy puddles among the fallen leaves. Finally, we stood atop the hill, able to look over the massive wall, on the shores of something unbelievable.

Extending from crest to crest, curving back around hills into unknown territory was a massive expanse of black water. The wind rippled the surface, making tiny waves wash up against our hooves, slapping against the makeshift rock dam. Trees became slowly submerged as they moved down the slopes, peppering both shores. Only the center of the watery mass was completely empty and still.

It was as if the river had been plugged up. It never stopped flowing. There was a word for this, I was certain.

“It’s… A lake?” I guessed, unable to take my eyes away. “What’s a lake doing here?”

“I think we can see why!” Discord waved towards the rock wall.

“I suppose so,” I replied softly, “Question now is ‘Who? And how.”

“’How’ can also be answered with the dam…?”

“That’s not what I mean.” I shook my head, trying to stop myself from staring. “I don’t know if this is earth pony work… and it’s definitely not the Shadow Stallion’s. So who would go through all this trouble? And for what purpose?”

“Hm…” Discord snapped his eyes up to me with a revelation, “What if whoever built this was trying to cut off Stallion food sources?”

“So… A resistance group? Hm…” I looked down at my friend, “A plausible explaination…”

There was a squeal. I whipped around to see Luna charge past me, leap into the air, and land in the lake with a heavy splash, splattering water across my legs.

“Eee! It’s cold!” She giggled, spinning and splashing in place.

“Luna, what are you doing?!” I cried out, hovering on the shore. “You don’t know how to swim!”

Luna took a deep breath of air and pouted. She bobbed gently in the waves for a moment before gasping and dunking briefly under the water.

“Did you see that?!” she sputtered joyfully, “I just floated!”

“Luna, you get back here right now! I’m warning you! Don’t make me come in myself!”

I made my disapproval very clear, but Luna continued to splash around in the water, giggling. I looked down at Discord, biting my lip. He simply stared back at me, face blank. At least he had the common sense to not jump in after her, but did he really have nothing more to say? I sighed and turned around. Carefully, I hung my saddlebags from a tree branch, picking up Luna’s from where she dropped them. I didn’t want them resting on the damp ground. Necessary task complete, I walked to the water’s edge and gently tapped my hoof against the water. Goodness, that was cold.

Suddenly, I lost my hooves. I smacked into the lake. My head went under, water jammed itself up my nose, my side stung from the water’s blow. I didn’t dare breathe, and I doubt I could if I tried, organs tightened by the frigid temperature. I kicked myself against the ground, finding the surface immediately. I gasped and spat water and Discord loudly laughed and splashed beside me.

“I was waiting forever for you to take that thing off!” He laughed again, falling back into the water with a wet slap.

“I could have drowned!” I spun and bucked water at him, body burning, face certainly red. Yet he continued to laugh and laugh

“Hey, calm down!” Discord chuckled, “It’s not like I can swim any better than you two. I wouldn’t do anything too terribly stupid.”

I bobbed slightly as a wave picked me up off the lakebed. I immediately hurried to shallower waters, still glaring at the little hodgepodge of a pony.

“Why in Equestria are we playing in the water if none of us can swim?!” I sputtered. “We’re supposed to be focused on the dam here!”

“It’s celebratory,” Discord replied, hopping as a wave swelled under him. “We found the problem, now we just dismantle the thing, right?”

“Why can’t either of you just take one thing seriously?!” I shouted, “How can you just laugh off death?!”

Discord snorted, “Why do you always think everything’s going to kill us, you—“

“Guys!” Luna shouted, splashing loudly, “Let’s not figh-burble-” A wave washed over Luna’s head, cutting off her sentence.

“Luna!” I shot forward, diving into the water, trying to find her hooves.

And then I saw it.

A beast, a monster, a cross between a serpent and a pony, as big, maybe bigger than the dam. It rose from the center of the lake, displacing waves, rain falling from its massive body, slick and slimy, like an eel’s. A seaweed mane hung wet from its mammoth crest, falling over the scales and gills that folded across its face, down its thick neck. The creature reared up, kicking its cart-sized hooves as it roared, a raucous sound smashing off the hills, splitting my ears. With a whip of its enormous tail, gallons and gallons of water barreled towards the shore, towards us.

I curled my legs around Luna’s body just as her spell cut off, plunging everything around me into a heavy waterfall of darkness.


XI : Discord

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 11

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Discord~

I was tumbling underwater, pulled by a force I could neither fight nor control. Everything was muted. Movement was difficult. Water kept forcing itself up my nose, and I was wasting precious air trying to keep it out. I kept my eyes tight shut, believing there was nothing to see in the impenetrable gloom. The current suggested an echo of a roar, the sharp scraping and clattering of pebbles and sand colliding.

Slowly, I stopped falling. I was floating, suspended in the most curious way, like I was truly weightless, without effort or motion. I waved an arm around, my legs, feeling the dull splash of their movement, trying to find ground, air, something. What way even was up? I sat, still, until I felt myself gently rise.

Okay, that way led to the surface. I snapped open my wings. I didn’t know how to swim… but if there was a place where I could easily use these stupid things, let it be underwater!

I struggled to drag them up and down. My bird wing moved easily, as easily as my legs. But water slipped through the feathers as if they were nothing. The membrane of my bat wing almost caught too much with each stroke, water like weights pushing into my skin, nearly tearing it. I would retract my wing almost instantly, preferring failure more than a bit of pain.

It was difficult to tell with my eyes closed, but it felt like I spun in place a little. I was still bobbing hopelessly in the exact center of the middle of nothing. Useless, useless wings! In my frustration, I heaved a sigh.

A bubbles rushed from my mouth before I could grab my snout shut. I didn’t have the time to be wasting precious air! Not with the surface so far out of reach, and my lungs beginning to ache for a breath…

I decided about then that the time was ripe for panic mode.

I flipped and rolled in the water, kicking furiously, forcing my eyes open to look through the murk. Up, down, side to side, there was nothing around me, everything vanished. I flapped my wings again, against the pain, pulling currents of bubbles behind me, forcing myself somewhere. Anywhere!

A dark strip hovered into my vision, on one side, something solid, something there. I thrashed furiously toward it, pawing the water with my claws, letting water jam itself up my nose. At this point it didn’t matter anymore. Another furious stroke later, I drifted into the object and quickly gripped it with my claws. Wood! A tree! Hallelujah! I scraped myself upward and moments later I hit air. Cold, frigid, wonderful air! I gasped and snorted, breeze transforming me into an icicle, gravity suddenly deciding to exert itself.

But air!

I shook off some of the water and heaved myself up the waterlogged tree. I was shivering, and my nose and lungs had taken on the smell and feel of burned nuts, but I was alive. I found a branch that looked less than dead, and peered out over the lake.

I was on the opposite shore now, as far as I could tell. The humongous half-pony fish snorted around the other edge, pawing the ground and knocking over trees like they were only bushes, dragging its fish tail after it in the water. Was it sniffing for my friends? Did it have a good sense of smell? How could that be if he spent all day with his nose burning inside out? A cheater, that’s what the behemoth was.

From what I could tell, Luna and Celestia were under a cloak of darkness, or at least… I hope that’s where they were, I couldn’t see them anywhere. The beast hadn’t found them, that was certain. But none of us could swim, so… I mean, I got lucky, but those two…

I stared down at the black water beneath me, waves splashing against my tree trunk. What if they got dragged under as well? My insides shrunk two sizes, limbs retreating tightly against by body. I just barely made it myself, and I could climb trees. Those two… my friends, they, I hope they were as lucky, no, luckier.

I shifted on my paws as I stared at the water beneath me, noticing how much I was shivering. Did I feel this bad while we were falling? Like I had nothing? Like there was no hope? How could I have ever enjoyed this? There was no way out of this was there? Could I find a clever solution for this situation, for finding my friends? All hope is lost, that’s when I pull out all the stops, try everything! Right? There was a solution to finding my friends, there had to be…

C’mon brain! Stop… stop not thinking! Stop staring down at the inky black death lake! This is serious!

“Celestia! Luna!” I screamed. “Where are you?!”

The beast whipped around to glare in my direction, spinning body casting thick waves that smacked and shook my tree. Yep, I’m clever. I clung to the branch as it creaked ominously beneath me, threatening to drop me back into danger.

The beast slunk under the water, turning into a black mass as it swam, a spreading a triangle of waves that headed right for my tree. It rose up, amid the half submerged forest, head hovering over its tops, slowly looking around.

I’ve dealt with adult Draconequus this big before. I did exactly what I would do in a situation where one of them was mad at me: sunk deeper into the foliage and prayed that age had blinded it.

It treaded water, breath a fine white mist.

The monster raised a hoof big enough to squash any pony flat, mud caking its edge, water cascading down the nail’s ridges. With great deliberation, a tree crumpled under its weight, bending, breaking, snapping, splashing, forlorn, into its tree brother, twigs entangled and branches embracing. With another shove it crashed into the water, and was forced under. Drowned.

Let’s not use the word drowned.

The gigantic half horse snorted again, steam rising from its nostrils as it began eyeing my tree. Up went his hoof again. There was a crack, and the whole tree shivered as I did.

With a squeal I leapt forward, flapping my wings desperately as the tree crashed into the water below me. My few desperate beats gained me only a slight amount of air, and was rapidly falling back to the ground, the water. I focused all my power into my feet. If I can’t swim, then maybe I can make the water solid?

My magic failed to act quickly enough. I splashed into the water and it hardened into ice around my claws, trapping them in painfully tight angles. I yelped and released the spell as the monster spun around. My head dunked under the waves, back into the muted world.

Panicking, flailing in the water, the shadow of the beast loomed over me. I cast up a hand. A spell, any spell! Through the waves, white noise coated the monster’s eyes, not bright enough to blind, but dense enough to obscure.

It shook its head. There was an echo of a whinny, and an all too sharp slap of its tail in the water, sending me spinning once more. I didn’t wait to stop this time, I had to concentrate. Something not quite ice, something that wouldn’t encase and kill me…

I transformed the water beneath me, and haphazardly bobbed to the surface, riding a semisolid bubble of watery skin. I stumbled to keep my feet in the waves, threatening to flip over at any moment as I bobbed in and out of the water. The monster scraped at its eyes as I looked around, feverish in my search.

“CELESTIA! LUNA!” I bellowed before I could think. “CELESTIA!!!”

A small streak of light beyond the retaining wall, popping into a shower of sparks, like a firework. There! They were alive! I dunked underwater briefly, and then began to run, as fast as I could while maintaining the spell. So, not even a jog. But it was faster than swimming!

The monster snorted and roared on the far shore. My illusion began to vanish as I distanced myself from it, throwing my concentration into the specificity of the water walking spell. I tried to cast something simpler, a copy illusion of myself moving in the opposite direction. That’s what being clever was!

Of course, it wound up being completely useless when a sudden wave overwhelmed me. My spell popped, and I went under once more, tumbling and turning, directionless and rudderless as I started.

It didn’t last long.

I smacked into something, a sharp object jamming itself in my back. I flipped and turned, current pulling my sideways. I waved a claw forward and it scraped across a long surface, a hard surface. Rock! I had hit the wall! I scrambled alongside it, and it wasn’t long until I hit a soft patch, a thick glob of muddy glue. One tap and it softened, bursting. Water jettisoned itself through the sudden gap, and I was dragged through. I struggled and squirmed to fit my wings through the crack, but finally I popped out the other side.

I tumbled through the air, and braced for impact. If a bruised shoulder was all I was going to get tonight, then I count myself lucky. The ground never came. A golden glow washed over me and I was yanked sideways, slapping right into the damp embrace of my unicorn friend.

“Discord! Oh, Discord, you’re alive! I was so worried!” Celestia cried, squeezing me around the middle with her forelegs. Her mane was splattered across her face, her coat dripping with water, as mine was. “Oh thank goodness we’re all still alive!” I struggled to escape her grip, but she simply clung to me. Luna, also looking soaked, bounced into view and joined in, hugging my tail.

I laughed! This was all just like the fall all over again… The cold panic, the thrilling escape, the aftermath, with Celestia panicking and Luna being Luna…

“For a second there, I didn’t think I’d see you guys again either!” I wheezed, still trying to pry myself loose. “How’d you two get here?”

“When the big wave splashed over us,” Luna started excitedly, “We got thrown into the trees!”

“Not literally into the trees, mind,” Celestia corrected, “but certainly among them.”

“And then the big monster came over, but I snuck us right past him! Like, fwoosh! Shadow sneak!”

“So we arrived down here, and wondered what had happened to you. But luckily, Luna heard you yelling for us…”

“So big sis threw up that huge firework!”

“Not… threw up… But the point is,” Celestia finally set me down, and I allowed myself an actual breath. “We’ve all made it.”

“Yeah…” I smiled and let Celestia bask in the glow of her precious safety for a moment longer. Then I leapt for the wall and began climbing up its uneven ridges. “I’m going back in!” I declared.

“What?! No! Why?!” Celestia squeaked, “Get down from there!” Celestia’s magic yanked at my tail, but with barely a thought I dissolved it. Lovely thing I learned, messing with magic!

“Don’t worry, I’ve got a way to beat it!” I shouted down, scrambling up as fast as I could.

“How?!”

“I’m gonna goad it into smashing into this dam!”

I heard her sputter, far below me now. “That’s ridiculous! We were all finally safe! Let’s just go back to the town and let them deal with this!”

“No way!” I barked, a grin crossing my face. “That’s not what the Adventure Trio would do!”

Celestia moaned as Luna broke out into giggles.

“Go Discord, go!”

“Don’t encourage him, Luna!”

“I suggest you two get to high ground!” I yelled down as I heaved myself over the last lip of the wall.

This was it, that feeling! This energy! I remember falling, being scared out of my wits. Feeling useless, feeling stupid. And then… this thrill! The moment the plan comes together! The giddiness of living, no, of emerging victorious over adversary! I was shivering all over, itching to move, to keep at this! A crazed thought came to me. If the feeling of victory could be a cutie mark, I’d have gotten right then!

Out here, doing this… This was a way to live! No brothers taunting me with only weak tricks as retaliation. No Ruin insulting me and grinding it in me how worthless I was. No elders loathing my existence as a child among them. Today, here, I was the hero! I could accomplish the impossible, stand out among the crowds, better! Smarter! And willing, heck yeah! Bring it on, world!

With my feet on top of the dam, I flapped my waterlogged wings, shaking them free of water.

Out here, I could soar!

“HEY YOU!” I bellowed with my entire body. The half pony fish monster turned its massive head, snorting jets of steam. “Yeah you! HEY! HELLLLOOOO!!”

HELLO.

Silence of a killed moment made the air ring. My insides deflated, and the giddiness washing away. I merely sat, a soaked creature staring into the face of… whatever this was.

“Um… what?” I squeaked.

The beast rolled through the water, over to where I sat. Not the angry charge I was expecting and hoping for, but a casual, swimming stroke.

YOU CAN TALK?” The creature boomed.

“Was, was just about to ask you the same thing, big guy…”

WELL THIS IS EMBARRASSING,” The beast grumbled, voice still louder than I could ever shout. “I APOLOGIZE FOR ATTACKING YOU. I HAVE HAD MANY PESTS TRY AND TAKE MY HOME LATELY. AND, WELL,” he lowered his head to my level, staring at me with his massive eye, as big as my entire head, “HAVE YOU EVER HAD TO DEAL WITH A KELPIE INFESTATION?”

“No… no, I can’t say that I have,” I admitted in the smallest voice possible.

WELL THE PALE ONE LOOKED VERY MUCH LIKE HE WAS GOING TO INFEST MY LAKE. I AM SORRY IF I HARMED YOU IN MY PANIC.”

“Ah… well…” I coughed, trying to gain my composure. This was shocking yes… but in a good way. The goading plan was a dumb idea anyway. I straightened my back and tried to appear authoritative. “Celestia’s not a kelpie, or a guy,” I said firmly, “Just your average unicorn pony.”

OH, A PONY!” I winced and flattened my ears as the beast raised his voice, clapping his colossal hooves together like the bang of a thunderstorm. “OF COURSE. I HAVE NOT DEALT WITH PONIES IN YEARS! I AM SORRY FOR TRYING TO HURT YOU AND THE PONIES, LITTLE CHIMERA.”

“Actually, I’m a Draconequus!” I shouted up at him.

He paused and looked down at me with one massive eye. “THESE ARE SOME STRANGE WATERS I HAVE SETTLED IN...” he muttered, still louder than anything reasonable.

Through the possibility of being deafened, I heard my friends shouting for me. They had climbed up the side of the hill again, and were standing on the shore, among the trees. I looked up at the monster and walked over to the ponies, carefully balancing on the wide and uneven top. Waves of water nearly pushed me over as the behemoth followed behind me, making the walkway slick.

“Hey guys. The uh…” I looked up as the lake monster hovered over us, water dripping from his seaweed mane.

MY NAME IS BASIL,” he bellowed.

“Yeah, Basil… Well,” I waved at myself, “My name is Discord, and these are my friends, Luna and Celestia”

IT IS NICE TO MEET YOU.”

Celestia stared up at the monster, stunned, jaw clamped firmly shut to prevent it from hitting the mud. Luna tumbled backwards from craning her neck too high, falling down on the soaked leaves. She giggled.

 “Hi Basil!” Luna yelled. “Are you the one who built this wall?”

YES I AM.”

“Why’d you do that?!”

I NEEDED A CHANGE OF PACE.”

“A… a change of pace?” Celestia looked to Luna, confused.

“What do you mean by that?!” Luna cheerfully called up.

I USED TO LIVE IN A LARGE SEA KNOWN AS THE AGE, HAVE YOU HEARD OF IT?”

“No…” Celestia said.

WELL I DIDN’T GET MANY VISITORS THERE. MY SEA SERPENT FRIENDS DIDN’T STOP BY VERY OFTEN AND… WELL.” Basil ducked his head down to our level, looking between us. “HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TALKING TO A LIVING WHIRLPOOL?”

“No again!” Luna giggled.

THEY ARE NOT THE TYPE FOR SMALL TALK.” His hoof rose out of the water, twirling slowly in a large circle. “I THOUGHT I WOULD JUST MOVE AWAY. SEE THE SIGHTS. SO I BUILT THIS LAKE. BUT SO FAR, NO ONE HAS VISITED ME. NOBODY BUT SOME UNTALKITIVE SNAPPING TURTLES.”

Celestia edged a few more feet from the shore. “I see… how unfortunate.”

“So this is like your house?” I asked from my position on the wall. Basil nodded slowly, chin making a slapping sound when it hit the water.

YES, THIS IS MY NEW HOME.”

I looked to Celestia, who jerked her head sideways slightly, staring back at me. Luna looked up at her sister, then began nodding cheerfully. Well this was an unhelpful exchange. What are we even trying to not talk about?

“Well, um.” I turned to Basil. “I like what you’ve done with the, uh, trees.”

THANK YOU, LITTLE DRAKAN-QWIS.”

“But Basil!” I was firm again in my standing, clear in my direction! “When you blocked off the river, you cut off a major water supply downstream for a lot of ponies!”

Basil blinked. “I HAVE?”

“Yes! So you can’t just—“

I HAVE NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS?!” Basil whinnied, rearing up out of the water, voice booming once more. Waves rushed to the shore, over the dam. I dropped to all fours and gripped to the log in an effort to remain where I was. “WONDERFUL! ARE THEY COMING TO VIST?!”

“No, they’re not!” I shouted, righting myself, “Basil, you’ve caused a drought and it’s made them very agitated!”

SO…” It was difficult to tell, but as Basil sunk back into the lake, I could have sworn he looked crestfallen. “THEY ARE NOT FRIENDLY?”

“Not until you return their water, no!”

“Doesn’t that mean Basil has to move, though?” Luna asked, propping herself up on the dam by her forehooves, directing her question at me. “He just wanted to get out and meet new friends… We can’t just tell him to leave…” Celestia yanked her back.

“Well he can’t stay,” she exclaimed. “The earth ponies were using the water first!”

THE RIVER WILL HAVE TO BE RELEASED EVENTUALLY, EITHER WAY,” Basil thundered. Then, supposedly to himself, “DO THEY NOT UNDERSTAND HOW A DAM WORKS?”

I chuckled and shrugged up at him, “We’re just a bunch of city kids. I’m surprised we even knew what trees were.”

I CAN EXPLAIN THOSE!”

“Eh, maybe later.”

“Basil!” Celestia yelled.

The lake monster’s head swiveled slowly around to the shore.

YES, CELESTIA PONY?”

“Can you return the river?” she demanded.

I CAN.”

There was a moment of silence that was never meant to be. Celestia stared expectantly up at Basil, Basil looked confused down at Celestia, Luna flipped her head between the two and I just sat and watched, waiting for the inevitable.

“Well…” Celestia finally asked, her voice a cough, “Go ahead then?”

Another silence began. Basil carefully raised a hoof to his chin, as if this was something he had to think about.

MAYBE I WANT TO GET TO KNOW MY NEIGHBORS FIRST,” he boomed. Celestia groaned, bringing her own muddy hoof to her face.

“But you said that you’d give up the water eventually anyway!” she cried.

“Are you going to hold the river hostage for company, Basil?” I demanded, springing to my feet. Basil spun on me, as quickly as he could. “Is that what you want to do?”

“… MAYBE.”

“How cruel!” I shouted, “Is that what a good neighbor would do?! Is that what a good friend would do?” Basil lowered his snout, moping. “It was an honest mistake to block off the river! But to hold onto it after you’ve realized what you’d done wrong? Do you want to be friends with the ponies or not?!” I swear, he was pouting right then. Either that or he was going to vomit on us.

BUT WHAT IF I GIVE THEM BACK THEIR RIVER AND THEY STILL DON’T VISIT?”

“Don’t worry, Basil!” I shouted, grin returning, “The Adventure Trio would never let the towns do something like that! We’ll make certain that, in return for the water, they come visit you!”

Basil stared down at me once more. Slowly, he backed into the water and flipped around, popping up close to the middle of the dam. I scurried off the dam as he slammed a massive hoof into it. With an echo like a bang, a boulder tumbled off the top of the wall, slamming into the river bed below, crashing and crushing several trees. Water followed it in a jet, gushing from the hole. In an instant, a clear and crystal waterfall was formed, splattering and smacking down to the riverbed, washing downriver in a continuous wave. Luna began cheering, and I followed suit. Celestia dropped to the ground, relieved.

MY HOUSE WAS BIG ENOUGH ANYWAY.”

~ᴔ~

It was day once more. Basil was flopped over the edge of his wall, waving us goodbye as we began our trek back downriver. A formal letter of exchange was carefully wrapped and packed in Celestia’s waterlogged saddlebag.

“Did Basil really have to talk with us all night?” Celestia yawned, rubbing her eyes, “We didn’t even have much to say…”

“Oh, admit it,” Luna cheerfully replied, “Basil’s a nice pony!”

“Also, that seaweed salad of his was really tasty!” I added. I was following the pair on the ground today, watching the clear water as it flowed naturally in its banks.

“I didn’t like the texture… too slimy.” Celestia yawned again

“Anyway!” I bounced forward, pumping my fist in the air and striking what I believed to be a very action-y pose. “Our first mission as the Adventure Trio was a complete success! Right guys?!”

“Heck yeah it was!” Luna squealed, posing with me, one hoof raised. “Everything got sorted out and nobody was hurt! Victory for the Adventure Trio!”

Celestia sighed, ambling slowly past us.

“I will admit,” she carefully started, “That turned out spectacularly, considering what I thought would happen.” She smiled back at us. “I’m sorry for doubting you both about this adventure thing. But if we keep doing this… Can we call ourselves something other than the Adventure Trio?” She laughed nervously, “It just sounds so silly!”

I laughed and gave Celestia a one-armed hug. “Well, somebody’s finally coming around!”

She smirked. “Oh hush, you—“

Luna gasped, and we both turned to see her turning in place, staring at her saddlebag. One side had begun to glow.

“Omigosh! I’m so sorry! I don’t know how I set it off!” Luna squeaked, trying to buck her bag off. “I didn’t touch it, I swear!”

“I-isn’t that the side with the evil butterfly rock?” Celestia stammered.

“So…” I stared at Luna as her bag finally tumbled off. She ducked behind Celestia. “We just gonna let it sit there?”

“I suggest we—“ She sighed as I proudly sauntered toward the glowing bag of doom. “Just be careful, alright?”

I walked around the bag, as if I was surveying it. Gently, at arm’s length, I unbuckled the radiant sack and flipped it open.

A silver orb appeared briefly, hovering in front of my eyes before shooting directly at my face. I recoiled as it burst apart, vanishing. Eyes clamped down from the glare, something settled around my neck. Heavy, but comfortable. Blinking the light away, I looked down. A golden ring was spun above my shoulders, an silver gemstone set in the center, resting over my heart.

“Discord? Are you okay?” Celestia asked as she slowly approached me.

“Y-yeah, I think so…”

“Okay…” She stared at my chest. “What the heck is that?”

“A… necklace?” 


XII : Celestia

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 12

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Celestia~

Day was a little past half over. We had forgone the stables of Rearing Town to return to the forest, and were waiting on a clearing near the edge of the fields, to the north, by my best guess. Many of our things had become damp in our last adventure, and needed to be aired out, lest they mildew. The sheet was draped over a branch carefully stripped of leaves. Tottering Trottingham forlornly hung beside it, and Luna sat beneath him, her entire focus directed at her marbles. With no even ground to play on, she had taken to stacking them in tiny pyramids, trying to get the towers as tall as possible before crumbling.

I tucked the rest of my saddlebag’s contents among the roots of the oak, beside the 'spoils' of our 'adventure.' As a reward, Barely Buck had given us a small purse of coinage, and the town had given us a bag’s worth of greenery, mostly consisting of carrots and apples.

I hovered my wet saddlebag to another branch, alongside Luna’s. Discord briefly looked over as the weight shifted his bough, but it failed to hold his attention for long. He held the transformed silver gemstone in his paw, shifting it as if trying to catch the light. I watched him for but a moment, then returned to the task at hand, our belongings. I brought the paper bag full of salt towards me and peered inside.

“At least the bag didn’t break…” I said, staring at the grainy clumps. “Honestly… we should just see what this would sell for. Why did I ever think a bag of salt would be useful?”

“You know!” Luna said, looking up from her game, “The hairbrush is the only thing that we’ve really used so far!”

“If you call keeping manes tidy a use…” Discord snickered from his branch. I frowned up at him. It’s not like he took cleanliness to be a good thing. If his mane wasn’t so short, it would probably be an absolute mess. He tried to smile some assurance. “I’m sure it will all come in handy in our adventures. We’ve only been out here, what, four… five days? Hasn’t even been a week yet!”

“I suppose…”

I set the salt aside and hovered the small money bag to myself, as well as the purse given to us by Barely Buck. Now that we were outside of town, it was no longer rude to count how much we had gained… I pulled at the strings. Mostly copper bits, understandably, so if I— is that a silver bit?! My breath caught in my throat and came out as a hiccup as I consolidated the coins and tucked them safely behind the thin handkerchief that held our food.

“What, surprised?” Discord chuckled.

“For what the town was going through economically, it certainly is a very generous reward.” I replied, slowly rotating the bottle of rubbing alcohol, checking for cracks. “Honestly… Don’t you think this entire situation was a little bit strange?”

“Well, yeah? Giant hippocampus decides to just up and take an entire river for himself…”

“No. What I’m saying is…Where does the shadow Stallion come in, in all of this?” I looked up at Discord as I set down the bottle. He was finally paying attention to what I had to say. “I mean, these are his subjects, and they had a major problem that would have affected him as well. And yet he made no attempt to try and solve the issue, not even in the most offhand and evil of fashions?”

To my insight, Discord merely shrugged. “He could have told them to just sort it out themselves. Clearly not a good solution, but…”

“Letting them sort it out themselves was precisely what wasn’t working about the entire situation!” I asserted, “That’s what a higher government power is for, to direct and manage situations that would be difficult to sort out fairly among equal parties.”

“That’s a rather specific definition.”

I ignored Discord’s comment. “And we didn’t see any of his soldiers! His banners were around, but they were almost meaningless for how little influence he has over the two villages. Discord… don’t just shrug this off! Think about it… we haven’t seen any sign of him for days… Does he have any control out here at all?”

My friend crossed his forelegs and rested his head on them, staring a little to my left, frowning.

“It doesn’t… make a whole lot of sense for him not to…” he admitted, still staring away from me. “The townsfolk haven’t taken down the banners, so they at least see a point in keeping them around.” Discord took a moment more, shifting his gaze up and tapping on the branch with a talon. I let him have his time. Better to have him take this seriously than to just ignore me. “Y’know…” he finally said, “How big is Equestria, anyway? Do you know?”

“No…” I admitted, “I knew it was bigger than Canterbury, but… Well, it’s not like we were ever going to go beyond the walls.”

“Well, what if it’s really, really huge? He is only one pony, after all, maybe there’s a lot of things he has to devote his attention to.” Discord returned my stare. “I know at least one thing that he spends a lot of time with. Controlling the griffin troops, and the weather-making.”

I blinked up at the Draconequus. “The Shadow Stallion has Griffin troops?”

“Well… yeah!” He propped himself up and gave me a sideways look, incredulous. “Didn’t you see, when we were running? On top of the city walls? The cart?” He frowned. “You were staring at the sun the whole time, weren’t you Celestia?”

“Well it was particularly fascinating…” I scoffed. “Anyway, Discord, I see you lasted the day without your head bursting into flames.”

“What? Oh.” Discord looked down at the golden necklace, then gave me a wry smile. “Yeah. No creepy visions or no ill effects… And I can take it off pretty easily too. So it’s not obviously evil... Though why the hay the rock transformed into this, I have no idea.” He shrugged and returned to fiddling with the thing, staring at it.

“Stop doing that… It’s creeping me out.”

“Mm? Oh, sorry.” He dropped it and looked up at the clouds. Not one minute later he began futzing with it again, jingling it softly.

“Okay… that’s it.” I propped myself up against Discord’s tree and glared up at him. “Give it here. Don’t give me that look.” I waved over to the sheet. “We’re not going anywhere for a while, and I want to make sure the magic rock isn’t evil and corrupting your brain. So we’re going to experiment with it. Okay?”

Luna gasped, bouncing up and scattering her marbles once more. “Big sis!  Are we gonna play mad unicorn scientists?!”

“Take out the mad part, and yes. We are going to play unicorn scientists.”

“Hooray!”

~¤~

“Test number one!” Luna declared to absolutely no one, “Vocal reactions!”

“Hey! Hey necklace! Hey! Heeeeeey!” Discord called, smirking as he held the ornament held it in his paw. I rolled my eyes and snatched it away, hovering the object in front of my eyes.

“I know something of diabolical intent is lurking inside you, necklace!” I barked, “Show yourself, or we will be forced to take desperate measures!” The necklace remained in front of me, unchanged. “Show yourself, you sneak!”

“When did this test become ‘does the rock have any feelings?’” Discord snickered.

“Ohh, that sounds like a great test!” Luna charged forward and batted the necklace out of my aura. She stood above where it fell, screwing her face up into the angriest glare she could muster. “YOU’RE THE WORST PONY, NECKLACE!”

“Luna! Shouting!”

Discord snickered as he let himself down from the tree, scooping up the necklace once more.

“Don’t listen to them, necky,” he said, “You’re actually the coolest…pony?” He laughed again, “I can’t lie to you, necklace. You’re not a pony. You’re adopted.”

Luna carefully peered over Discord’s shoulder.

“Anything?”

“Nothing.”

“Drat!”

~¤~

“How long it this anyway?” Discord began pulling at the golden part of the ornament, where it began to give a little.

“Discord, you’re supposed to say ‘Test number two!” Luna squealed.

“Okay, Test number two. How stretchy is this thing?” He pulled at the necklace, and it began to unwind, unfurling from the decorative seams. He managed to draw it almost the length of his leg before stopping. When he released it, it snapped down to a small size, more like a bracelet than a necklace.

“What was this test supposed to achieve anyway?” I asked, honestly curious. Discord looked up at me, face solid as a stone.

“I have no idea.”

~¤~

“Test number three! The taste test!”

“What?” I gasped, “You mean I have to put this in my mouth?”

Luna nodded vigorously. Discord and I immediately began to play invisible hot potato, with responsibility serving as the potato.

“Let’s just skip this one,” he finally said.

“I wholeheartedly agree.”

~¤~

“Test number one, part two! Some other vocal reactions!”

“Luna, this isn’t a vocal test!”

“Isn’t it, Celestia? Isn’t it?” Discord was up a tree once more, clinging to the high branches and smirking down at me. The necklace was clenched tightly in his claws, far out of my reach.

“I just want to test its resistance to damage!” I called up.

“And what if we break it? Then what would we have to test?”

“Just drop it from there! It’ll land on grass and probably be fine!”

“Why bother testing it if you know it’ll be fine?”

“Discord!” I snapped, “Is that you speaking… or the necklace?!”

I think the bold statement was allowed to stand for only a few seconds before Discord burst out laughing. He clung to the twigs around him for support, almost near falling himself. I grumbled. That statement was perhaps a bit too melodramatic. The heat of the science roleplay was starting to get to me. I leaned up against the tree, determined to take a different tact.

“You know I’m just worried about you, Discord…” I admitted, trying to get my intent across more clearly. “You’re my friend! You’re the last pony I want to see hurt.”

He stopped laughing long enough to smirk, then eventually fell into a warm smile.

For a moment, the necklace glittered. Discord’s foreleg shot forward, and held the bauble at arm’s length, gaze frozen upon it, stunned to silence. All three of us were.

His paw popped open. The necklace dropped, bounced off a few branches, and landed beside me with a quiet clink.

“Test four, did it survive the fall?” he asked, peering over his branch.

I took a step towards the necklace and nudged it solemnly with my hoof.

“Yeah, it did.”

“Well, then I guess we keep testing.”

~¤~

“Ooh! Ooh! I got an idea for a test give the evil necklace to me! Give it to me!”

Hesitant, I gently floated the necklace over to my sister. She bit into the clasp and charged off into the trees.

“Follow me!” Luna shouted from the corner of her mouth.

We ran a sizeable distance until we came to the refilled riverbank, a section of it some distance from Rearing Town. Luna dropped by the edge and, with great purpose and dignity, dunked the necklace into the water. We sat for several moments as Luna held the artifact under the current. It bobbed gently in the stream.

“Is that it?” I asked.

“Yeah!”

“Did it do anything?”

“No!”

“Is that a good thing?”

“Yes!”

“So, what does that prove?”

She pulled back the necklace and let it drop on the shore. Dramatically, she hung her head in disgrace. “I’m a terrible unicorn scientist.”

Discord strode forward to grant her a complimentary pat on the back, face echoing the seriousness of the situation.

~¤~

“Test number six! Let’s see if this thing reacts to magic!”

Discord tapped the necklace with his claw, sat quietly for a moment, then tapped it again. “Well that’s different. Its surface properties aren’t changing…” To demonstrate the science of his endeavor, he dropped it. It landed like a necklace would, with a clink. It was back in his paws a moment later. “Maybe if I…” He began to glare, nearly pressing the thing into his eye.

“What are you doing?” I chuckled.

“Concentrating. It’s not doing anything though.” He waved it around, and it jingled quietly. “But I wonder…” He wrapped his forefeet around the gem, closed his eyes, and grimaced.

Light began glowing out from between his toes.

“Oh!” Luna squeaked, “What’re you doing now?”

“I’m just—“ With a crack like lightning, the light exploded, blinding us all.

~¤~

“I said I was fine, Celestia!” Discord complained. “It didn’t do anything permanent!”

I crouched low, snout shifting grass and leaves with every breath. The necklace was at a distance. Still. Innocuous. I eased my magic over it, hovering it with all the delicate care I could muster.

“Test number…” Luna began.

“No, this is not a test number,” I snapped, “This is serious now.”

“Okay, then what are you doing?”

I sunk deeper into the leaves, narrowing my eyes. “I’m going to try and replicate the effects at a safe distance.”

“So… it’s just test number six again.”

“Fine, call it that. Now what exactly did you do, Discord?”

“Like I said, I tried to push my magic through it.”

“But how did you do that?”

“Well um… you’re hovering it now, right? Your magic is surrounding it?” He paused, probably waiting for my answer. I did not give him one. “Keep trying to lift it… but from the inside. Focus your magic within it.”

I gently set the necklace down, banishing my hover spell. I tried what Discord suggested, pushing my magic within the gem. Bubbles of my power surrounded the necklace in an unformed aura, but none seemed to actually go through it. I focused harder. No reaction. No movement.

But was this failure a simple inability to grasp what he meant? I tried the same spell with a nearby rock, trying to hover a small section inside of it. It rose upwards, without any hint of an aura, but it wobbled extremely. I let it drop.

“I can’t get through.” I admitted. “Though I’m not sure if I’m doing it right or wrong here…”

“I can try again,” Discord offered. He began walking toward the necklace, but I stopped him with an outreached hoof.

“Let’s try not to get near it…” I said.

He smirked, “Should I stick low to the ground like you too?”

“Yes.” His smirk vanished. Discord dropped into the leaves with me, staring over at the small strip of gold. Luna plopped down on my other side, face tight in false sincerity. Discord snickered softly, then closed his eyes.

“I’m going to try and not force it this time…” he said.

The necklace began to glow again, a soft white light. I unconsciously scooted back, kicking up more than  a few leaves. But this time, the necklace didn’t explode. As its radiation grew, it began making a low and continuous tone, like the sound of a bell. The sound and the light began to pulsate, like the beating of a heart, letting off soft rings of energy that vanished quickly in their vertical ascension.

“Pretty!” Luna giggled.

~¤~

“Test number, um, eight! Temperature!”

Discord folded the necklace gently and tucked it under his feathered wing. Silence followed as we observed the subject observing his wing.

“Y’know, before this rock changed, it felt so alive,” he admitted, “Now, it’s kind’ve warm, but not… squirming weirdly.”

“No, no, no… Silly stallion!” Luna walked up to my friend and patted him on the head, shaking hers in the meantime. “We’re seeing if the necklace reacts to temperature! Not how warm it feels!”

“I see!” He nodded. “Well, it’s not reacting at all, I’d say.” He retrieved the item and sat down. “So, are we going to see if it reacts to cold too?”

“Yep!” Luna nodded.

“So… where’s a cold spot around here?”

“Hmm…”

A grin smacked into Discord’s face, overtaking it in under half a second. He leaned forward and whispered something hastily to Luna.

“Okay!” She nodded. Necklace in mouth, she trotted over to me. “Test number eight, part two! How does the evil demon necklace of doom react to cold?” Luna pressed the gemstone against the base of my neck, holding it in place with the tip of her nose.

“Okay. What are you doing?”

“Discord said that the coldest thing in this meadow was your heart!” Luna said dramatically.

“Any reaction?!” Discord laughed.

“Har dee har har.” I said as the pair of them broke into giggles. “Real funny guys.”

~¤~

“Test number… hey, wait, Celestia! What are you doing?! No! STOP!”

I held a rock, smooth from the river, poised to smash the golden bauble into the ground. Discord leapt forward and snatched it out from under me, dragging part of the ground with him.

“Aha!” I exclaimed, tossing the rock aside.

“Aha what?! We haven’t finished testing yet and you were seriously trying to destroy it!”

“Yes, and you tried to protect it!” I jabbed a hoof into his chest. “Now tell me, what the reaction yours? Or was it… the necklace?”

He snorted, “This again?”

“Test number… one part three section two?” Luna said hesitantly.

“All day,” I continued, “You have been protecting the necklace from harm…”

“Have not!”

“Have to, good sir!”

“Well, What about when Luna dunked it in the water? She could have dropped and lost it then. Wouldn’t I have panicked then?”

“Hm…”

“Celestia.” Discord said firmly, pushing my accusing hoof aside. “We just did a test that shows how much magic potential this thing has. What if you smashed it and it really did hurt us?”

“Also,” Luna chipped in, “Is ‘good sir’ something a unicorn scientist would say?”

I coughed up a laugh, and backed away, smiling sheepishly.

“Sorry,” I admitted, “I suppose I make a rather melodramatic scientist, don’t I?”

“Well I forgive you, mad unicorn Scientist Celestia.” Discord laughed and pulled me into a hug.

Between us, the necklace glittered again. We both withdrew to stare at it.

“Ooh! Test number, um, twelve! Friendship!” Luna bounced forward and pounced on the two of us, yanking the group back into a hug. “You’re both the best friends a pony could ask for!”

“Yeah, you too Luna!” Discord joked, “You’re both the best ponies to ever be friends with!”

“There! There! It glittered again! What does it mean?!”

The necklace died down as we quietly thought of the answer. Discord shrugged.

“Beats me.”

“Yeah, I’ve got nothing.”


XIII : Luna

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 13

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Luna~

Another day… another really boring walk! I’m serious, all we’ve been doing lately is walking. We walk down a road, come to a fork, Celestia looks over her map, then declares we need to head in one direction. Rise repeat rinse repeat rinse repeat-- I am really getting bored here! We passed through a town yesterday, but for some reason it wasn’t where we were going. Do we have somewhere to be?

I dunno if we really are heading somewhere, but slowly the forest around us became a different place. The plants here were really funny looking. The trees had little trees hanging off them, and instead of bushes there were lots of big, leafy plants. Ferns, Celestia called them. The air had a really weird smell, damp and muggy, like there was too much rain around here. But the clouds didn’t look like they were more rainy than usual. Same old solid gray mass, even though it had been over a week since we left the city!

I was playing tag with Discord earlier, trying to be less bored, but Celestia got really nervous about us getting lost in the woods, so of course we had to stop. Discord turned to Celestia, on the ground with us this time, and brings up a point I had missed somewhere.

“Weren’t we told not to go past the northern forest?” he asked.

“No, no, they said this road was fine…” Celestia said with a dismissive flick of her hoof, hovering the map in front of her. She was clearly more interested in the paper than Discord’s question. “So once we pass Bolton, we should be on the right path to Stringhalt…”

“Stringhalt?” Discord asked, “Why Stringhalt?”

Celestia looked up from her map, mildly aware of the question.

“Didn’t I say…? No? I thought I told you. Well...” Her eyes flicked back to her map. “Stringhalt is a large Earth pony settlement a bit further north of here. I was thinking maybe they have an adventure guild.” She looked up from her map, “Honestly, I have no idea how these things adventuring things are supposed to work… “

Discord snorted, almost laughing at her. “That’s easy. Adventuring is about freedom, blowing with the wind and doing whatever! Why would they have a guild for that?”

“Well I suppose we’ll see. More importantly!” The map snapped back into scroll form and was swiftly tucked into my sister’s bag. “I’m not naming names.” Celestia glared directly at Discord. “But whoever ate all the carrots last night, please remember, that was a reward for all of us.”

I giggled as Discord made it a point to look at the trees. Discord hiding things always had the silliest faces!

“Funny kinda leaves on these trees,” he declared with a nod, “Looks like they got beards, don’t you think?”

“I think.” My sister trotted forward, trying to keep stride with my friend. “Whoever took the carrots must be feeling fairly guilty right now.”

“Luna…” Discord smirked back at me, “Luna, did you upset Celestia somehow?”

“Nope, it wasn’t me!” I giggled

“Then I wonder what could have troubled her so.”

“And he,” Celestia tried to act passive as she glared down at the back of Discord’s head. “Would be very kind to apologize!”

Discord carefully turned his face upward, slowly turning to look at my sister with the widest shock he could manage.

“Oh! Hello Celestia!”

“Discord.”

“What ever are you looking at me for? I mean, I left the apples!”

“Aha!” she jumped forward and blocked Discord’s path. “AHA! So it was you!”

“Isn’t that what you were getting at this whole time?!” he laughed, shooting by my sister.

“Oh no you don’t! Apologize!”

The two of them began their own game of tag. The kind where Discord cheats and climbs up a tree and Celestia spends her time scraping her hooves on the trunk, yelling at him. It wasn’t a very fun or nice game of tag, to be honest. I moved to try and break them apart, as it was my duty as team –

But suddenly, there was a frog!

With a single shake of a fern leaf, a little green frog just plopped right down into the road. It squatted in the sand, slimy and froglike, staring at absolutely nothing and saying not a word.

“Ee! A frog!” I squeaked. “Celestia, look, it’s a frog! A frog! Can I play with it?!”

“Don’t touch it Luna!” Celestia shouted without looking at me. “Now, Discord!”

“Aw but…” I stopped and stared at the frog. It stared back at me, I think. Well, Celestia didn’t say I couldn’t play. I just had to be extra careful to not catch it!

I crouched. It stared. I leapt forward, just like a frog would!

“Hop!” I squeaked. I landed right next to it, and it jumped up, hopping away from me! “No, frog! Come back!” It dove in between some ferns, but I dashed right after it. It leapt to, and fro, and I hopped right behind it. “I just want to play! Why are you running?”

For a while it became a game of stomp, hop, stomp, hop, driving the frog before me like I was some sort of big, stompy thing! But then, I stomped, and there was no frog hopping away. I stomped again, and nudged around some leaves. No frog again. After a few more stomps and a few carefully brushes of my tail, I realized my playmate was gone for good.

“Aw…” I slowly turned in place, intending to head back to the road. I couldn’t see it anymore, but it was still easy to tell where I came from. With a heart heavy with fear of boredom, I have the ground one last half-hearted stomp.

But suddenly, there was a lizard!

“Lizard!” I squealed as a little slimy black lizard skittered out of a fern, scrambling and squirming on all four feet, wiggling side to side. I began a new game of chase immediately!

The little lizard was much easier to follow than the frog. It wasn’t as fast and it couldn’t turn all crazy. When it zigged, I zagged, and then it zigged back again, but I zagged in front of it! This lizard was a much more reasonable playmate than the frog!

With a quiet plop the lizard ducked into a solid green mass that rippled like water, vanishing as quick as wet lightning. I stopped stared at the place where it had disappeared. A puddle of green? Now that didn’t make sense. I looked up, trying to figure out where the puddle had come from.

In front of me was an empty green space, no bigger than a meadow, strangely flat and still. Steam rose from the surface of the green in quiet little tendrils, tiny lines darting and ducking between them. One of the tiny blue lines whizzed by me, and I saw that it was some sort of tiny line bug! There were bunches of tall grasses lining the green’s sides, with what looked like thick brown caterpillars stuck to their tops. Speaking of plants, there were little pats of flowers, floating in the green substance. I think I recognized those plants, from a picture somewhere. It was a place where frogs lived… lily pads, that’s the word!

And it came to me. Was this a pond? I tapped it with my hoof, swirled it around. The green stuff was pushed aside, and clear water was revealed underneath, rippling gently.

“Woaaaah!” I gasped, “It is a pond! How pretty!”

I raised my hooves and applauded its prettiness. The water received my clapping with grace and silence.

“Well, thanks for showing me this pond, Lizard, but I should probably be getting back!” I spun around, ready to go! And then I just… stared into the forest… for a while. I took a few confident steps before taking a few less than confident steps, and then stopped.

“Shoot, where am I?” I would not let myself be hindered like this! I knew exactly what to do! I took a deep breath.

“CELESTIA! DISCORD!” I screamed, “WHERE ARE YOU?!” I looked around, straining and flicking my ears, and heard nothing. Or… maybe a murmur of something. I stepped forward. “CELESTIA! Oh!” To my left, a little light popped up in the fog, clear and strong. “There you are!”

I skirted the edge of the pond as I followed the light. It didn’t quite feel like where I had come from… but I guess that meant I really was lost. And Celestia’s so smart! If we had just kept shouting at each other forever, I doubt we would have found one another at all! I’d probably get turned all kinds of around if I didn’t have a light to follow! Especially in this thick mist that was forming. After a while, I could barely make out trees five feet away!

I happily followed the light for several minutes, weaving between the foggy trees. Then I slowed, and then I stopped.

“Waiiiit a minute. Celestia’s light isn’t blue.” I looked around. More lights began popping up through the fog, steady in all sorts of directions. They bobbed around me, weaving in and out of trees. “And there isn’t more than one of her either! You guys are jerks. Now I’m really lost.” I berated them. “Apologize!” They quietly refused, still silently bobbing all around me. I showed them my angry pouting face, but it seemed to have no effect. I tried my Celestia pose, standing tall in distain instead, but they still didn’t make them sorry. “Well fine.” I huffed. “I guess I’ll just be—“

A single step forward and I tumbled through the air, flipping head over heels. I opened my mouth to shout, but only a second later and I slammed into the ground, flat on my back. My entire body jarred, and for a second I thought my lungs were stuck. I lay in place, stunned, blankly gaping, until finally my lungs unstuck, and I gasped for breath. Carefully, I rolled onto my feet, shaking, but unhurt. I breathed a bit, staying in place, making sure that I wouldn’t explode into pain if I moved again. It was even longer before I could laugh about it. Wow, that was a fall!

I was standing in a hollowed out cave. Gaps, some big, some small, were all over the celling, letting in light, fog, as well as little tendrils of all sorts of plant life. Moss, ferns, and roots all crept down the holes, stopping several Celestias short of the floor. Under the holes in the roof there were thick patches of green plants, like the one I had landed on. It was as if part of the ceiling had fallen out and dropped all the life from the forest right under it. The floor that wasn’t covered in plant life was coated in a small layer of dead leaves and dirt that could easily be brushed away to reveal flat, dark stone.

Bobbing around the ceiling, or just resting on a wall or ceiling, were dozens and dozens of the little blue orbs. So they weren’t a magic spell being cast… they were actually little creatures themselves! I must have found their nest! One of the blue balls of light floated down in front of me, circling around. I giggled at it. They probably didn’t mean any harm, they couldn’t help glowing! They were kinda pretty too, especially when there was so many of them at once!

I squeaked as its light suddenly flickered out. Stray flecks of ash drifted down from where it vanished. Did it just teleport away? Strange, but I didn’t let that stop me. I trampled down some ferns to stand under the hole I fell down. A few more orbs hovered past me. How in Equestria was I going to get out of this hole?

I magically yanked at one of the roots, trying to see if I could pull it down to climb up. I’m not the best climber but… not that it mattered much. I wound up yanking a lot of roots out of the ground, showering myself with dirt and plant chunks. None came even close to where I stood.

Okay, then what if I try and lift myself? I eyed my right forehoof and tried to magically lift it. I encircled my hoof with my dark aura, and tugged my foreleg upwards. I winced as my magic tried to pull my leg out of my shoulder. I focused more of my magic around me, squinting really hard as I tried to float myself.

I bobbed off the ground, then dropped right back into the grasses, exhausted.

“Well that didn’t work!” I pouted up at the hole as a few more lights bobbed across it. “Oh well, let’s go back to the original plan!” I took a deep breath. “CELESTIA! CELESTIAAAAAAAAAAAA!” I screamed. “Oh, wait, she should know where to stop!” I removed my marbles and Trottingham from my bag and set them in the moss beside me. Then, I hovered my bags up to the lip of the hole. “There! Now they won’t fall in like me!”

I continued to shout for my sister. I don’t know how long I was screaming for, but I didn’t stop until I was exhausted. I dropped to the ground and tried to get my breath back, throat feeling all rough and grainy.

“There…” I panted, “Now there’s no way they can’t find me now!”

There was another soft fizzling sound, and sure enough, two more of the little light balls had teleported, leaving drifting ash down to the floor.

“Hey, where are you guys going anyway? Ooh, you wanna play a game? It might be a while until my friends turn up.” Another one teleported away. More detached from the ceiling and began slowly drifting away. “Fine, I’ll just find another game to play.”

I brought the stuffed purple pony towards me and sort’ve flopped him through the air a little. What kind of game can be played with one doll anyway? I set him down and watched the little blue orbs as they bobbed behind me, deeper into the cave.

“Oh! Duh!” I leapt to my feet. “There’s more to this cave than just this entrance! Maybe there’s another exit somewhere!” I smiled up at the lights, “Thanks guys! You’re not so bad after all!” I spun and magically reached for my bag, but after a moment’s thought, I dismissed my aura. “Better leave that in case Celestia arrive before I escape. AND!” I set a little marble among the plants. “Better leave a trail too!” I chuckled. “And Celestia thought bringing more toys was useless! I am one clever pony!”

I placed Tottering Trottingham on my back and trotted cheerfully further in the dark, pausing only briefly to rub away the shadows in my eyes, leaving behind a careful trail of marbles. It wasn’t long until the dead leaves began to fade, and I saw the floor beneath my feet was carefully tiled stone, warped with age.

Instead of a cave, I found a corridor. Vines and moss clung to the walls, covering the simple stone carvings and decorations. The little orb lights became thicker here, yet never thick enough to need to banish my night vision. The air was musty and humid, smelling heavily of trapped plant stink and mildew. I continued to leave marbles, even though there were only a few simple passages that I could have gone down. Better safe than sorry!

I poked my head into a few of the archways I found. Many of them were empty spaces, large and cavernous, dipping deep into the earth. One looked like a ballroom, with two lines of pillars leading up to a little carved throne, surrounded and lit by the orbs. Another, a vast stone theatre, one of those open air ones. An amphi-theater, I think it’s called. A place to entertain as many ponies as possible. One of the main squares in Canterbury was built like that… Though nothing pleasant was ever showing there.

I wondered, why was this place so empty? Was it a sunken castle? It wasn’t built very well if so. There were no smaller rooms, no leftover furniture or other things. And if I went down any offshoot hall, it ended very quickly, usually in another large chamber. It just looked like somebody carved all of this haphazardly and then just forgot about it. Was it given to be a home for the floaty light creatures? They sure seemed to like it, when they weren’t teleporting away.

I placed my last marble in the middle of the last hallway. In the distance, I could see another chamber, smaller than most, and the outline of a statue, a Pegasus. The first sign that ponies had anything to do with this place.

It was a circular room, not as big as some of the others, but much better decorated. Or would be better decorated. The carvings were much more intricate, ceasing to be just lines and swirls, but figures and forms. Ponies, some standing at attention, some rolling around in laugher, eyes set with gemstones, and lines with precious metals and rocks.

But plants had invaded the chamber as well. They coated the walls, the pictures, shoving out lose rocks, casting them like glitter all around the floor. Moss coated the ground, thicker and in the hallways, coating the centerpiece, crawling with vines.

The center of the room was devoted to a large stone dais, a statue of a Pegasus standing atop it. He was tall, an adult, and in the strangest of poses. His wings were spread wide, reaching towards the ceiling, huge, almost as long as he was. His legs jutted backwards, one raised off the ground, and his head dove down, forelegs thrust over his face. Moss and vines crept up from this connection, coating his face, giving him the appearance of ducking under a blanket to hide. His mane and tail were long, and looked wet for how heavy they sat on him, spilling onto the dais like solid waterfalls. His cutiemark was a little burst of lines, like the spreading sparks of a firework.

I stepped forward, staring at the tall Pegasus. It was such a sad pose to carve… I looked around at all the happy ponies on the walls, and almost felt like they were laughing at the poor guy. Who would spend all this time to just make a sad room? Why was this so heavily decorated when the rest was simple and forgotten?

I squinted at the dais, and scraped off some moss. There were some words, set firmly in the center and framed by abstract swirls.

GOLDEN JUBILEE

TALENTED PLAYRIGHT

VALUED FRIEND

I looked up at the statue again, then it clicked.

“Oh, so this is your tomb! I guess the art in here is one of your plays! Or… summarizing one of your plays.” I frowned up at the statue. “It’s not a very happy play though. Did you write only sad things?” A few of the lights drifted overhead, but otherwise, I was given no answer. “What about the rest of the rooms, were they all sets? Places you lived?” I eyed his blanketed face. “Did you serve the Shadow Stallion? I bet he really liked your sad plays… Though maybe not that much, since you’re in the middle of nowhere and he let the plants ruin your tomb.”

I sat down in a huff, another feeling coming to me. “Yeah… I really am in the middle of nowhere. I’m waiting for my friends but… They’ve gotten lost by now, I’m sure. Silly guys! They’ll find me eventually though, they’re both really smart and mature! It’s just going to be boring waiting. Oh!” I spun back to the statue. “You wanna see one of my plays?! It’ll be a happy one though, not sad and depressing like yours. But you’re gonna have to watch it and like it!”

I floated my stuffed pony off my back and a-hemed myself into a grand, royal voice. “This is the happy story of Tottering Trottingham, Lord of Purplelund!” I paused, then pouted. “It’s not the same without Discord, and all my dolls. Discord was really fun to play with, he would always do crazy stuff with the crowds. Make armies and stuff… but we haven’t been playing really now that we’re out here. It’s been boring…” I stared up at the statue, then grinned, “Oh well, that’s life, I guess! He’s still a pretty cool guy, and funny! Anyway—Eek!” I squealed as a dozen blue lights burst above me, sprinkling me with ash. “Yeesh, you guys startled me! If you don’t want to watch my play, then you can just politely float out!”

I began telling Golden Jubilee the story of Tottering Trottingham, the grand adventure that I just made up on the spot. He was the Lord of Purplelund (duh!) except he was very sad, because he wasn’t purple and all of his subjects were. I immediately switched it around when I realized I was no good at making the doll look any less purple, and decided that, actually, it was his realm that was lacking in purple. In their hearts. Because purple is a very nice color, and to be lacking in it would prevent someone from being a whole pony. Also, it stopped young fillies from getting cutie marks!

So Tottering Trottingham rode into the dark evil forest to find purple and bring it to his people! He fought a dragon! A vine dragon, made out of a single vine! But then the Lord of Purple realized! He didn’t have a sword or anything! So after moping and being sad uselessly, he blasted the dragon with the purple in his heart, which made the dragon his friend!

“But then Trottingham realized he could do this to help all of his subjects!” I said, thinking of a brilliant and quick way to end the play. “So he ran all the way back to Purplelund, brought all of the ponies together, and gave every single one of them a great big hug!” I demonstrated by having Trottingham hug the statue’s hind leg. “And then everybody was happy, and all the fillies’ cutie marks appeared when they should, and they were all happy, and the kingdom had peace forever!” I leapt back, swelling with giddy delight, “THE! END! WAUGH!”

I squeaked as a light burst above me, brighter and more radiant than the little lights that had been running from me all day. I wondered for a moment if this was the king of the floaty orbs, since it was the same light blue color. But then he burst, and instead of teleporting, tendrils shot down to me, wrapping around my neck. I scampered backward, but the light quickly dissappeared, leaving behind a golden necklace, a heavy and circular jewel set squarely over my heart, the same color as my coat.

“Oh! Oh my goodness! This is just like when Discord got his necklace!” I nudged it with my snot, and it pulled apart along the little swirly seams. “It IS like Discord’s necklace! Omygosh! OMYGOSH!” I spun in place, feeling the gem bob gently on my nose. “Thank you, Jubilee! Is this for my play?! I knew you’d like it!” I gasped! “This gives me a great idea! I know how to un-lost my friends! Here!” I placed my doll on the statue’s blanketed head, “Watch Trottingham for me! I’ll be right back!”

I galloped out of the chamber, running past all my marbles with a grin on my face. More of the lights popped as I passed, ornament glowing in my eyes as it bounced up and down atop my snout. I ran all the way back to the original hole, hopped on the island of plants, and began shouting!

“Friendship!” I shouted. The gemstone glittered on my nose and I grinned. This would work! “Discord and Celestia are the best friends ever and I want to help them become less lost! Because I really, really like the both of them!” It glittered more brightly, but not brightly enough! I began trying to hover the necklace from the inside and it glowed, not white, but a lovely shade of dark blue, making that same bell-like tone. “DISCORD! CELESTIA!” A light shot up to the sky, through the mist and above the trees. Through the hole, I saw another ray, a white ray, sweeping sideways.

I took a deep breath, overjoyed to see a sign of my friends, dizzy with the thought of seeing them again. One last time, I shouted!

I’M OVER HERE!”

My voice blasted like cannon fire, a bell tone bursting blue wave across the cavern. The ground shook, parts of the ceiling crumbled, and I feel backwards into the grass, floored by the sound of my own voice. The bell tone reverberated as my gem’s glow slowly faded.

“Oh wow, that was loud!” I giggled.


XIV : Celestia

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 14

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Celestia~

In the city, I was my sister’s guardian. I made sure she was safe, was warm, and taken care of. Out here, I thought this would continue. I would always protect my friends, from all danger. I’d be the strong one. The word of logic and reason. The pillar.

Yet constantly, constantly, I was losing both of them. More than that, they could handle themselves just fine, better than fine, while I just react to every situation with fear. While I wasted my time panicking, searching, Luna found the proper solution to her displacement, and led us to her. She didn’t need me to be her big sister, her caretaker anymore.

I held her now, at the bottom of an underground cave, and stroked a few leaves out of her mane. Only a few hours gone and it’s already so messy…

“Tell us not to take risks, and then you go jumping down a random hole…” Discord dropped beside me, landing softened by a few beats of his wings. “Who’s the risk taker now, mom?”

“Oh, hush.” I reluctantly released my sister and took a few steps back, regaining my posture. Luna smiled at me, cheerful as always.

“Man, am I glad to see you guys!” she exclaimed, “Did you really get that lost?!”

“Yeah, if you can call it that!” Discord snickered, “Searching on the ground was hard, and of course Celestia said we shouldn’t split up, so…”

“It was a haunted forest!” I snapped, “I dread to think—!”

“No, hey, it was a good idea.” Discord raised an eyebrow at me, “It would have been near useless to look separately.”

“Yes…” I pawed the ground, face hot. At least I could attribute any tears to my relief. I coughed a little, trying to maintain at least some form of dignity and poise. “Anyway… Luna?”

“Yep!”

“You’ve gotten one of those necklaces as well…” Luna looked down to reaffirm my statement, then gave me a single nod.

“Uh-huh!

“How did that happen?”

“Well I was showing Golden Jubilee a play of mine, and—“

“I’m sorry…” I waved a hoof to quiet her, “Golden Jubilee…?” I looked deeper into the cave, puzzled. “Is there another pony down here?”

“Nope! Well… yes, but I’m pretty sure he’s dead.” Dead?! A body?! Luna was subjected to such an atrocious sight and she’s still smiling as she always does?! Apparently ignorant to my disgust, she continued. “Do you want to come see? I left a marble trail!”

“No! Luna! You put on a play for, for a dead body?!”

“No, no, no, silly!” she giggled, “It’s his statue! C’mon, lemme show you!”

Luna spun round and began running off into the shadows, further into the cave. My worries failed to be alleviated as I lit up a small light and followed, keeping my pace steady. I heard Discord scamper behind me, and snicker softly at my side.

“The look on your face!” he laughed quietly. I refused him an answer, and continued to press after my sister.

Abruptly, the uneven walls of the cave led to a square corridor, carvings speaking clearly of unicorn stonemasonry. Floating on the celling, among the roots and vines of massive plants, were little blue lights. Believing them to be a magical feature, I was startled when one drifted towards me and hovered away. So they were alive!

And yet, Luna ignored them. Did that mean they weren’t dangerous, or did it mean she still doesn’t understand the concept of danger? She was still such a young filly, still so ignorant of the world! Should I just trust her, just as I would a friend? It felt strange to think that… Wrong.

Finally, we came to what she wanted to show us. A circular room, intricately detailed by fine craftsponies, yet heedlessly left to become overrun.

“So, what happened!” Luna began, “I came into this room with the sad statue, and the little markings said he was a playwright!” She pointed to an epitaph at the feet of the Pegasus. “But he looked so sad, and I thought, maybe he has to see a happy play! So I put on a play for him, and when I was done, this light came from above and POOF! Necklace!”

I walked up to the statue as Luna spoke, looking over its form, its artistry. The halls and chambers of this place were simple, a few stone-shaping spells here and there, a unicorn with the right spells could have this place carved within a week. This statue, on the other hand, was different…  Just looking at the cutie mark, it was neither a raised nor sunken relief, as would typically be the easiest way to represent the design. It was instead another type of stone, seamlessly inlaid into place. It was unlike anything I had ever seen… Certainly possible, but almost needlessly complicated in procedure.

The attention was not lost to other sections of the statue’s body. The heavy mane and tail were similarly colored and smoothed, tightly packed into gently descending spirals. The divide between hoof and fetlock was crisp, carved almost to the hair, without a hint of weathering or damage. I began to wonder… What did the face look like, hidden away under the years of plant life? Damaged by the roots, probably. But…

Luna finished her story as I began brushing away the plants that coated his face. His expression poked out from under the moss, twisted in pain befitting his posture, almost frighteningly lifelike. I could make out the shape of individual teeth, the exact creases of his snout… Even his eyelashes, something so delicate and small, were still in place. And they were not merely a suggestion carved into the face, but actual raised hairs, each one painstakingly separated from the others.

And that had survived damage from plant life! What in Equestria was this statue made of? Who could possibly be its craftsman? Should I try and snap an eyelash, to see if it was even possible to harm? I held myself back, but continued to move aside the plants that had overtaken the playwright. With a swipe of my hoof I pushed aside more vines, but, halfway across his head, my hoof scraped into something hard, something immovable.

Surprised, I moved around it, trying to reveal what had stopped my foot. Stone, another section of the statue. Still partially hidden, jutting from the center of his skull, was a slowly spiraling horn.

My eyes snapped up, reconfirming that there were wings on this rock’s body. Wings and a horn? An alicorn! Was this a character from Golden Jubilee’s play? An idealization of the playwright? That made the most sense. It was as if, in death, they portrayed the stallion as ascended to a higher state of being.

But who would put so much time and attention into one lost and forgotten playwright, into carving him in such pain? No pony was worth this much, no matter how beloved.

But what if this Jubilee himself was an alicorn?

If he was… I slapped a hoof over my mouth.

“Guys… I’ve got this crazy idea. Please help me get rid of it.”

“Okay!” Luna said, “What is it?”

“No, oh goodness,” I shook my head, “It’s, it’s absolutely crazy, positively absurd to think—!”

“C’mon, tell us!”

“The… the statue is an alicorn…” I waved a hoof at it. Discord peaked around my shoulders, silent. “And Luna, you got a necklace that was practically identical to Discord’s, and… oh my goodness. Discord, Luna…” My friends leaned in close as I stumbled with the absurdity of my final sentence. “What if these artifacts are the Elements of Harmony?”

Silence greeted me, my friend and my sister staring up at me, stunned.

“I-I can’t think of what else they could be!” I tried to recover, “I mean, it was a story book, but… The Elements were owned by alicorns, as both of these were. They reacted to friendship and teamwork, and the storybook pictures look exactly like these necklaces, like little golden bands! The gemstones aren’t the right colors, but I—“

WOO HOO!” Discord leapt up and punched the air, refusing to let me finish. “Holy crap! We’re not your ordinary adventurers, heck no we aren’t! WAHOO!” He continued cheering wildly, leaping and gliding around the tomb in a crazy joy. Luna laughed and started chasing him, echoing his cheers.

“You’re not supposed to just accept this!” I cried with a stomp of my hoof. “Tell me I’m wrong! It’s just ridiculous to think this!”

“You seemed pretty adamant to defend the idea just a second ago!” Discord laughed.

“Elements of Harmony! Elements of Harmony! YAY! Hooray!”

“But it was just a silly storybook!” I tried to assert, “A tale for children!”

“Yeah, a storybook with gold foil on every page!” Discord retorted, “Somebody must’ve thought it was a pretty dang important story to dump their bits into it!”

“That’s ridiculous! Arguing that a story is considered real because somebody wanted to tell it well!” Discord and Luna continued to cheer and play around me, tearing around the tomb and squealing. “You two! AUG! Why did I even bring this up?!” I dropped to the ground. I tried to pick through my thoughts, trying to comprehend this, and what it means. Alicorns were just a legend… and this statue could just be a representation. Well made, certainly, but proof of nothing!

But the original bizarre stone from Discord… That was in the hooves of an alicorn, a real one. But all that proved was that aspects of the story were true, not necessarily every detail of it. I never got proof that the Elements weren’t real, but… Oh, I just don’t know!

“Hey Luna, I didn’t know you could use sonic magic,” Discord said somewhere behind me. “Why didn’t you use that sooner?!”

“Because I didn’t know I had it either!”

Discord barked a laugh, “The Elements of Harmony must have activated your secret powers!”

“Omigosh you’re right!” There was a clatter of hooves, Luna supposedly bouncing around. “Discord, Discorddiscord! Did you get secret powers?!”

“I dunno, but I was always weak in shadow magic! Maybe the Element’ll help me cast some of that!”

“You know shadow magic?!”

“A little!”

“OMIGOSH!”

“HOLYCRAP!”

I covered my ears as they began to have a squealing battle. Those two are still just kids! They’re just taking what I had to say in one stride, accepting it without thought or question. Am I the only rational one in this team?!

“I wonder which Elements these are?” Discord asked.

“Well, we’ve only got six to pick from! Kindness, magic, laughter… uh… honesty.” Luna popped into my vision. “Hey big sis, what’s the other two?!”

“Loyalty and Generosity,” I grumbled.

“Yeah, and those!”

“So, so yours, Luna! You put on a play for this guy so um…” I watched Discord as he tapped his chin, “Kindness? Generosity? Actually, what’s the difference…”

“But it was also a funny play, so maybe it’s Laughter?”

“But if this guy only put on sad plays, why would he have the Element of Laughter?”

“Maybe people thought all of his sad plays were really funny!”

Discord doubled over with laughter. “Oh jeez, that’s really depressing!”

“Anyway, anyway,” Luna bounded forward and pushed her snout against Discord’s necklace. “If we’re going to guess by ownership, yours is gonna be real easy!” She stumbled back. “What do you think the Shadow Stallion would have?”

“Um…” Discord’s smile fell as he dropped down on his haunches. “Yeesh, that’s a hard question. Uh… Honesty? Generosity?”

“Generosity?” I snorted.

“Well, I don’t know, he doesn’t seem to be a virtuous guy!” He laughed nervously. “Of course, he wasn’t wearing the element either, so…”

“And you’re sure he was an alicorn?” I asked. Doesn’t hurt to double check...

“Positive.” Discord nodded. “He had wings, and I definitely saw him cast magic. Heck… the guy just looks magic. He’s got…” Discord waved his birdlike claw, trying to grasp for the word. “This really bizarre aura. Like a living shadow.”

I winced. “I think that’s really more than enough about that...”

“Yeah, and it’s not helping us learn anything about your element!” Luna said. “Back to when it was earned!”

“Hm…” After a moment’s thought, Discord smirked. “Well I did generously let Basil keep the dam.”

“That wasn’t yours to give, Discord!” I snapped. “That’s not what Generosity is!”

“Well then uh… I was using a lot of magic.” He shrugged. “Maybe it’s Magic?”

I sighed loudly and threw myself up to my feet. I can’t think like this, with two, two children yammering about their toys! “Can we please leave now?! I don’t want to spend the night in this place!”

“Oh, right, sorry!” Discord dropped on all four feet. “We should get out of here…”

“Now Luna,” I spun on my sister. “Pick up your toys…”

“Okay!” She nodded, stopped, then shook her head. “Wait, no, not okay.” She waved at the statue, where Tottering Trottingham was positioned. “I think Mr. Gold needs a friend more than I do! Now he won’t be lonely!”

I frowned. It’s not like the doll was originally mine and held a good amount of sentimental value. To even suggest just leaving it, like it was some sort of throwaway object!

Oh Celestia, get ahold of yourself! I trotted off, not wanting to give the matter any more attention than it deserved!

~¤~

It was dark by the time that we got back to the road, and I was glad that we managed to make it back at all. Discord and Luna wouldn’t stop yammering about the Elements and magic… they didn’t even notice I wasn’t talking. I just dropped by a tree and tried to get to sleep, trying to sort things out… Trying to come to terms with the fact that my friends only listen to me when they want to. When it makes things more fun to them.

How could they listen to me one moment, then ignore me the next?

Did they even care what I was saying?

And they were just so overjoyed. There’s nothing wrong with sleeping on the side of the road, with barely subsiding off wild grass and the rewards of odd jobs! And some magic items are clearly the mystical long artifacts of Harmony! I mean, what else could they be?!

The other two had long since fallen quiet and gone to bed, no matter to a reasonable sleep schedule. I was still awake, working myself to tears, face burning hot.

“I feel so lost…” I whimpered to myself.

Discord chuckled above me. I pressed my forelegs down on my snout, suppressing a sob.

“How can you say that, you’re the one who has the map!” he snickered.

I tried to keep quiet, curling up tightly.

“Aw… no ‘hush, Discord!’? No ‘Thank you for pointing out the obvious.’?”

I dug my snout deeper into my forelegs, shivering, throat aching with the effort of trying not to reply. Discord was silent above me.

“Woah, are you crying?”

I wiped my nose on my fetlock and refused to answer. What if I opened my mouth and all that came out was a sob?

The shadow of Discord bobbed into my view, two pale lights serving as his eyes. They settled right next to me, hovering ominously, simply staring. They tipped sideways.

“Do you uh… need a hug?” I failed to reply once more, but my friend didn’t need an answer. I only heard him shift, one light vanishing, and his paw was around my shoulders. His wing was folded, but I could feel it shift against me as he breathed. I winced as his head rested against my neck, his stiff fur an irritant, and the bizarre white horn already getting tangled in my mane, hooking on knots.

“What’s the matter, Celestia? Jealous?” he laughed softly, “Nah, that’s not funny… Um, sorry.” His arm slipped away, and he sat quietly beside me, watching. “Please tell me what’s wrong…” he finally muttered.

“I don’t think I’m suited for life out here,” I replied softly, “Not at all…”

“Why do you say that…? Out here, Celestia… we’re free, you know? We can do anything, go anywhere. There are no walls that can hold us anymore.”

“Is that how you see it? You and Luna?” I asked, mopping up my face with a fetlock once more. “I don’t feel that way… Without walls, there’s no guidance. There’s no point, or purpose, or direction. We’re just lost, aimless and… there’s just no control, not to anything.”

Discord shifted beside me. “Honestly… I kinda like that.”

“I don’t. I like an order to things. A system to work with, or even to work around. Out here… I feel rudderless, pulled around without control. And it scares me.”

The two lights in his eyes flickered.

“I think I can understand that. Being rudderless…”

I hacked out a snort. “Can you now?”

“Yes. I can.” His eyes vanished. Closed, or just turned away, it was hard to tell. “In the city, I was the one being controlled. No direction I chose was going to be my own… I’d just wind up on patrol eventually. That or dead…” One little reflection reappeared, tilting up. “But out here, nothing holds me back. I chose where I go and what I want to do. Having no direction, it feels like my direction. Thinking, woah, what’s beyond that next hill?! I don’t know, but I wanna go see. And I can go see.”

“I don’t really work like that…  And… and it frustrates me, when I get pulled around like that.” His reflective eyes vanished again. I hoped he could see my expression, get what I was trying to say. “Just living moment to moment… We’ve got to have a plan larger than that, we can’t grow up just running from hill to hill, only thinking in the short term!”

There was another shifting sound beside me, as well as an annoyed sigh. Angry blood returned to my face, why would he not listen?!

“When you’d get so passive aggressive, Celestia?”

I kicked him. I smacked my hind hoof right into his side, bouncing off his flank. He didn’t make a sound, his eyes reappearing, suddenly far too close.

“That aggressive enough for you?!” I hissed.

Ow, Celestia,” he replied. That’s it?!

“I’m upset, I’m scared, and you just keep sniping at me!” I quietly cried. “You keep ignoring how I feel!”

“You’re ignoring how we feel!” Discord snapped back. A claw dug into my chest, jabbing at my ribs. “You are so convinced that Celestia is always right, in every case! News flash! You. Don’t. Know. Everything! So stop acting like you’re some ultimate authority over the two of us, because, as you just said, you aren’t suited to wandering around out here!”

“You’re, you’re incorrigible!” I sobbed, at a loss for what to say.

“For once, I am glad I don’t know what a word means!” Discord snapped back. I felt him stand, but his heat never left. There was a thud beside me, and Discord’s eyes reappeared. “I sorry…” His voice was low, still not entirely sympathetic. More like a child who’s been scolded. “I was trying to make you feel better, but… I think I failed. Forgive me?” I refused to reply, staring at him, knowing he could see my face like this. “What if I apologized for eating those carrots too?” I snorted, but felt myself ease.

“Apology accepted,” I muttered.

“And if you want a long term goal… well, I think we have a clear one now. Get all the Elements and take down the Shadow Stallion.”

I let my head drop again. He was only trying to be nice, I tried to assure myself. Never mind how ridiculous that sounded.

“How could we even attempt to do that?” I asked.

“We’ve already got two,” he urged.

“That’s just… ridiculous! Overwhelming! Impossible!”

“Celestia… the Elements are right in front of you. I’m wearing one!” There was a little clatter, the shifting of his necklace, and then it was lying across my foreleg, still warm from his neck. “It’s not only possible, it’s happening! You said that your cutie mark meant you wanted to bring the sun back to Equestria. Well, this is how we can do that!”

His words stung. My silly, lofty goal... it is absolutely comparable to this situation, comparable in its airheaded insanity. How could such a ridiculous dream, imagined in a moment of weakeness, wind up being my brand for life?

“But we’re just two fillies and a colt,” I pleaded, “We can’t handle this!”

“Yes we can. Yes you can.”

“No I—“

Suddenly, Discord threw his weight across me. He dropped his head atop mine as he hugged my neck, side digging into my back, and the strangely slick texture of his lizard leg jamming into my right flank.

“I’m trying to help you, Celestia!” he exclaimed. “Bad as I’m failing at it, I think this is something we can all get behind! And, as your friend, I believe in you. Once you figure this out, you can do it. You can do anything!”

I sniffled as the necklace’s gemstone sparkled intensely on my head, shining in my eyes.

“That is so corny. Even the Element thinks so.”

“Corny is the best kind of story,” Discord replied firmly.

“Life is not a story.”

“If we succeed at this, it will be. Right in a little gilded volume, Elements of Harmony, part 2. The part where Celestia, Luna, and Discord were all awesome adventurers. Friends forever!”

“Gilded? The proper term,” I laughed, wiping away the rest of my tears, “Is illuminated.”

“Both. At once.”

“Sure.” I laughed. “Sure, why not.”

There was a little gust as Discord hovered himself off my back, dropping next to me once more.

“Feel better?” he asked.

“Yeah… yeah a little bit. I’ve just got to think this over a bit more, but I think I’ll be fine. Thanks, Discord.”

He nodded, and his eyes vanished. I heard his claws scraping on the tree trunk. But with a soft whump the reappeared. His wing brushed my back as it retreated to his side.

“I got it,” he said.

“Got what?”

“Why don’t I start calling you Tia?”

“Tia? Why Tia?”

“Well…” A suggestion of his paw began waving beside me, making his eyes flicker. “Celestia is ladylike and refined. She always does the proper thing, and never ever toes the line. But Tia! Tia isn’t afraid to get her hooves dirty. Tia is nice and gentle, but she’ll do anything, go anywhere if it means she can protect her friends.”

“Do you really think changing what you call me will do anything?”

“Well, why did you want to call me Resonance? There’s more to a name than just random sounds, you know that.” He was silent, letting the idea sit. “I think this’ll help you see things as the new you.”

“Do I need a new me?” I asked him quietly.

“I dunno, you’re having trouble, so maybe?” A suggestion of a shrug. “Um… sorry if I’m offending you again… I’m just trying to help.”

“Perhaps we can try it out, for a few days.”

The lights bobbed vigorously then vanished again as he climbed his tree, claws scraping at the bark, leaves rustling. Then things became quiet… as quiet as they could be, at night in the wild.

“Hey Discord?” I called up softly. His eyes appeared above me, floating, attached to nothing. “What about… the Bringers of Harmony? For our adventuring group name?”

“Sounds weighty. I like it.”

“And… you think we can talk more? Just about serious stuff?”

“I’d love to, Tia.”


XV : Discord

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 15

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Discord~

Contrary to what you may have heard, trees are not comfortable places to sleep. Bark is just as jagged as it looks, and leaves can actually get fairly scratchy, especially since they never sit still. Branches are always exactly where you don’t want them, and that can never be fixed, because it’s a different tree every night. Not to mention the ants, and the need to find a perfect place to balance, or whoops! Off you tumble in your half-awake stupor, probably to break a wing, or something.

Yet, I always love staying up in the trees. Taking a wild stab in the dark, I can guess it’s because sleeping in a tree is something so different. It’s difficult, but that made it fun to try, to get used to. I don’t think I could call any rest there a good’s night sleep, but somepony around here needed to be more aware anyway. You know, in case some… bear or something decided to sneak up on us.

It was hours after my conversation with Celestia, or, Tia. Still night out, though I couldn’t even attempt to guess the time. I wasn’t very aware of those things. I was in a weird state. That place between a dream and reality, where you realize you’re asleep in a tree, but dreamy thoughts dominate your mind. I had become convinced that rain was made out of cottage cheese, because the water of the sun baked the hayseed clouds to the boiling point. It made absolute and perfect sense, because it was absolute and perfect nonsense.

Of course, I was fuzzy on the details, because, what does cottage cheese taste like? Like oatmeal? Or… blue? Or…

A scream shattered my mind, whiplash to the waking world, light blasting by my eyes. I stood, tipped, unaware of my limbs as the bark scraped off some of my skin, claws nearly yanked away from me. My legs pinwheeled, leaves invading my face, jabbing and scraping at my gut.

“What’s going on?!” I demanded, trying to force away the leaves with my chin, spitting at the green that snuck in my mouth. I heaved myself up and swatted the branch with my paw as Tia screamed again, mixed with loud and foreign whinnies and snorts. Finally stable, shaking with the hyper awareness only brought with being startled awake, I dropped my vision down, trying to get a grasp of the scene.

Tia had slammed herself against my tree, eyes screwed shut, horn glowing brightly as she screamed, trying to get away and failing miserably. I looked in front of her, and saw a second pony, one I had never seen before.

It was scraggly and thin, blue fur lumpy and uneven, violet mane hanging to one side, in a damp and uncombed tangle. The pony was stumbling away from Tia, twisted its forelegs around his face, whinnying and bucking, making a grimy satchel around his neck bounce. With each buck he left the earth, furiously beating wings holding him aloft, inches from the ground. Clipped to both wings was an iron ring with a feather bangle, that released a puff of dark smoke every time it moved.

“Stop yelling! It’s a Pegasus!” I yelled down to my friend, easing my head over a few more branches.

“Big sis…? Pegasus…?” Luna? I scanned the glade for my other friend. She was barely visible, obscured by a patch of grass. But she was trying to get to her feet, rubbing at her eyes.

“What?! Oh!” Tia gasped, “It is a Pegasus!” she said, almost in awe. I flipped myself around to look back at Celestia, who had begun peering out from under her own hoof. Then, her body tensed, and she stomped forward, shaking an accusatory hoof, “Who are you?! What were you thinking?! Dare to sneak around us like—!”

“Tia!”

She stopped at the sound of my voice, jaw clicking shut. I eased myself off the branch, then dropped to the ground beside her, landing heavily on all fours. I looked over the stranger once more, and turned to Tia. “Look at her flank,” I said, “Look at her cutie mark. That’s an escaped slave.”

Tia’s eyes flicked away from me. Briefly obscured by the occasional flap of the Pegasus’ wings, one could still make out the mix of different shapes. Only one part seemed like it was a natural cutie mark, a pale pair of outstretched wings. Big black letters, STR, were imposed over them, covering the left far more than the right. A black outline of a cloud was overlaid on the letters, tilting slightly upward and overlapping with the top of the ‘R’, leaving a larger blank space in front of the ‘S’.

“A slave?” Tia asked, “There’s slavery out here?!”

“Slavery’s not out here, far as we’ve seen. It’s up there.” I pointed up at the black sky, completely featureless with the onset of night. “How do you think the Stallion perpetuates the cloud cover?” Tia gaped upward, face blank.

“I ain’t a slave! Not no more!” The Pegasus shouted, hoof still over her eyes. Her voice was girlish, but gurgling, as if she had a sore throat. “I bust outta there two days ago, and not no griffon or pony gonna take me back!”

Tia gave me a strange look, eyes stuttering back at the Pegasus.

“You know about this? This situation? How…?” she asked, wavering on one forehoof.

“Well uh…” I looked away, flustered. A lesson from Ruin, a clear cut answer, but one I didn’t want to admit to. That I hoped to never admit to. C’mon, Discord, there’s a simple way to reply. I shrugged away my fears. “You think the Stallion only captured unicorns off the streets of Canterbury? Other ponies were brought through the castle, often enough.”

Tia seemed to accept the answer, and turned away from the conversation, hesitantly approaching the emaciated Pegasus. I looked as well, as she squinted back at me, out from one bloodshot eye, half hidden under a foreleg.

“Hey, it’s okay…” Tia said, approaching slowly, “You just startled us. We’re not going to hurt you.” I kept by Tia’s side, and Luna crawled between her sister’s feet, yawning.

“What are you?!” the Pegasus cried.

“We’re ponies, just like you.”

“Though, not me,” I chuckled. “I’m a Draconequus.”

“Liar!” the Pegasus spat, “If you were, I’d be dead.”

“Eh, I’ll give that. It’s true if you met most Draconequus. On the other hand, I’m special.”

“Sheyeah right you are!” the pony snorted. She blinked both her eyes, hesitantly squinting over a scrawny and patchy leg. “Whadcha you hit me with?”

“Sorry…” Tia apologized, “Reflexive unicorn magic…”

“Unicorn? Shyeah right, there aint no unicorn down here!”

“Fine. Don’t believe anything we have to say.”

“Done and done!” She dropped down to all four hooves, wings falling still, squinting over us through the greasy strands of her mane. And so the group was overcome by silence, Luna nodding off, and Tia was too caught up in her own flabbergasted staring to say a word. I’d surprised the Pegasus didn’t leave right then, but she seemed busy eyeing Celestia’s horn, still glowing softly. I stepped forward.

“So,” I started. “Why were you sneaking around our camp?”

“That weren’t sneaking,” she snapped.

“Yes it was, you walked right up to me!” Tia asserted. “You snorted right in my face!” The Pegasus flicked her tail and shook her head.

“Can’t see nothing out here after dark. And there’s junk everywhere, jus lying around to trip me up! I run into lots more than ponies, I can tell you that much. Didn’t mean to surprise you none.”

“Ah…” Once more, Tia fell to silence, but the thin pony had something to say this time. She turned in place and spread her frayed wing, pointing at the iron band.

“Hey. If you’re really unicorn, can you unicorn magic these darn things offa me?” She waved her wing at us, making the black-spotted feather jingle. “I could fly right outta your mane if you could.”

“Um…” Tia looked it over, refusing to edge closer or further away. “I don’t think I have a spell that can help...”

“Shoot… Then do you bunch have something to eat?”

“I’m… sorry?” Tia stammered.

“Said I’m hungry, and I’m willing to pay for any kind a food.”

Tia looked at me, confused as Luna snoozed beneath her. I glanced at the road, double checking that there was at least a few patches of grass around it.

“You don’t need to waste the bits, there’s grass here you can eat…” Tia said.

“No I can’t, that’d kill me. I got the bits, I’m hungry.”

“Um…” Tia looked to me for advice, and I was more than willing to walk over to her saddlebags and pull out two of our apples. If the starving pony was hungry, then heck if I was going to let that continue.

From her ragged satchel, the Pegasus withdrew a copper bit, clenched between yellow teeth. With a flick of her snout, she tossed the coin at Celestia, who nearly tripped over her own sister trying to dodge away. The apples were snatched out of my hands before I even offered them, snapped between her jaws. She began chewing through the whole apple, struggling to bite through as chunks were spewed out from her breath, juice edging out the sides of her mouth. Celestia looked absolutely horrified, but still refused to move anywhere. It was actually funny to watch Tia struggle internally like that, caught between two conflicting sets of manners. Sympathize with the downtrodden? Be frightened by poor manners? I chuckled quietly to myself.

Suddenly, a thought occurred. A question I should have asked ages ago.

“What’d your name, miss?”

“Clou’estier, number… uh…” She swallowed a mouthful of apple, smacking up the leftovers from her lips. “Flea’s the name.”

“Um…” Tia struggled with a question of her own, “What’s with your cutie mark?”

Flea grinned, then posed, flashing us her jumbled cutie mark.

“Pretty, innit? I got triple shifted once that beaut’ appeared, but I never been prouder! First in the family since grandpappy Rainbow Wing! Pity the brand covers it, wish I coulda seen it otherwise.”

“That’s a brand?”

“Yep. Camp I was born to, and the job I was made to do. Cloudstirring.”

By chance, or maybe reminded by her job, I looked up. Somehow… the sky wasn’t quite as featureless anymore. I climbed a tree, trying to get even a little bit higher for a better look.

Through the branches and leaves, high above us, I saw four little orange orbs, light bouncing off cloud cover and illuminating shadows of what looked like four heavyset ponies.

“Cut the light,” I snapped, pointing up. “There’s something there.”

Flea didn’t even bother to look before rearing in a panic and ducking past Celestia. “Darn! I gotta go! Thank yeh for the apples!”

“No!” I shot down. Flea hesitated, shifting from hoof to hoof nervously. I gave her my grin, my brilliant, brilliant idea grin! “Let’s hide!”

“You dumb or something?” she snorted. “They’ll find us!”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got a great plan!” I dropped out of the tree, stumbling in my attempt to land in front of the Pegasus. “We’ve got some pretty good hiding magic! So, if you stay here, they’ll pass over us, then you can go in the opposite direction, or somewhere they wouldn’t think to look!” flea stared at me, quiet for a moment. Her eyes flicked up and she hastily nodded.

“That’s mighty nice of you, lil dragon.”

“Our pleasure!” I nodded, ignoring the dragon comment. “We’re adventurers! The Bringers of Harmony, and we’re here to help every pony in need!”

“Ooh, that’s our adventuring name?” Luna asked sleepily, “I like it. Let’s use it.”

“Now cut the light! Under these ferns!”

Celestia’s light went out as she scootched Luna underneath the thick leaves. I dove into cover, and Flea settled next to me, stumbling and crashing through the underbrush. Flea brushed against me as she sat, and I tried not to recoil. She was cold with sweat, and, finally still beside me, I could smell the stench of it wafting off of her. That, and another smell. It preoccupied my thoughts as I watched two lanterns pass overhead, now clearly held in the beaks of two vague and shadowy griffons. It was that rotten, greasy stink, like oil and bodily wastes, the stink of the overcast cloud cover.

“Luna, can you cast the spell?” Tia asked quietly. Luna was on my other side, resting her head across her sister’s leg, blinking blearily at the question.

“mm… Maybe.” She yawned.

“It’s alright, let me try!” I asserted. “I’ve been wanting to see if my shadow magic’s gotten a boost anyway.” I spread my hands on the ground and closed my eyes, letting the spell flow from my fingertips. With so little light, it was easy to lift the shadows from wherever I wanted, coating our space, obscuring us completely. When the spell finished, I tried to move my claws. The shadows faltered, and I slapped them back in place, frustrated.

“Dang… still a strain. But don’t worry,” I looked over at my friend, her eyes peering at where she thought I was. “I can hold it for a while, if I focus.”

“Hold what?” Flea demanded quietly, “Nothing happened!”

“If someone looked at us straight, we’d look like a shadow.” Tia explained. “We can see through it just fine.”

“Quiet, guys! They’re coming!”

I watched, focused as the lights circled overhead, two, then three, figures obscured by the thick leaves. In the distance, I heard the griffins speak, voices like low chirping, beaks clacking. I couldn’t tell if it was the pony’s language or their own. Did griffins have their own language? I tried to not think too hard about these details.

With a heavy thud, one dropped into our clearing. He took his lantern out of his beak and held it aloft in a taloned hand, illuminating portions of himself in a near-useless light. Its armor was in thick segments, leather that was seemingly stitched together. A metal helmet curled around its face, framing his beak, with a long feather sprouting out the top. It thin, furred tailed curled, then snapped as the griffin released a frustrated huff. He shuffled in place, swinging his lantern around slowly before approaching a bush, pushing it aside. With a swipe of his paw, he tore it apart, green chunks flying, his voice a rolling growl.

I smirked and curled my fingers around the shadows. You trying to scare us? You don’t intimidate me, you big chicken.

From somewhere above, a gruff male voice. “Anything, Demelza?”

“Don’t bother asking,” a different griffin, again from one unseen. “The skarn couldn’t catch a mule with its head smashed in.”

A voice above made a strangled, squawking whinny noise, surrounded by laughter.

“HEY!” The griffin spun around, waving its lantern at the sky, voice gruff, but clearly female. “Stop picking your noses and keep looking! They could have moved by now!” With a whip of her tail she smashed down another bush, then flipped around, peering in our general direction.

“Hey, you little mud ponies! We saw your little light over here!” I stayed in place, solid, unflinching. You don’t scare me, not at all. “We’re just looking for a bit of live cargo, and that’s all we’ll take, if you show your stupid candy-coated selves.” She clucked once, glaring in our direction. “Well?!”

I felt Flea shift beside me, and I snapped my eyes to her. Her face was fearful, backing away slowly, tail falling out of the spell’s effect. I stuck out a hand to stop her, grabbing her thin ankle, trying to keep my focus. The griffin can’t see us, I wanted to assure her. She’s bluffing! We’re safe!

The griffon smashed another bush, just to our right. Her feet, one of a bird and two of a lion, planted themselves in front of our bush, falling still. The lantern hovered above our heads, as a single orange eye peered through the leaves over us.

Flea whinnied, yanked her hoof out of my hand, and bolted, smashing and trampling past the undergrowth.

“Flea, no!” I flipped around, spell breaking around me, and charged after the Pegasus. There was another blast of Celestia’s light behind me, and a shrill shriek, unlike any other I had heard.

Thoughts rang through my mind as I struggled to catch up. I would not let them catch this Pegasus! This is our duty as heroes! I had to see this through! I couldn’t abandon even one pony! Especially not this one, not like this!

Flea struggled vainly through the dark, colliding with trees and bouncing off the ground, leaving behind her a trail of smoke, easy to follow. Too easy. An orange lantern shot overhead, flying past us, circling around, shouting nonsense. I grabbed at her tail, but on contact Flea brayed again and shot upward, crashing through branches, getting entangled, breaking boughs that crashed down atop me. With several strong flaps, she broke through, then zoomed off, a streaking trail of smoke at a speed I thought impossible.

“Get it!” screamed a griffin, “Catch the mule!”

I scrambled up after her, flapping up to a branch and launching myself higher, never able to fly for more than a few feet at a time. Darn it! Darn it! With a burst of energy, I launched myself above the treetops, hovering shakily, resolving to chase after her. Slap some reason into her!

“The heck—“

“DRACONEQUUS! DRACONEQUUS IN THE TREES.”

I squealed and let myself drop back down, crashing through brittle twigs before slapping into a thicker bough. Stupid! They were looking for me too! Stupid! I glued my eyes to the skies, as two guards looked down, another flying past, over their heads.

“Grab the darn thing, moron!”

“Forget you, where’d the little skarn go?!”

There was boisterous laughter from one of them, loud and wild.

“Grab the stupid lizard, Rigby! Easy bits!”

Okay… I scrambled atop my branch, another plan, a better plan forming. So I’m the better prize here? Fine! If I can draw the attention of all the griffins… then maybe Flea can escape!

I tossed up my hands and from them bloomed an illusion of myself, flapping and flying in tight circles, blurred features, making it easier to move. Not like the birds could tell the difference with their terrible dayball eyes.

The bigger guard took up a length of looped rope on the end of a stick, started charging after the illusion. It took care with its swings, sometimes missing, often hitting, grunting in frustration when the illusion slipped through. C’mon, you dumb chicken. You can’t deal with this alone! Call the other guards! I buzzed him, not close enough to be caught. The other griffin watched, clucking a chuckle.

“Spry one, innit he?”

The one with the stick grunted through his mouthful of lantern. “Shuh up ‘nd ‘elp me, Kipp!”

“Fuh, no,” the one called Kipp snorted, folding its arms, “I’m surprised the little thing hasn’t bit you yet. It’s just yanking your chain, and you still can’t catch the stupid thing!” Call over the other two, you moron! Do it! Your friend is obviously incompetent, even if you do it sarcastically, call off the other guard!

A jolt down my spine, preceding a scream, a voice I recognized. I whipped my head around, dropped my hands, illusion dissipating in a flash.

“Luna?!” I cried. Luna! No! I just left my friends with that Demelza! No! Aug! I clawed at the branch, scraping myself towards the sound. What am I doing here?! My element burst bright silver, resonating with my guilt, my urge to run and help.

“There, in the trees!” I slammed a hand over my Element, far too late, entire body flushing cold. “Got you, you little!”

I threw myself down as two griffins crashed into the branches above me, cursing. I slammed sideways, body deafened by the thump, suddenly too heavy as my shoulder bloomed into a bruise. I forced myself to run, panicked, worried, lost, and absolutely detesting the feeling, the horrible sinking feeling of fear. Of utter and stupid uselessness. What help can I be if I don’t help my friends first!? I just wanted to scream at myself!

I tripped and tumbled, crashing over an overheated body, smashing my snout into the all-too-hard ground. No time! I whipped around and there she was, Tia, gripping her left ear, gritting her teeth and silent, but alive! I scrambled toward her, relived, ecstatic, and she pushed a hoof over my snout, quickly shaking her head, face flush, serious. On the other side of her, Luna was curled up, repressing sobs with a tightly screwed up face, horn glowing blue, blood flowing down her snout, spreading onto her neck.

I opened my mouth to ask, but Celestia shook her head again, and pulled me low. Once more, I brought the shadows around us, and we all waited quietly as the griffins squawked and shouted, never more than a bobbing orange light in the veil of night.

All of this, an entire crazy night, begun and over in the span of twenty minutes.

Oh, how quickly things can go horribly, horribly wrong…


XVI : Luna

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 16

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Luna~

My snout hurt, shallow scratches throbbing across it, burning in the air. Celestia had washed the cuts, but when it came to bandaging, she couldn’t figure out a way that would also allow me to breathe. The wounds had stopped bleeding, but Celestia was taking extra care to make sure I wasn’t getting anything yucky in them. So no exploring for me. Just the sad, sad task of watching Discord and Celestia work themselves into a tizzy as we continued to follow the road to Stringhalt.

It was like we had fallen out of Canterbury all over again, minus the actual falling part. It was just a little bit after breakfast, and Discord was up in the trees, never removing his eyes from the sky. Celestia asked him, over and over, do you see anything? And every ten steps she would unfurl the map, only to fold it back up again, never even looking at it.

“Flea probably made it, Discord…” I tried to say.

“Yeah but,” he refused to look down at me, eyes planted directly up at the clouds. “There may be a griffin camp around here. We’ve got to be extra careful.”

Failure! I needed another plan…

“Hey Discord?” I asked.

“Yeah? One second.” He crashed into the next tree branch and scrambled to the top of it, eyes only briefly attending to what he was doing.

“I saw that you used shadow magic last night!”

“It’s not any stronger than it used to be,” he stated flatly.

“So then… maybe you got another type of magic?” Without looking down, he shook his head to my awesomely cheerful statement.

“Draconequus are very limited in magic types,” he explained, “Most only ever learn shadow, and only a few learn to derive illusion from it. Most adults don’t see the point in illusive tricks…”

“That doesn’t make sense!” I squeaked, “You know the deriv… derive-ing magic more than you know what it’s derive from?” Discord flicked his eyes down to me.

“What?”

“Celestia!” I whined, forcing myself between her and her ever folding map. “Celestia, can you explain what I’m trying to ask? I don’t know how to um… change the word derive.”

She blinked away surprise. “You mean conjugate?”

“That doesn’t sound like derive at all, big sis! Why do you two always throw around big words?!”

“Well, consider it your lessons, since you’re not attending school anymore.”

“No! Anything but school!” I moaned as loudly as possible, making a big fuss and spinning around, dramatically sick. With one eye, I leered at Celestia. Was she going to scold me? That might break the gloominess spell! But no, she just walked right by, still messing with her map. There was another loud rustling in the trees, Discord had jumped to the next branch. I scurried over to trunk, trying to pout, but the cuts on my snout hurt more when I did. I needed another plan of attack…

“Hey Discord?”

“Yeah again?”

“Um…” He almost sounded frustrated! It’s worse that I thought! What could I possibly ask now?

“Discord.” Celestia snapped, jamming the map back in her saddlebags. Determination was in her eye, but her tone of voice said told me this was not good sign. “Last night. You said ponies got taken to the castle, like it was something you saw often.”

“Well, yeah,” Discord replied absentmindedly, “I lived there,”

“No you don’t. You told us that you lived underneath the city.”

He stopped, frozen, and carefully looked down at my sister.

“When’d I say that?”

“The night we met.”

“Oh.” A moment’s thought. “OH! Right! That was a lie, sorry!” He chuckled softly into his griffin claw.

“I realized not long after.”

“Wait, so, you both knew I was lying?” I didn’t answer, looking between my sister and my friend. Celestia wasn’t going to just leave it at this. This is not a good direction, not at all! Discord continued, rubbing a paw through his mane. “Yeesh! Well hey, forgive me for that? I didn’t really think we’d become friends at that point, so uh, sorry! Again!”

“What is the truth, Discord?”

“Well, oh, hang on.” Discord finally got out of the trees, dropping with a few flaps of his wings, wincing as he landed.

“Do we have to bring this up now, guys…” I asked, desperate.

“No, it’s okay Luna,” Discord tried to wave my worries away. They were not woven like that! “The true story isn’t that different.” He started to follow Celestia and I scampered after him. “We lived in the underground floors of the castle, for one. And we weren’t forced to serve the Stallion.” He frowned. “In fact, I’m pretty sure most of them were more than happy to serve.”

“What happened to the ponies the Draconequus caught on the streets?” Celestia snapped.

“Hey, I didn’t say anything about the Draconequus outside the castle …”

“You mentioned, last night, that you’d eventually wind up on patrol.”

Discord stared face forward, blank.

“I did?”

“I severely doubt that was a patrol within the castle walls!”

“Tia…” Discord chuckled softly, “Why are you suddenly so interrogative?”

Again, there was that name. Discord had used it last night, and I thought my sister would hate it. She’s Celestia, that’s all she can think of herself as. It took her a while to accept me calling her ‘big sis’ instead of ‘older sister,’ like a ‘proper mare.’ Using that weird name now, that was only going to rile her up more!

But Celestia backed down, looked embarrassed even. She examined her hoof, kicking a little pebble of the road.

“It just… makes me nervous,” she admitted. “Last night, it was like we were back in the city… and we were out after dark.” She shook her head, mane bouncing. “It was terrifying. Please.” She looked back at Discord. “I just want to know what happened to them.”

He returned her a shaky smile.

“You’re better off not knowing.”

“That scares me even more.”

“GUYS!” I shouted, a brief burst of light popping from my element. “Stop scaring yourselves! Stop being big worrywarts! Don’t, don’t make me make both of you hug or something!” I pouted at the pair as hard as I could, ignoring the throbbing on my nose. “Now I gotta question!”

“Y-yes, Luna?” Celestia stammered.

“Big sis, how come Discord is calling you Tia?!”

“Well um…” She tapped her hoof to her mouth, looking away from me. “He thinks the name change will help me get into the spirit of adventure, I suppose.”

“Cool!” I nodded my approval and leapt forward, grinning up at my sister. “Does that mean I can use it too?!”

“Sure, I suppose…” We all began walking again, and my sister looked down at my friend. “Now Discord, please…”

“Tia!” I squeaked. Tia (teehee!) gave me a blank stare as I grinned up at her. And again, she looked back at Discord.

“Well…”

“Tia! Tiiaaaaaa! What? I like it!” Silence, except for the steady fall of our feet. “Please stop making yourselves sad, guys. We’re all really really tired and scared from last night. Can we talk about this when we’re less depressed?”

“Yes, please!” Discord charged up to meet me, grin wide. “So Luna, you wanna do some magic experiments?!”

“But Luna,” Celestia complained, “you always say honesty is the best policy…”

“Discord can be honest later, okay? Please? …Tia?” Again, the name caused my sister to pause, like each time I said the word it caused her brain to temporarily scramble. She sighed and tried to smile.

“Okay… Discord. Talk to you about this later?”

“Yes! Definitely!” He wrapped a foreleg around me and drove me further forward, unusually chummy, and suddenly serious once we got far enough away. He spoke, out of the corner of his mouth. “You just saved my butt there, Luna. Thanks.”

“You’re not going to be able to not answer her forever,” I warned. He turned away from me, looking a little bit sick, cheeks sunken in by his frown.

“It’s not a pleasant truth.”

“Doesn’t sound like it will be. When you can, kay?”

“Kay.” He granted unto me a single nod. “Aheam. So magic.”

“Uh-huh!” I gave back to him another single nod, but with a smile! “So I realized last night I can deafen sound as well as amplify it! Pretty cool, huh?”

“Wow…” He drew away from me, probably surprised. “Is it really that easy for a unicorn to learn a new spell?”

“Well,” Celestia, no, Tia, finally caught up to us, walking on the other side of Discord. “Usually the unicorn in question is bound by the realm of her cutie mark, and whatever’s within that tends to be fairly easy. With practice, of course.”

“So, what, Luna doesn’t have a cutie mark, so she gets more magic?”

“Typically, it means less…” Celes-TIA said slowly, “But, well, that is the Helios bloodline!” She nodded, chin held high. “Powerful magic flows through Luna’s veins!”

“Soooo what happens if you get your cutie mark, and it has nothing to do with shadow or sonic magic?”

“I dunno!” I giggled. “I guess I’d just forget!”

“What? Just like that?”

“Oh, that kind of thing happens a lot!” Tia replied, still in her high-chin explain voice. “The foals of unicorns are actually quite powerful, with magic that surpasses years of training! That gets lost and forgotten as we age, so it’s not that much of a stretch to forget even more magic when a cutie mark appears.”

“But the foal thing is completely different.” Discord said, frowning up at my sister. “When a unicorn foal is born, it has a higher concentration of alicorn in its skeletal structure, which is lost or reconfigured into normal bone as… uh…” He stumbled to a stop as Celestia gaped back at him, jaw un-character-ly unhinged. “Ho! What do I know!”

“What was?! How do you?!”

“No!” I stopped my sister, jumping between her and Discord. “Another time, Tia.”

“Yeah, I was getting off on a tangent! Magic, huh?” He waved a forefoot, grinning at the sky. “You knew light magic before you got your cutie mark, Tia. Weird how that just magically lined up with the whole sun thing!” Again, my sister looked scrambled, struggling with herself.

“Any filly can make lights…” she said slowly, still eyeing Discord. “I don’t know anything special or complex, I’m just a bit more trained with it than the average unicorn.”

“Though, with that sun cutie mark, I’m sure you’ve got all kinds of uh… sun powers,” Discord said. “Fire, maybe?”

“I suppose. Probably.”

“Care to test it?” He bapped at a leaf, flinging it towards my sister. She eyed it suspiciously.

“I wouldn’t really know how to.”

“C’mon, fire’s just, like, really intense light, right?”

“No, it’s a process.” She narrowed her eyes at Discord, shoving away the leaf. “Don’t play dumb with me.”

I groaned and dropped to the ground, rolling onto my back and flailing my legs.

“Stop! Fighting!” I shouted, “Holy CHEESE!”

“Stand up, Luna, it’s improper to roll about in the dirt,” Celestia snapped, “You’ll get an infection.”

“Improper? What do we care what’s improper?! We’ve been sleeping on dirt beds for ages now!” I made ridiculous sounds as I rolled around some more, kicking and whinnying like a little whiney foal. If being a baby doesn’t stop their fighting, nothing will!!!

“Ma’am, is she alright?”

My eyes popped open. A brown farmer stallion pulling a cart full of straw had stopped beside us, looking down at me. Tia nervously assured him of my sanity as I stumbled to my feet and blushed indigo. The cart stallion nodded and kept going, wooden wheels bouncing and squeaking down the uneven dirt rock path.

I shook myself free of soil, we all exchanged embarrassed looks, and we kept walking, in silence.

“So uh… Helios,” Discord started, “That’s your family name? I didn’t know ponies had those.”

“Prestigious ones do,” Tia commented. “Usually it’s a common name passed down the male line. So, my father was Helios, and if he had a son, that foal would also have been called Helios.”

“I do remember Luna telling me her name was a family’s name,” Discord replied.

“Well, it’s still within the theme of the line… Honestly, a lot of families do that, not just high society ones. I worked at the Bun Bakery for a while, and the family that owned it had a theme name. The father was Hot Cross, his two daughters were Honey Bun and Sweet Roll.” Suddenly, Tia laughed! Sweet, sweet laughter, that wasn’t nervous or scared at all! “Oh, and how could I forget the Apple family? I spoke regularly with a mare named Apple-a-Day, and she would go on and on about how many relatives she had. I swear, to hear her tell it, half of Equestria was an Apple!”

Tia smiled, Discord smiled, and I smiled. Crisis! Averted!

Time passed, the day wore on, and we talked about absolutely nothing of substance. We came to a crossroad, and a second cart rolled by, flanked by four earth ponies in decorative and shiny gold armor. Discord scurried into the bushes as it took the corner, heading in the direction of Stringhalt once more.

“We must be getting close to Bolton, it’s right outside our destination,” Tia said, pulling out the map. “We’ll probably be running into more carts along the road… Discord?”

“Sorry, um…” He poked his head out of the bushes, hesitantly smiling. Tia tried to return it.

“We passed through half a dozen other towns, and now you’re getting nervous?” she asked.

“Well, there weren’t exactly guards there, or anypony that cared about what I was. This is different.” He ducked back down as another cart rolled by, a farmer pulling barrels.

“Well, our best bet for finding information on the Elements is in Stringhalt, I don’t want to just skip it…” Tia looked down the path to Bolton/Stringhalt, “I’ve got an idea. Let’s just get to Bolton and—” Discord backed away once more with the passing of another cart. “Or, I’ll be right back. Bolton shouldn’t be much further.”

~Θ~

Discord and I sat a little bit off the road, behind a fern and a bush or two. I glared up at him, and he just stared back. I glared to the side, and he grinned a lazy smile. I got up in his face, and he rested on a paw, confident as, I dunno, some confident thing. I blinked, then fell back, defeated.

“Nooo! You’re too good at this game, Discord. That’s, I dunno, ten staring contests in a row! Aren’t you getting tired? At all?!”

He shrugged silently, smug as a snake. Yes, a snake sounds like something that can be smug! The game was wearing out as Tia came strolling back down the road, one saddlebag weirdly more packed than the other.

“Okay I’m back…” she said, pushing aside out hiding bush.

“Welcome back, sis!”

“Yeah, welcome back!” The Discord that was right beside me poofed away, vanishing into smoke, as a different Discord poked his head out of a tree above me, still smug as a snake.

“What! That was?! Ooh, you cheater! You’re a cheater, Discord!” I kicked the tree and Discord laughed, gliding down beside me.

“Okay, okay, get over here you two…” We both scampered to my sister’s feet as she popped open one of her saddlebags, the unusually full one. “When we get into Stringhalt, we’re probably going to have to find a job or two to fill up our funds, but…” Out of her bag she drew out a simple piece of green cloth, with a plain gray trim. She wrapped it around Discord and pinned a silver clasp over his Element, pulling a hood over his head. It was a large cloak, one that obscured a lot of his body, just barely hovering above his feet and tail. He looked over himself, shifting his feet and tail, face blank. “Does this obscure enough to make your pony illusion easier?” Tia asked. Discord flicked his tail, then grinned.

“Yes! Now I can just lay a color over my feet…” In a flash, his feet transformed into gray hooves, the same color as the fur on his face. His lizard tail, still poking out the back of the cloth, transformed into a black pony tail, still curling and moving weirdly, like it wasn’t made of hair at all. But when he stopped and held it place, it looked natural, like normal. “How’s my walk?” He jumped on the road and walked by us, demonstrating the illusion. “I can’t do much about my body shape, but…”

“It’s a little strange…” Tia admitted. “But it doesn’t really stand out that much. Especially since most won’t be paying close attention. But what about your face?”

“Huh? My face?” He poked his nose with his new hoof, rising leg suddenly transforming into from gray to yellow. “I thought it was close enough.”

“Yes, but you still have those fangs… The ones that hang over your lips?”

“Oh! Right…” He frowned, and pulled his bottom lip around one. “Eh. Hiding them would be tough. That’s shadow, obscuring them…” He pulled the hood tighter around his face, and he became slightly masked in shadows. Then he laughed, and all the spells dropped. “Y’know, like this, I’d still stand out, being the only one cloaked.”

“Oh, I thought of that.” Celestia remarked with a wave of her hoof. “It’s why this got far… far too expensive. But it’s worth it, if it will keep us all together, unnoticed.” From her bag, Tia pulled out two more pieces of cloth, a small blue cloak that she dressed me with, and a dark red covering for herself.

“Alright!” Discord’s spells popped back into place and he grinned, completely obscuring his face, making his eyes glow an evil red. “To Stringhalt!”


XVII : Celestia

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 17

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Celestia~

I’m nervous, though I’m not entirely sure why. Arriving in Stringhalt… it’s a culmination, a conclusion to a lengthy first leg of our journey. It was a goal, a short-term goal formed to give us a vague sense of direction, but a goal nonetheless. My heart felt all fluttery while I walked. What would we find here, our first city since Canterbury?

The dirt path we had been following for so, so long suddenly turned into compact white cobblestone. And suddenly, walking was easy. I had hardly realized just how much effort it was to walk on dirt, but the compact stone felt like a dream to my hooves. Carts packed with all sorts of goods clattered by us, some off for Bolton, a wayside town loaded to the brim with all sorts of traffic. It had been easy to find a clothes vendor, even though their streets were an uncontrolled chaos.

I watched the gray sky, light of step and jittery of heart. The day was starting to fade away as we left Bolton behind us. Should we have stopped at a stable for the night? Did Stringhalt have the same strict ‘curfew’ as Canterbury did? Would we even be able to get into Stringhalt? There was no gate into Canterbury, no entrance or exit. Certainly Stringhalt couldn’t be the same, not with all this ground based traffic. We used to have the road all to ourselves, now we had to proceed in single file, lest we become overrun by the continuous cart stream.

And really… There was a really strange stink in the air! I wrinkled my nose, wondering what it was. Sickly sweet… But putrid, and overpowering.

Finally, the forest around us abruptly cut off, and the city walls came into view. Surrounded by other ponies, and several carts, we were confronted with our first true look at the Earth Pony city.

“Ew! Gross!”

Stringhalt was, in fact, surrounded by a wall. A gray brick-and-mortar one, with a large wood and iron gate as a point of entry, road, and obviously the line of carts, leading right up to it. Surprisingly, this wall did not reach the cloud cover. In fact, jutting down from the cloud celling was a solid wall of white fluff, slowly billowing upwards, coloring and swirling with the normal gray cover.

But what really caught my eye, and demanded the attention of the nose and currently upset stomach, were the massive piles of waste. Black rot streaked down from the top of the bricks, collecting in massive sprawling piles, staining the earth, and casting up that putrid, putrid stench. Black birds squawked and cawed around the piles, rooting through, fighting for scraps. I wished I had an efficient and non-magical way to plug my nose, because as we approached, we had to pass piles of the garbage on either side of us, ditches dug far into the ground to keep the rotten spillage off the road.

“Heavens,” I said, “I hope the city itself doesn’t smell this bad…” I eyed the crowds. Some ponies seemed to be reacting the same as I was, but the majority seemed unaffected by the sights and stench. Luna did not respond, her cloak lopsided as she stuffed her nose into the side of her hood. Discord’s expression was difficult to see under the shadows… But to my comment, he snickered.

“You think the entire city is just an ocean of filth so big, it leaks over their walls?” He laughed into his gray hoof.

“Does that mean…” Luna said slowly, voice muffled, “They would have to take boats to school? Or…”

“No!” I cried, “No, we are not having this conversation! Please, let’s talk about something else! You two are disgusting!”

“Fine, sorry!” Discord slowly stopped laughing, and looked towards the gate, retreating as a cart rumbled by his head. “Sooooo uhhh… Getting into Stringhalt seems pretty straightforward so far,” he finally said, “Lot more straightforward than getting in and out of Canterbury…”

“This place is a bit more active, a major trade city, far as I’ve gathered.” I thought for a moment. “You know…” I slowly started, “I’m not even sure what Canterbury offered, what they traded with other cities… Other than being the seat of the government.”

Discord shrugged. “Yeah me neither.”

“Eh…”

Conversation dying off, we fell into a crowded and quickly moving line, exit traffic still spilling by our left. The gate wasn’t as big as I would have expected, maybe only three or four ponies high, the wooden structure lifted off the ground. Several earth pony guards stood around the entrance, their armor silver, red sashes hanging across one shoulder or the other. There was a small wooden booth beside the gate, and people seemed to stop there briefly before heading inside Stringhalt proper.

The Shadow Stallion’s banner waved above the gate, the entire thing, not just the plain star symbol that we saw in our travels. A thin flag, the black and five-pointed star in a field of purple, crude gray alicorn imposed in its middle, wings outspread. Expected, but no more welcome for it. On the other hoof… for the first time, the banner was accompanied. Two identical flags flanked it, with a pattern I didn’t quite recognize. Both were divided into four segments, One showing fields and another brimming with flowers, one panel decorated with the sun, the last, a blue sky.

Were they old Earth Pony flags? I vaguely remembered seeing these before, and they definitely give a sort of Earth Pony feel…

“Next, please!”

“Oh!” Well that was fast! I hurried forward, called over by the Earth Pony in the wooden booth, coat a dusted gray from his age. He clenched a quill between his teeth, feathery part shorn off for an easier grip. He dipped the pen into its well as he methodically pulled a piece of paper out of its stack.

“Names,” he said, voice impossibly flat.

“Celestia, Luna, and um… Discord.”

Without question, he scrawled on the page. I nervously eyed the guards, chatting lazily across the road. ‘Discord’ was so clearly not a pony name, I would be surprised if—

“Tribes.”

“I’m sorry?” Tribes? What in Equestria…?

He turned his head to us and blinked, bags very clear under his eyes. He looked over us, and then scratched three triangles on the paper, under our names.

“Sponsor.”

“Uh…”

“Family,” again, he slowly turned to look at us. “Are you privately owned?”

“Um… owned? We uh…” I floundered as the pony stared at us. “Helios?” I quickly offered.

He looked over at me once more, eyes dim. “I see. So you’re students?”

“Yes, sorry,” I immediately jumped on the alibi. Oh, Luna, please don’t ask me why I jumped to that answer, at least not until we’re inside the city! The old pony scrawled one last note, stamped it with a rubber, well, stamp, and pushed the page towards me with his nose. I yanked it towards me, ready to get the heck out of here!

“Toll is two bits, miss,” he said.

“Oh, right!”

I floated the coins towards him and scurried through the gate, watching the guards, who seemed to pay us no mind. I hovered the printed paper in front of my nose, intending to read it over, then stow it.

But I stopped myself. Because over the edge of the page was a place of, well, surprises.

The city itself wasn’t filthy or dark… in fact it was dazzling. We had entered into a kind of open area, where buildings were sparse, and gardens plenty. Green pastures, scattered with trimmed floral trees and stone paths. There was grass, not long like in the wild, but neatly cut and evenly grown, petals coating nearly everything, making the road almost vanish. Ponies milled about the streets as carts clattered by us The city slowly ascended, miles from where we stood, into a stone and brick acropolis. Lights winked to life on its distant streets, beginning to glitter with the fall of the sun. Jutting from its peak were dozens of stone and tile towers, barely even attempting to reach the sky above their heads.

But, curved over the city, in a gigantic reverse dome, were a number of massive structures built entirely out of soft white clouds. It was a castle or city, spires and minarets hanging like stalactites in a cave. Towers swirled together, black and stormy streaks lining soft white puffs, enclosing Stringhalt in its own personal dome. Some of the… highest? The low-hanging outcroppings even came close to touching the earth. They still hovered far beyond and one pony’s reach, but were considerably closer that the continuous sky ceiling. Staring up, I could spy movement, masses of flying creatures, too high up or far away to determine what exactly they were.

“Goodness!” I exclaimed. I glanced around, hoping my idleness hadn’t blocked traffic. Thankfully, no. I pushed Luna forward, her head stuck upwards, cloak still lopsided over her nose, exposing her Element. Discord followed after us, silent and expressionless as the shadows made him. “Well… well that was stressful!” I stumbled over my words, looking back down at the paper I held. “Thought we’d be noticed immediately by everyone, back there… Fumbling over our responses.”

“I think they cared more about the line moving than they did about us specifically,” Discord commented, also trying to encourage Luna forward.

“Thank goodness for that… though, Discord…” He looked up at me, as a question bubbled to the surface in my brain. “You said there’s no slavery out here? He asked if we were owned.”

He shrugged under his cloak. “I don’t know any more than you about that. We haven’t seen it in the towns.”

“Well…” I returned to the page, looking over it… when something very strange caught my eye. “Huh.”

“’Huh’ what?”

“I don’t see Helios written on here at all,” I replied, eyes rescanning the page. “And under ‘Affiliations’ it lists ‘Canterlot.’” I looked to my friends, Discord still trying to keep my preoccupied sister in pace with us. “I didn’t mention anything like that, did I? I don’t remember saying anything about Canterbury either… Not to the gatekeeper, at least.”

“No, you definitely didn’t,” Discord replied, distracted. “C’mon Luna, Tia’s going to leave us both behind at this rate!”

“I would not!” I retorted.

“It’s so pretty!” Luna squealed, snout stuck pointing up.

“Well if anyone asks, we’re students from Canterlot now.” I folded up the paper, considering the conversation complete.

We quickly left the floral garden paths, and began our ascension into the city proper. Buildings became closer together, tightly packed, squeezing away any hint of a garden or flora. They grew taller, but I never saw a structure get more than four stories, practically minuscule compared to the walls of Canterbury. They became lopsided, growing and blending together in a mix of stone, straw, and mud brick, balconies of cloth jutting across the streets, which had become far too narrow. Or simply unable to accommodate for the traffic that packed them tight.

Even at such a late hour, when most would be fleeing for their homes in Canterbury, the streets were filled with ponies. Carts tried to shove their way through the foot traffic, pushing aside what were already cramped crowds. Just walking, we were all jammed shoulder to shoulder, flank to flank, voices and wagon wheels providing a persistent rumble.

Canterbury was quiet, looming. Even in a crowd, there was a level of dignity. No, more likely quiet fear. Even in the crowded blocks, the most packed streets, you could barely see more than a dozen ponies at one time, let alone be packed so tightly that staying close to your friends became an issue. I tried, fruitlessly, to speak with Discord or Luna, but couldn’t be heard over the din, even as they tried to remain as close as possible.

And it wasn’t just ponies I saw… So many crazed things clamored for my attention, demanding focus before vanishing a few seconds later. Griffons screeched laughter in an open bar, banging their mugs on the table as dozens of ponies crowded for a seat. Four or five slow and plodding creatures, massive and hairy, horns curling over their ears as they carried blankets and other cargo on their backs. A striped pony rested in a dark alleyway, pushing strange plants and powders quietly, eyeing all that passed. Two knobby creatures that looked like ponies, but with long ears and no cutie marks, one pulling a cart that stunk something fierce, the other barking, slamming together two metal sheets strapped to his legs. “Last call! Last call!” he shouted, over and over. More striped ponies, golden jewelry jangling, chattering as they pulled a cart full of barrels, all marked and stamped in symbols I didn’t recognize. We stepped aside for a silent entourage of hooded ponies, the banner of the city held above them, a casket carried in a finely carved chariot. And over the crowds—

“SHOWER COMING, HALF HOUR.” Someone shouted. This was echoed and repeated, rising from the masses, passing us by, a mantra carried by the ponies surrounding us. I wondered… did that mean a rain shower that could come in half an hour, or that would last…

A raindrop plicked onto the end of my snout. Well that answers that! I stared up at the sky. A dark cloud passed overhead, pulled by a Pegasus, ridden by a hint of a griffin. It was followed by a line of clouds, like an unfurling blanket. Two more drops splashed my face… The streets emptied almost instantly, faster than instantly. How did that happen so quickly?

Discord yanked at my cloak with his… hoof, apparently. He ducked under the overhand of a store, in front of a frosted window, and I quickly followed. I hoped no one noticed how bizarre Discord’s action looked… He could at least pretend his claws were actually hooves!

Ponies still rushed by us occasionally as the air around us cooled, rain becoming a steady shower. A pair of guards stood under a different awning, yards away, chatting. Don’t look at them, Celestia, don’t even worry about them. They don’t know who you are, they don’t know—

“Stringhalt is louuuuud!” Luna declared with a laugh, her cloak finally straightened out.

I laughed nervously, “Yes, it seems to be!”

“Did you two see all those weird ponies?” Discord asked, looking down the streets, “What were those?”

“Discord, are you feigning unintelligence again?” I asked.

“What? No. Why would I?”

“I thought they would have brought some these through the castle… “ I was actually kind of hoping that he knew what some of the different ‘ponies’ were. Apple-a-Day never told me about anything but Earth Ponies and Unicorns…

“No, nothing like that,” he replied.

“Or you would have learned about them, in your weird… knowledge repository…”

“Sorry, still no,” Discord said flatly and honestly.

I stared down at my friend, hood shrouded in darkness.

“What you seem to know is very random,” I commented.

He shrugged, “I had a random education. You went to that baroness school, right? With structured lessons? Well, my lessons were like…” He changed his voice, as if he was trying to do an impression. “‘Hey little one, this is something I want to tell you, because it just came to my attention right now. Got it? Well … The End.’”

“That’s a terrible system!” Luna laughed. “How’d you learn anything that way?”

Discord’s hooves shot above his head in a very confused shrug.

“Well anyway…” I started, “We can’t keep wandering these streets forever!” I looked out in the rain, dreading what will probably be a very dull wait. “We’ve got to find somewhere to stay, hopefully somewhere that can offer us board for a job. Or maybe…”

“HEY!” I leapt into the air as the shop’s door slammed open beside me, “Either buy something or get the heck away from my bar!”

“Oh! Um…” I fumble over my words as a mint Earth Pony in a white apron glared at us, propping open the door with one hoof. “I’m sorry, but we’re new to the city, and a little bit lost…”

“There’s a good stable just two streets that way, the Apple-Blossom,” the pony barked, waving vaguely down the street. “They can answer whatever questions you have!”

“Well, it’s still raining, so do you mind if we just stay here just a little bit longer…” I dipped into my begging voice almost unconsciously, hating myself all the more for it. Is this my automatic response to having no money? The storekeeper was unimpressed.

“I don’t want any riffraff hanging round my shop, not paying for anything!” he snapped.

“Why don’t we just get something while we wait, Tia?” Discord offered, glancing up at me.

“Are you kidding?” I replied, “I don’t even know if we have enough bits to stable for the night, we can’t just drop money on, um, whatever he’s selling.”

“I’ve got some of the best cider this side of Stringhalt, some soup and fresh bread!” The shopkeeper pitched this to us like he was throwing rocks. “Just buy something or get out!”

“Oi, Ratty!” Another voice rose from within the store, “Why’re you still yelling at plebs? I’m dying of thirst over here!”

Two pale Earth stallions shoved past the owner, movements slightly exaggerated. One had three small green apples on his flank, the other, a horseshoe imposed on a green apple. Both wore simple red doublets, right sleeve emblazoned with the flag of the city. The shirt cut off in a simple cloth belt, and when one turned, I could see that he carried a whip, curled neatly into his sash.

“Aw, Ratty. Ratty, Ratty, Ratty…” the one with the horseshoe cutie mark shook his head. “How could you yell at these poor, poor downtrodden fillies? Do you see her poor little face?” He strolled up to me and threw a heavy leg around my shoulder. I tried to pull away. The man stank heavily of cider. “See this face? You want to throw this fine gal out in the streets?”

The storekeeper, Ratty, grumbled something, but the other pony just patted him on the back.

“Don’t worry, Ratty! We’ll pay for them!” He flung a hoof towards the open store door. “Come on, all of you! Don’t be shy!”

I yanked myself out from the stallion’s leg as all three ponies headed inside, the horseshoe throwing me a very obvious wink. I spun around.

“Well I think I’ve been convinced. Rain it is.”

“But Tia!” Discord cried, already at the closed door. “They’ve offered us a free meal!”

“Yes, but… They’re drunk, and it’s best not to take advantage of the mentally impaired.” Discord stared at the door, then walked back to my side. “Let’s just head out, and we’ll find…”

“Hey, I said come inside!” The green apple stallion’s head popped out the door, no longer cheery.

“I’m sorry,” I said as politely as I could, “Your offer is generous, but no thank you.”

“Hey cutie…” I felt my nose curl as he addressed me directly. “There’s a lot of guys, a lot of guys that you just don’t say ‘no thank you’ to.” He wobbled on the door, and thrust his sleeve forward, grinning stupidly. “I’m one of those guys.”

“C’mooon doll baby,” the other stallion poked his head around his brother’s shoulders. “We won’t hurt you. Just want a nice face round this nasty, nasty city…”

I realized something very important right then. My biggest, most grave mistake of this entire trip. I did, in fact, pick the absolute worst place to hide from a storm. I strode confidently out into the rain, the loud shower instantly drenching me. My sister and my friend followed quickly behind.

My cloak was yanked, digging in my throat and stopping me short. I flipped around, and its hem was held in the stallion’s mouth. I tried to pull it loose. My eyes flashed over to the guards. We were making a scene now, how would they react? Hopefully in our favor, oh please let it be in our favor… For the moment, the two of them simply watched, their attention held, but no alarm raised.

“Let go!” I demanded.

“You said you were new to the city?” The pony slurred. “Well, new face, there’s a bunch, a bundle of things you don’t do. One of those things is opposing the Apple family.”

“I’m not opposing a family, I am rejecting your offer!”

And suddenly, my cloak loosened, and Luna was in front of me.

“Leave my big sis alone!” she shouted.

“Big sis?”

“Aw, that’s cute…” the second stallion, the green apples one, strode forward, crouching down to Luna’s eye level. “What’s your name? How old are you lil filly?”

“Okay,” Discord hissed up at me, “While he’s distracted, I’ll make a copy of you standing here, then we can sneak away. Just hold still for a second.”

“Why can’t we just run?!” I whispered back. Discord gave me a blank stare, or I take that’s what his silence meant. I turned back to my sister wondering if I should just… grab her! This isn’t worth making a fuss over!

“Can you tell your ‘big sis’ to stop being such a stick-in-the-mud?” said Green Apples, “Just sit down, have a couple drinks…”

“I said…” A light flared from Luna’s face, and both stallions recoiled.

“Luna…!” I cried in warning.

LEAVE US ALONE!

Luna’s voice blasted like a strike of lightning, sending the two stallions sprawling, glass fracturing, certainly not only on this store’s window. Stunned, ears ringing, I grabbed the back of Luna’s cloak, certain that—

“OI! STOP RIGHT THERE.”

“Guards!” I squeaked, spinning around, seeing the two guards running right for us, pulling out their own whips…

“Run!” Discord shouted. He slapped his hooves down on the pavement, water snapping into ice, making the guards stumble and slip. Just like in Canterbury… Will we have to run here, without answers, without any gain at all? I shoved Luna in front of me and broke into a gallop.

There was a strangled sound, and I whirled around. Around Discord’s neck was a thick, bulging leather strap, pulled tight by one of the guards, standing firm as the ice transformed back into water. Discord dug his fingers under it, falling onto his back, his own illusion vanishing. His forefeet fell away, and he sort of… slumped a little.

“Discord!” I screamed. Was he…?!

“Stay right where you are, nice and easy.” Another guard, in front of me, three others splashing up behind him. A metal rod was clasped tightly in his teeth, head low, glaring at me with one eye. “No funny business, and no one gets hurt.”

Luna’s horn flared up, and there was more shouting. A second guard yanked a whip, no, a lasso from his belt, and in an instant it snapped around Luna’s neck, dragging her forward. She blinked slowly, and ceased to struggle, dropping down into a puddle.

“Now, you’re going to cooperate!” the guard barked, “Got it?”

“Y-yes…” I refused to remove my eyes from my sister. It was like she just… fell asleep. Please, let them just be asleep!

One of the guards began question the two stallions that heckled me, while another went to look over Discord, examining him as rain seeped through his entire coat. A number of ponies, other creatures, peered from doors and windows, some grumbling and shouting about their window panes, about the guards, about crazy unicorns…

“Do you have a permit for this, miss?”

“For…?” The questioner nudged Discord with his hoof, nearly kicking him. Oh, I could feel the water on my face boil. “Discord is not a ‘this,’” I snapped, “He is an intelligent being.”

“Alright, alright, let’s not get all huffy,” I looked back at the stallion who had stopped me, shoving his weapon back into his sash. “I just want to see identification, your operating license, as well as a voucher or permit proving the beast’s intelligence or ownership otherwise.”

I stood, still, and fuming. But more importantly, completely unable to respond. What were all those things? Why were they necessary?

“Some identification, miss,” the guard demanded.

“Alright…” I reached for the pass we had gotten, horn lighting up.

“WOAH!”

“What are you doing there?!” The rod shook in my face once more, and I recoiled as two other guards reached for their lassos.

“I was just going to get the papers out of my bag!” I shouted.

“No magic. Get them out the old fashioned way.”

The two stallions that were heckling us were let to leave, and they promptly ran off into the rain. I rooted through my bags with my mouth, something so simple, yet made so difficult without magic… Finally, I drew out the page we had gotten not a half hour past, holding it open in my mouth as rainwater began to splotch and blur the letters.

The guard gave it one glance, and said, “Alright, that’s one crime, lying on your entrance papers. Now show me your identification and your permits.”

“Lying?” I said, nearly dropping the page. “What..?”

“Your identification, miss.”

"Well, I'm um, a student from Canterlot, so I didn't realize..." I said softly, looking away, for an escape. “I didn't realize I needed any?”

The guard regarded me silently, then yanked his head to his second. In just a moment, the stallion’s lasso was within his grip, unfurled.

“Alright, you’re all coming in.”

“No!” I squeaked, letting my papers, backing away.

“Now look, miss, don’t make us—!”

There was a loud cawing sound, apparently from nowhere. The guards looked around, the ones holding my friends drawing them underfoot as the sound built up, echoed by two voices, then more.

“Not again,” one of the guards groaned.

“You will oppress the ponies of Stringhalt no longer, authority scum!” A new voice rang out, a young voice, confident and clear.

“Uhg, where is that dumb brat…”

“Up there!”

I followed a pointing hoof as it jutted to a place behind me, up above. Standing on a rooftop, getting soaked by the rain, was a pony, a colt no older than I was, coat a splotchy white and brown, wearing nothing but a drenched and floppy cap.

“Sickle Ravens!” he shouted, throwing out his chest, “TO THE RESCUE!”

A dozen uneven voices cawed and screamed bird cries as smoke and flashes of light engulfed the entire street. I stumbled backward, lighting my horn as shadows and shouts closed around me. And I clearly wasn’t the only one disoriented.

“Darn stupid kids – fifth time this – for the love of! – GET THE HECK OFFA ME!”

“Caw! – Take that! – Release them, you foul ogres! – CAWCAW! – Sickle Ravens, yeah!”

“This way miss!” A brown earth colt only Luna’s age appeared out of the fog, tugging at my cloak, pulling me towards an alleyway.

“Oh! But my friends…!” I turned in the fog once more. Luna was just a few feet away, I could find her, couldn’t I?

“Don’t worry, the SICKLE RAVENS will save them!” the colt declared, “Now hurry! Hurry!”

Hesitantly, I stumbled a few steps forward, then quickly followed the vanishing boy. I dashed down the alleyway, splashing through puddles as I watched the running colt, wondering where in Equestria this would take me.


XVIII : Luna

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 18

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.blogspot.com/

~Luna~

Things were happening. I didn’t really know why. I didn’t really care why. I didn’t think about it. Trying to think was hard. Trying to move was harder. So I stopped doing things. I watched.

There was some smoke, some ponies appeared, but then they left. Other ponies wandered around, then I was lifted onto a cart. I stayed there until they took me off, and brought me indoors, somewhere else. They may have said where I was, but it didn’t really matter. Then they took my cloak and necklace and saddlebags, then there was only one guard. The one who held the pillow I rested on. It was moving, pushing at my face sometime, sloshing around the leather bag. That would be strange, but I guess it wasn’t really.

Another pony entered the room, a unicorn. He was pink and wore glasses. He yelled at the guard. ‘Do you know what the something something young minds damage something.’ My pillow was taken away and my head clunked on the floor. And it sort’ve… sparked a little, tingled. I could feel my skull pressing into my skin.

“… Ow. …” I think I said.

I took a breath. Had I been breathing before?

The glasses pony was trying to be comforting by stroking my mane. I could feel the hairs on my back being tugged… but it was like he was pulling at my clothes. I could feel the movement, but it didn’t feel like I was being touched at all.

“Don’t worry, child, don’t worry,” He started repeating himself, over and over, almost humming as he tried to shush me. “You’re safe here, nobody wants to hurt you. You’ll be taken care of, you’ll be taken care of. They shouldn’t have used that nasty, nasty stuff on a filly like you, don’t worry…”

“We did what we had to.” I think the guard said that, but it was hard to see past the pink pony’s big head. “And you better careful with that one. Spurs saw her break at least a dozen windows on one block.”

“Really?!” The glasses looked up, dropping his babying tone. “Was it raw? Or an actual spell?”

“Yeesh, I don’t know. She just shouted at them.”

“Hm… it could be either then…” Glasses glanced at my side, then grinned down at me, teeth perfectly white and straight. “Don’t worry, you’ll be taken care of here!” He sunk down, trying to get at my eye level. “I’m Pockets, the patron here. What’s your name? Can you tell me little filly?”

“…I.” My snout felt numb, and moving it was difficult. Pockets leaned in closer, nudging up my chin with his hoof.

“Yes?”

“Loo… Luna,” I sputtered.

“Luna! What a wonderful name.” He gently set me back down, turning to the guard again. I could clearly see his cutie mark, a big lollypop, one with rainbows slowly circling outward. I wondered, did he have a sweet tooth? “Don’t worry,” he continued, “I can take this from here.”

“You’re sure?” the guard replied, “We still need some answers from her.”

“Nothing I can’t handle. Now, it’s getting late. I’ll line up her report for you by noon tomorrow.”

The guard nodded, then walked out the door. Pockets was back beside me, holding a stiff and toothy smile, like his teeth were plastered in place.

“Now, Luna, you must be so tired!” And his voice changed again, back to high and cutesy. “Getting dragged in by the city guards… let’s have you sleep all these nasty feelings off, and we can talk about the bad, bad things you’ve done in the morning?” He leaned in close, “Okay, Luna?”

I may be little… but I didn’t really like how he was talking to me. I wasn’t a full-grown mare, but I wasn’t a tiny little foal either. I tried to raise my head, move my mouth and tell him my age.

“I… aup… egh…” I screwed up my jaw, “Aeim… buh!” I flopped to the ground, defeated. “Kaae. Oh-Kaaye.”

He nodded, then waved off to somewhere I couldn’t see, calling over another pony. I closed my eyes and was lifted off the floor, letting them take me wherever again.

~Θ~

Clang clang clang clang. “Good morning, My Little Ponies!” Clang clang clang clang.

My face scrunched up. What was that banging sound? I lifted my head, and it a sort’ve… didn’t go as planned. There was a sheet on my head, stuck on my horn. I waved my face up and down and up and down, light peeking in on the ups, and vanishing on the downs. The sheet wasn’t coming off so easily.

“Eaugh!” I rolled sideways, pallet scrunching under me, sheet tangling on my legs. I shook my head again, squinting and blinking through the small gap in the sheet. I still wasn’t thinking straight at all! My brain still felt all muddy and soppy, I could almost hear it sloshing as it rolled around my neck. And there was that clanging! Why was there clanging?

“C’mon sleepyheads, time for another bright and shining day!”

Through a gap in the covers, I stared over a line of beds, several squirming with sleepy ponies, but many empty, without sheets or pillows even. The floors were wooden, the walls white plaster, and on the far side of the room I could see a line of little wooden cubbies, some empty, and some packed with stuff. Daylight was streaming in from somewhere above me, brighter than I ever remember it being. An older green mare moved into my vision, back to me, banging a little silver gong above the heads of some of the sleeper.

“I’m up first!” somepony squealed.

“No, I was!”

“Five more minutes…” one pony moaned, a pretty young voice.

“Race you to the washroom, Chip!”

A thunder of hooves, of shouts, of more clanging. There was more squealing, and suddenly a wet snout shoved itself under my sheet, sniffling inches from my face.

“Miss Buttercup! Miss Buttercup!” It screeched right in my ear, “Is that a new student?! There’s a new student!” The sheet was yanked off of me, and I stared up at the face of a very eager blue filly, maybe a little younger than me. She jammed her hoof in my gut, propping herself up into my face. “Hi! Hello! Who are you?”

“Taffy! Go freshen up, you can talk to the new girl later!” I green aura lifted the pony away from me, and the older mare replaced her, still holding up her iron gong… thing. “Good morning, Luna. How are you feeling today?”

“All sloppy and weird.”

The pony tutted. “Poor filly… You should be all better in a few more hours.”

“Okay.” I looked for my sheet and yanked it back on the bed, flopping around on the pallet. More sleep sounded pretty dang good right about now. Ding Ding Ding. I popped open one eye, the mare was still clanging her gong, specifically over my head.

“I’m sorry, Luna, but Mr. Pockets needs to see you!” she said, “Can you get up for me?”

“But I’m all sleepy and wobbly!” I whined.

“Come on! Wake up!” Miss Buttercup said sweetly. Too sweetly. It was that tone again. That little kid tone, meant for teeny tiny foals. Did I look that little? I frowned into the pillow. Well, the first thing I should do is show them that I am no baby!

I stood up on the pallet, and with my head held high and proud, I gracefully hopped off the bed. Using all my years of duchess or baroness training or whatever, I magically made my bed all neat and tidy, tucking and folding the edges under the pallet, gently placing the pillow over the top. Now, how would this gong lady take this clear proof that I was a mature filly?

Her smile was exactly the same, but she may have nodded a little.

“Nicely done, Luna.” No! There was no change! “Let me wake up the other fillies, and I’ll take you to Mr. Pockets.”

She walked away, and I stayed where I was left to wonder. Were Celestia and Discord here? Did they have to deal with cutesy-wutsey voice? We needed to all meet up and get out of this weird place, fast.

It wasn’t long until the green mare, Miss Blossom, led me out of the room. The rest of the building was very clean, walls all covered in plaster, floors and corridors and even wood. The halls had glass windows a few times, peeking out over the city, almost bright and cheery compared to Canterbury. Were the white clouds up above letting in more light? Was there actual sky here, poking through the cloud dome? I couldn’t tell. I was on the city’s hill, and could see long rows of buildings, but some windows only showed  the wall of a structure nearby. What a silly place to put a window!

We headed down a wide wooden staircase that squeaked quietly with every step, or loudly when more fillies or colts were running down it. The first floor had really, really cold stone floors, as well as bigger areas. At the bottom of the stairs and to the right looked like a cafeteria, and across the hall from that, a door opened into a small piano lounge. Or… that’s what it looked like, it had a piano.

No matter where we went, there were small ponies, led by mares or just running around. Some were littler than me, but most were older, around Celestia’s age. But that’s not the weird part. It took me a bit, but I realized as we passed an orderly line of Celestia sized ponies, that all of them were unicorns. All the older mares and stallions, all the little and older kids. All unicorns.

Was this some sort of unicorn… only… sleep-inn… orphanage? I frowned. I thought my head was done being so sloshy!

“Here we are Luna.” We had walked down a wide little corridor, lined with doors and no windows. Miss Blossom pulled open the door at the end, and I walked inside, head low and curious.

One time, way, way back in Canterbury, I was sent to the headmaster’s office for something that was totally not my fault. It was a rich room, packed with books and knickknacks and really expensive looking stuff, none of which I was supposed to touch.

Well, Mr. Pocket’s room looked like that too. The desk was varnished wood, he sat on a throne-like plush chair, and there was a very pretty rug on the floor with a complicated design. That must have taken ages to make, even for a unicorn. A big window was framed behind him, though it was one of those that just looked down a street of fancy houses. It was a hint of wealth that I hadn’t seen in a while, even more than the plaster and glass corridors. I mean, plaster is kind’ve nice, but not super duper nice…

“Good morning, Luna.” Mr. Pockets grinned from his armchair, comfortably resting his forelegs on the heavy desk. “Please, have a—“

“Mr. Pockets!” I declared regally, snapping spine straight. “We have something of utter importance to discuss!”

He placed a hoof over his mouth, smile growing a little wider. “Oh? Really?”

“Yes!” I bounced up on a wobbly wooden stool and smacked myself down into a sitting position, spine still straight and very serious! “Thank you for letting me sleep in a comfy bed last night, since I haven’t done so in a very, very long while! But I really must be going now! Inform me of where my friends are, and also my stuff, um, I mean things! My friends and my things, so we can continue our very important quest!”

Mr. Pockets stared at me quietly, eyes wide, hoof still suppressing his plaster smile.

“Your, your quest, little Luna…?”

“We’re the Bringers of Harmony,” I declared, “A very, very important adventure team!”

“I see! Well!” He straightened himself, horn glowing as he pulled open a drawer, or something. I heard the sound of wood scraping. “I regret to inform you, little Luna, but you’re going to have to stay here a while. I’m sorry, but your ‘quest’ will have to be put on hold.”

“Huh?! Why!”

“Well for one, I need to ask you a couple questions for the authorities.” He waved a fancy red quill towards me, peering over his glasses. “You made a lot of people angry with that spell of yours, young lady!”

“Oh… well…” I catch myself. “Those two guys were making my sister feel really bad, and were jerks!”

“Yes, yes…” he nodded at me, setting a piece of paper on his desk, quill hanging over it. “But also… well, I take it you’re a traveller? Where are you from?”

“Canterbury.” Oh shoot, I was supposed to say I was from Canterlot! Silly lies, always coming to me a second after I say something! And this, of all things, is what makes Pocket’s smile vanish.

“Really? Canterbury.”

“Um… nnnnn….y-yeeeeesss.” Shoot! I know we always make fun of Discord for his really terrible liar face, but I just can’t do this at all!

“Well, then you really wouldn’t know.” And his smile returned, as fake as it ever was. Ooh! I just realized! That’s why it’s weird and plaster-ish, it’s so fake! He’s not happy at all! Wait, is he still saying things? “… And unicorn magic is very dangerous.”

Dangit, missed some! “It is?” I asked.

“Let me finish, Luna.” He leaned on his desk, fake beaming directly at me. “Now, even though we unicorns are very, very dangerous to keep around, there are just some things we can do to make life easier for all ponies. So Big Apple, our chancellor, makes sure all unicorns are properly and safely taught, here at this school. And when they begin working, he watches them very, very closely, so that nopony gets hurt.”

He’s still using that baby voice! Like I just wouldn’t get it!

“Mr. Pockets, please!” I demanded with a stomp of my hoof. “I may be a young filly, but I’m not that young! Tell me exactly what’s going on!”

For a second, his smile twitched into a smirk.

“You’re going to be kept and taught here. And when you graduate, you’re going to work for the city, your magic tightly regulated and controlled.”

“What? But I don’t want to spend time on school or a job. I’ve got better stuff to do!”

Pockets dipped his quill into an inkwell, tapped it twice against the rim, and hovered it over the page, smile returning to its normal fakey state.

“For now, I have a few questions for you. If you answer them all honestly, I’ll give you a piece of candy.” He placed a piece of taffy in a wax wrapper in front of him, and looked up at me expectantly.

I frowned down at it. It seemed… really wrong, in a really strange way. Was this a bribe?

I don’t think I like this place.


XIX : Discord

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 19

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

~Discord~

Sooooo… that thing wasn’t on my neck. My legs were jammed into it, and it sort’ve… wrapped around. I kind’ve think this would hurt, being all trussed up, if my brain said hello to me. Hello brain! Helloooooo! Your legs are gone, and your stomach’s been scooped out with a shovel trowel! But you know that already, right?! Helllooooo!

I laughed, numb lungs heaving. On my side, my face was pressed on these cold cobblestones, except, it couldn’t go all the way, because I guess my pronged horn curved a little sideways…? And the prongs were scraping in the stone? I pressed my face, and felt my horn shift in my skull, so, so very slightly. It felt very strange! And somehow… that was funny?

I laughed again, prongs scrapity scrape scraping! Who friggin cares? Oh life, we’re all going to die. Bwahahaha!

“He’s not quite ready yet, Applebark. It’s only been fifteen minutes since we transferred the lasso to his legs.” It was a voice, and it came from the other side of a door. Plaaaain old normal door. Also, cobblestone. Cobblestone room, just like back in the Canterbury place, except not black and soulless. There was a torch and everything! Fwoosh!

“Ooh, Applebark!” I shouted to nothing, “That like… red bark, from a tree? Or a puppy that tastes like an apple? Yip yap crunch crunch! Oh…! Oh, that’s not funny…” I wheezed. “I need some… some brain…scrubber stuff, I don’t feel like eating ever anymore.”

“It’s aware enough.”

The plain old normal door swung open, silent and guttering the torch in its door opening windy thing. A pale purple pony walked so over to me, sort’ve a unicorn mare, I guess? Wearing a fancy-dancy red cloak? Ooh! But most importantly:

“You’re fat!” I squealed, giggling with a fury!

“Creature,” Fatty said. “You will answer our questions to the best of your ability.”

“Well what if I DON’T!?”

“Then we throw you in a cage with our most deadly beasts, because I don’t wish to deal with liars.” Fatty responded to my bold rebellion with the most serious of faces, voice still as a, a still kind’ve thing. I puffed and pouted, breath escaping me way, way too fast.

“Aw! Aw geez!” I gasped, “I didn’t think ponies could be cruel!”

“Answer me truthfully, and you can keep pretending that.”

“You’re horrible, lady!” I tried to wave a hand at her and, OH WAIT, bound legs! “Horrible!”

“Now,” she snapped, “What exactly are you?”

“Chimera.”

She was silent. I was silent. Also grinning until it made my face hurt. She turned away from me, looking back at the guard guarding the guardlying guard… hee!

“Toss him with the chimera then,” she said flatly, “We’ll see if he can call on their clearly shared kinship ties.”

“GEEZ! That was like, a trick question! No matter what I answer, I die!” I looked down at the fat sack of who-knows-what around my legs, working my jaw. “Dying… auuugh, don’t you know how scary death is Miss Fatty?”

“You think I’d hurt you for telling the truth, creature?” she asked me, face still a serious ball ‘o serious.

“Um, yes. Duh.” I just rooooollled my eyes, “But just that one question. Ask me something else.”

She refused with her silent, staring eyes. Did she break? Did I crush her will already? Was she going to—

“What abilities do you possess?”

“Abilities?” I wheezed, “Like… I can fly. I can make illusions appear.” I took the deepest breath, actually collecting air in my lungs. Funny how hard that had suddenly become! “And before you get all uppity, ‘oh no, what if the scary draco… creature thing is tricking me into believing a thing,’” Exhale! Inhale! “I can’t do it right now.” I numbly rubbed my fingers all over each other, feeling all dull and magical-less as my toes. “Honest enough for you lady? Admitting I’m powerless?”

“What is your name?” Apparently it was good enough! Huzzah!

“Discord!”

“What is one plus one?”

Now it was my turn to stare blankly up and the blankest blank pony.

“Whaaaaaa?” I slurred.

“I need to determine your level of intelligence,” she stated, “So please, answer the question, Discord.”

“But what if I didn’t know math? I could be the smartest colt ever, (breath here!) But if I was never taught math…”

If you were taught math, answer my question. What is one plus one?”

“Two, stupid,” I replied, squinting at the dumbest interrogation question ever.

“What is three times four?”

“Well that’s uh…” I flopped my head down, staring at all of the cobbling stone. Math. Maaaath, brain. Do some math. “Four… plus four again…” I wiggled my numb fingers, trying to keep track of all the numbers involved. “So, twwwweeeeeelve?”

“Nineteen times eleven.”

“Bwah?!” My head snapped up again, horn doing its skull-bending thing. Double checking, yep, Fatty’s still standing in the same place staring down at me like I’m absolutely nothing ever. “I can’t do that in my head!”

“What is your purpose here in Stringhalt?” Not going to say anything about that math stuff, let’s just rattle off some questions at lightning speed! BZAP!

“Heck if I know!” I shouted. “It was a big city, so we all headed towards it.” I’m getting really sick of having to catch my breath after a few sentences! “Because Tia was like, ooh, we need to go a place. So…”

“Tia?”

“A pony I was travelling with!” I rasped, “What, didn’t you get her?”

“Yes, we caught your unicorn companion.”

“Well that’s a frank answer! Ask her what the stupid we’re doing in stupidville.” Wait… if I’m caught… and we’re all caught… what if they turn us all in to the griffins? Are we going to be sent back to Canterbury? Aw no, all bits no… I’m already having trouble breathing, I don’t need a panic attack on top of it!

Ignorant or perhaps silently enjoying my display (I bet she was!), she floated a piece of paper in front of my face.

“Do you understand what’s written here?” she asked.

“Again! What does this have to do with my intelligence?!” I shouted, “I could list off pointless crap facts for you, does that mean I’m smart?! How about an anatomy lesson?” I wriggled my hands, STILL BOUND, but screwed that in a second. I shook my shoulder. “That’s the chuck, then this is the brisket, and the shank… Femur, tumor…” I hacked up a laugh “Oh wait!”

“That’s enough, Discord.” I should’ve shouted ‘no it’s not!’ right about then, but I got a little bit distracted by magic stuff happening. For, all of a sudden, hovering above my head was my Element, held by a pinkish aura. I gaped at it as Fatty continued. “Where did you get this necklace?”

“It’s mine if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Did you purchase it?”

“No, I found it.”

“Found it where?”

“Lady! Lady?!” Again, I struggled to keep my gaze upward, prongs scraping and digging into the ground. “Is it really this hard to believe that a talking pony mashup guy (gasp!) could have something nice? You know… oh, what was the name of that town?” I squinted my whole face, trying to recall the name of that one place that we were. “Rearing Town!” I declared, “I was outside of it by like, a few miles, and I found it.”

“And you made no attempt to find its true owner?”

“I wasn’t even near a road! That thing was lost!”

The necklace was hovered away under her enormous cloak. Sweet! Did that mean she believed me? Wait, not sweet! She isn’t giving it back either!

“Can I have it back now?” I asked as politely as I could manage.

“No.” Blunt!

“Aw! AW, but it’s mine!” And then, the flash of INSPIRING. I wriggled against my bonds, eager! “Here, drop it, drop it on me, I can make it react! Wait…” Did it work like that? Um… “Yes! Yep, I can make it glitter and stuff, and no one else can.” I grinned. “It likes me.”

“Glitter?”

“It’s a… a friendship bracelet!” Friendship bracelet! I heaved with laughter, practically rolling sideways. I whipped my head forward, and—CLICK went the jaw.

“OW! Oh, geez, what did you do to me?!” I yowled, heaving. “You, you kicked me in the jaw! Monster! Monster pony!”

“I did no such thing.”

“Oh. Must’ve hit the floor then. Yeesh!” I wanted to rub the severely bruising bruise but… I’m really, really not getting that my hands are completely and totally 100% unavailable. Also, the door shut, and my interrogator had left the building. “Hey. Hey Applebaaaark yooo hoooo! Did you leave me? Hello? You’re… YOU’RE FAT! … Yeah, she’s gone. … Owwww…”

I sat quietly for a moment, feeling my jaw lightly throb, gut still wrenching and empty. Pain, or maybe just long and boring time, eased me back to my reality. She didn’t realize I was a Draconequus… A small relief, but this was still bad, very, very bad. Would they still report me to the Shadow Stallion? What else would the Stringhalt ponies do? The more I thought about it, I became convinced that there was no other way they’d react to a weird creature in their midst. Other than just… well… yeah, not thinking about other options.

Ruin’s words echoed around my head, the same words that had been creeping about ever since we met Flea. They will find you, and then they’ll make sure you’ll never leave again. So, they won’t kill me but… In that place, back with the Draconequus…

I shivered, throbbing fang a long distance memory. Abuse, neglect, regarded as useless, a pest to be squashed… How long would I last there, with all I’ve gained out here? With my new appreciation for freedom, with how much I care about ponies as friends… I’d rather be dead than lose all of that, just go back to my old life…

Yeah, I just thought that. The Stringhalt ponies could just kill me outright. Though… I don’t like the sound of that either. Yeesh, I’m starting to scare myself. What in Equestria is going to happen to me? Or to Celestia and Luna?

I’ve just been moping all this time about myself! At least my friends look normal, and will probably be treated as normal. Would they go to… jail, or something? The ponies wouldn’t do anything too cruel to them, I’m sure. Despite what Applebark said, about ponies being capable of some pretty twisted things.

And then, the door opened, and Applebark was back above me, placid as ever.

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly, “You’re not really that fat.” Bulgy around the middle, legs a little thick, but not anything that deserved how much I insulted her.

“Sobered up, have you?” she asked.

“Um… yeah, I guess so.”

“If we’ve properly assessed your intelligence, then you are at least a fully capable being, and thus, you will be treated as such.”

“Um… okay! Alright!” That was good news! I wasn’t just a creature now, I was a being! “So… can I have this bag taken off my legs?” I asked, hopeful.

“I only said we would treat you as an able mind. You’re still our prisoner, and will remain shackled.”

“Oh. So… how do I stop being that?”

“I have a few more questions for you, then you will be detained until it is decided what it is we wish to do with you. Since you have acted as accomplice in vandalism and unlawfully entered the city, you may be imprisoned or otherwise made to participate in some community service.”

Well… this is still coming up positive! Imprisonment? Community service? That was practically a relief in comparison to being sent back to Canterbury!

“And my friends?” I asked eagerly.

“Currently outside of my jurisdiction.”

“What? But can’t you—“

“However,” she interrupted, dismissing my question with a wave of her hoof. “I do have a few questions for you concerning your companions.” I stared up at Applebark, wondering if I was still dizzied up.

“Really?” I asked.

“How has a creature such as you come to travelling with them?”

“Um… well… the start’s a little complicated…” Breaking in with intent to kidnap might be a little blunt to admit. “But I started visiting them oh… well over a month ago now. We’d play games and stuff—“

“Games?”

“Is it really that important?” I huffed.

“That’s for me to decide.”

I rolled my eyes, but okay, I’ll go with this. “Stuff like make believe. Then my friends got in trouble—“

“Trouble?”

“Yeah, some dipwad was supposed to be managing Tia’s property, but he made her responsible for taxes, when she hadn’t seen a single bit in months. That kind of trouble. I had to help her, her and Luna… So… we all ran away together. And then we wandered here, somehow. That was um… maybe two weeks ago? Less than that? I haven’t really been keeping track.”

“Describe for me your friends’ composure and behavior.”

“Seriously, what are you trying to determine here?” I cried, half laughing. She didn’t reply. “They’re good friends, good ponies! Luna was only trying to protect Tia when she broke those windows. She honestly didn’t mean to damage the shops, I’m sure!”

“Please answer my question, Discord.”

“Haven’t I already? No? Well…Tia’s orderly, always convinced she’s right, but she cares about me and her sister.” I smiled. “But Luna’s really cheerful and playful, and she can take everything in stride. Just like… the first time she saw me, she thought I was a pony!” I laughed, surprised at how easy it was to breathe now. “Weird huh? Just gives the benefit of the doubt, just like that! Please…” I look up at Applebark, wondering why in Equestria there was a sudden plead to my voice. “She’s little. So don’t be too harsh on her, okay?”

Applebark looked down at me for a long time, still and silent. I’m not sure any pony could actually remain in one place for so long, I know I couldn’t.

“Um,” I finally muttered, “Should I say more or…?”

She turned away, popping open the door and speaking with the guard.

“Put him with Cleo and Sheen for now. Keep his feet bound.”


XX : Celestia

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 20

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

~Celestia~

“What do you mean my sister isn’t here?! I was assured that they would be rescued as well!”

Deep in the city, where the buildings seemed to crumble with age, I stood in a narrow alleyway. The air was muggy, ground a filthy slurry from the recent rain. Streams of garbage collected along the walls, and I swore I saw a rat or two snatching up apple cores and discarded bread crusts. I shivered, but held my ground. These ruffians, these ingrates…!

“Where is my sister?! Where are Luna and Discord?!” I screamed at the door. They had half hidden it beneath a moldy blanket, an extension of the alleyway’s slop. Through the barrier, I could hear voices, hardly muffled.

“Sprout, what the heck?! You led her here?”

“Well she said she had nowhere else to go, so…”

“A secret base is supposed to be kept a secret, Sprout! That means nobody comes here but us!”

There was a quiet mumbling, probably an apology. I leaned closer to the door, glaring at the peeling paint.

“I’ll, I’ll kick this door down, if you don’t give me answers!” I shouted, face inches from the frame, “I swear, I’ll do it!” Kick the door down? Preposterous! What is coming out of my mouth? I’m panicked! I’m panicked and worried, and… and Tia would do this! For my friends!

I spun around and with an angry squeal, I bucked the door with my hind leg! It barely scuffed the surface, sliding away before it had fully contacted. And… Ow… did I pull something? Ow… Wait no, I can’t stop now! I scooted a little closer, and with a squeal I bucked it again!

“Go away!”

“Yeah, no girls allowed!”

“No girls allowed?!” I cried, flabbergasted. I spun round, shouting at the door once more, “I thought I was rescued by a legitimate resistance! Not some little boy’s secret club!”

I squealed as the door slammed open, flung wide by an earth pony a little older than me, a tattered scarf around his neck and face twisted in fury.

“Don’t you dare insult us, you, you you pompous filly! We are a real—!“ In an instant I had charged by the colt, knocking into his side in my haste. I fell down a short flight of steps and bounced off a dilapidated railing, wooden structure shaking as I stumbled to my feet. I charged down another flight of stairs, skidding onto another platform. The door colt shouted angrily above me as I flung my hooves atop the rickety railing.

“I demand to speak with your ringleader!” I sputtered, face boiling. “Take me to him!”

I stood tall on the staircase’s second wooden platform, a line of steps leading up to the door, and another short line leading down a wall, to the ground. Over the crumbling railing, I saw a sunken room, gaps where windows would be near the ceiling, most boarded up, or covered with cloth. The walls and floor were stone, dusty and dry, save a leaking puddle here and there. To me, the room looked like a gutted store, if only because the only permanent feature was a single lonely counter. Its wood was thick, and maybe once it had been varnished. But age was taking its toll, its surface scuffed, and the edges looked like they were gnawed on by rats.

Empty as it was, it was very thoroughly decorated. Paint, angry graffiti, was splattered on every surface, the walls, the floor, even the steps and counter. ‘Down with the city,’ ‘rise of the earth ponies,’ sometimes just nonsense, and sometimes distastefully lewd images I don’t dare describe. There were exactly two doors, one behind the counter, and one on the far wall. The latter was adorned with a patchy banner of a crescent moon and a suggestion of a bird, the former unadorned.

There were only a few ponies in the room itself, some resting on blankets, playing games by lamplight. A rubber ball bounced away from a game of jacks. There was the rustle of cards being dropped. A bulky Earth pony dropped down from the counter where he was resting his forelegs and opened the door behind him, vanishing beyond it.

“Lady!” a sweaty leg was thrown roughly across my shoulders, trying to drag me down. The scarfed pony from above had finally come for me. “We rescued you, so show some freaking gratitude and leave us alone!”

I spun on him, face tight from my glare.

“I didn’t want to be rescued if that meant I’d be separated from my friends!”

He snorted, “Well, sor-ry! We did all we could back there! Now—“ He grabbed my cloak in his teeth and yanked, clasp digging into my neck…

“Stop! Stop or I’ll scream!”

“You seem to be doing enough of that already.”

The splotchy pony I had seen earlier, the one from the roof, exited from the rear door, standing behind the counter and looking up at me. Without his floppy hat, I could now tell clearly that he was a unicorn, and about my age. The heavyset colt stood by the door as the unicorn looked up at me, calm, unaffected by my shouting.

“Let her go, Courtie,” he said, “She’s already inside, so there’s no more harm in letting her talk.” I was released, and just as I dropped back on the platform, I was shoved. A jolt of panic shot down my spine as I nearly tumbled down the last flight of stairs, somehow managing to keep my feet. I ran into the far wall, straightened myself, and shook my sopping hood off my face. Straightening my shoulders, I strolled over, jutting out my hoof in greeting.

“Baroness Celestia,” I stated swiftly. Although… when was the last time I used that name? It sounded very strange to me… “My friends call me Tia,” I hastily corrected.

“Rock Pith.” He stated bluntly. There was a moment of silence as he looked me up and down. I let my mind wander for a moment… what is the cutie mark for leading a boy’s resistance force… thing? I glanced over, but to my surprise, there was only a hairless scar on either flank, where his cutie mark should have been. “So?” he started. “What’s your problem?”

I frowned. Such a rude way to phrase the question! But he seemed to be sincere…

“You see, Rock.”

“Call me Pith.”

“You see, Pith… It’s not that I’m ungrateful that you were able to get me away from those guards…”

“Of course you’re ungrateful, why else would you be banging down my front door?”

My frown grew even deeper as he calmly shot back his retort. Someone in the room snickered.

“Fine, I’m not grateful,” I replied. “When I was being led away, I was assured that my friends would be saved as well! Now I don’t know where they could be, or what I should do. So tell me, Pith, why were your ‘Sickle Ravens’ only able to save me?”

“Seriously?” He snorted, covering up a wry smile with his hoof, “You’re asking me why? Why we couldn’t do more, risk more for two ponies we didn’t even know, nor care about?” He shook his head and sighed, raising his voice. “I’m sorry, Tia, but it was a lost cause. Be grateful that we were able to get you away. Be grateful, and leave my generous brothers be.”

Other ponies began poking their snouts out of the other doorway, sneaking into the main room. All of them were colts, young, or younger than me. Their faces, their tattered clothes... Pith was the only one who looked like he washed up regularly, and as more and more colts entered the room, I noticed it getting warmer, and smelling more like hot fur and sweat. Hidden in the new crowd, somebody cheered for their leader.

“You tell ‘er, Pith!”

“Why’d you invite me down here if you were just going to talk to me like this?” I snapped.

“I only want you to see the plain logic of this, lady. Or is it too hard for your frail, emotional filly mind?”

My jaw dropped as Pith smirked at me. What a… not even a slap to the face was that—!

“E-excuse me?!” I stammered, completely stunned.

“My brothers!” Suddenly, seemingly for no reason, Pith hopped up on the counter, voice turning into a declaration. “Look at this wretch! Crying, screaming, beating at our door… All because of her separation from her friends!” He looked over the crowd of three or four dozen colts, face stern, pose bold. “This is why, my brothers, we do not bring any filly back to our secret base! They’re unstable, and jeopardize our—“

“You ingrate!” I shouted up at him, flabbergasted, on the edge of tears. He was silent, his back remaining turned to me. “You do not talk about another pony that way! What kind of colt are you?!”

Shouts rose from the pack. “He’s Pith!” “Pith, yeah!” “We’re the SICKLE RAVENS lady!” “Yeah!” “Caw!” I could feel my face, boiling hot, disgraceful, disgraceful insults digging in me like knives… I was being put up as some kind of spectacle, humiliated...

I snapped my jaw shut. I would not stand for this kind of treatment! Not after all that I had been through! I scrambled up on top of the counter, barely wondering if the old thing could hold my weight.

“Well, well you know what group I’m a part of?!” I stammered. “My friends, the two that you Sickle Ravens failed to rescue, were the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony!” The room was silent, colts staring at me. “That’s right, you’ve just let all hope for Equestria drop right into your enemies’ hands!”

“The Elements of Harmony?” somepony murmured. More and more followed, a swell of whispers. “What the crap are those?” “Never heard of ‘em!” “What’s the filly talking about?”

“Never heard of the Elements of Harmony?!” I jumped as Pith’s voice suddenly boomed beside me. The room fell quiet to his words, enraptured. He laughed and shook his head. “Never heard of… didn’t I ever tell you, my brothers?”

There was a general murmur of denial.

“Well,” I began, “The Elements…” Pith’s leg thrust out in front of me. I stared at it.

“Allow me. The ELEMENTS,” Pith shouted. “The Elements of Harmony, the last hope for Equestria!” He paced up and down the short stage, eyes never leaving his audience, voice heavy with an overdramatic gravity. “Ancient spirits, born to protect the world! Hidden! Stowed away by our enemies, by Big Apple, for fear that they would rise against him! Because only the Elements can lead Equestria to peace and prosperity. This changes everything. Everything, my brothers!” Suddenly, his face whipped around to me. I recoiled, almost falling off the stage. “Baroness Celestia… that’s not your true title, is it?”

“Well,” I fumbled, confused. So, so very confused. “Well that’s a tricky…”

“You are actually a Princess aren’t you?”

I coughed up a laugh, exasperated. “A what…?!”

“It’s alright, Princess.” He placed a hoof on my shoulder, voice, posture, everything very quickly becoming sympathetic. What in Equestria…? “You don’t have to hide anymore. You can admit, you’re so much greater than a baroness.”

“A Princess?!” “I’ve never seen a real live Princess before…” “Woooow.”

“Sickle Ravens!” Hoof still on my shoulder, Pith spun on his audience. “Do you know what this means?!”

There was a bit of murmuring, then loud and clear, a single shout.

“WE’VE RESCUED A PRINCESS!” A colt squealed, “A REAL LIVE PRINCESS!”

Cheers, a stomping applause erupted around the room.

“And we’ll rescue another!” Pith shouted, somehow louder than the crowd. “The Elements need our help, brothers! This will be the greatest undertaking of our lives! The greatest blow we will ever deal to Big Apple and his evil tyranny!”

Suddenly, his face smashed into me, his lips quickly mashing against mine. My entire body seized up, and I slapped him away with the back of my hoof. What was?! What is all of this?! He took it, eyes have closed, full of contempt. The crowd gasped and laughed “She got you good!”

“How dare you...!”

“I’m sorry, but I think I love you Princess Tia.” I tried to stammer something else, but he shoved a hoof over my mouth. “Even if you’re an emotional filly. I’ll help you find your friends, and the Elements.”

I swatted his hoof away, wiping the dirt, the drool from my face. “What?! What?! What is wrong with you?!”

But my voice was drowned out by the cheering and the stomping of the crazed Sickle Ravens. Have I been transported to the moon?! What is this moon logic?!

“Alright, everybody, now go to bed!” Pith somehow shouted over the crowd, “We’ve got a long day tomorrow if we’re going to rescue the Elements!”

“Alright!” “Pith Pith Pith!” “Go Sickle Ravens!” “CAW!” “Caw caw!”

The colts began uproariously cawing as they streamed through the far door, shoving past one another in their haste to go... wherever. Pith hopped off the counter, completely and totally tranquil.

“That was a nice hook Tia, the ‘Elements of Harmony.’” He said calmly, as if we were talking about this over tea. “Did you just come up with that on the fly?”

“A-are you this group’s fool?!” I sputtered, still wiping my mouth on my fetlock. “Did I get dragged into some kind of stage play!?”

“No, and somewhat.”

I dropped down. “Then what was…?!”

He turned and walked back through the doorway he first came from.

“Through here, let’s talk in private.”

“I-I refuse! You’ve insulted me, violated my personal space…!”

“Fine. Have it your way.”

I stammered as he vanished. The pale blue Earth pony that had originally fetched the leader waited by the door, holding it open for me. This is just… what preposterous group have I gotten myself involved in? And yet, he’s already agreed to help get my friends back… Wary, reeling, I headed through the door myself. My brain was aching. Just twenty-four short hours past we had been hiding from the griffins… This is too much. Far, far too much for one day.

And I was certain this would prove to be even more exhausting…

Inside the door was a small, tight hallway, leading to two other doorways. There was barely room to turn around, especially with the heavy earth pony trying to squeeze by me. Pith pushed open the right entrance with his shoulder, allowing light to seep into the hallway. I peered inside, but was almost shoved in by the thick earth pony, apparently following after us.

The room I entered was windowless. Narrow, but long. A shotgun room, I think it’s called. A straw mattress sat on its own box, and the space was barely wide enough to fit two of them side by side. It was lit by several lamps, one resting on a thick chest of drawers shoved perpendicular with the bed. One on a cluttered desk, one hanging from the ceiling, over a threadbare rug thrown across the one barely open portion of the floor. A coat rack with one arm missing sat by the door, Pith’s wet cap slung across it.

“Feel free to hang up your cloak,” the thin colt offered, hopping up on his bed. “Take a seat.”

I peeled off my wet cloak, immediately struck by how cold it was. I wasn’t going to get any warmer wearing this… Hoping the coat rack’s arm didn’t snap off, I hung my cloak from it, and shrugged off my bags to the side. I watched the bizarre colt as I settled into the one chair, a rickety old thing that looked like one of the legs was coming off. The Earth pony settled alongside the wall, resting on the ratty rug and looking to his leader.

“So, what can I—“

“What. In Equestria. Was that?” I cried through grit teeth, interrupting the splotchy leader. “First you insult me, then you call me a princess, then you insult me again?! What’s going on?!”

“Well, at first I was just going to turn you away,” he admitted with a shrug. He was just suddenly so... nonchalant! “But then you dropped a great hook, one I thought would really rev my Ravens up. It’s been a while since I’ve had a good story I could get them behind.”

“A story?” I wheezed, “You only decided to help me because you thought you could turn it into a great story?”

He nodded placidly.

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“And, to be perfectly clear, are you actually crushing on...?!”

“Nope, part of the act.” He flickered into a smile. “Sorry to disappoint.” Holy... he has no idea how much of a relief it is to learn that little... aspect of his performance was fake. Uhg, my mouth still feels dirty... But there’s still so, so much wrong here...

“I, I don’t believe you. This is…” I stared at him, casually resting on him stomach. “This is the resistance force in this town? A bunch of colts getting excited over stories?”

Again, he nodded, accepting.

“One of them, yes.”

“You… this…” I stammered, “What kind of leadership is this?!”

“The kind where I manage several dozen young colts, half of which aren’t even old enough to have their cutie marks yet.” He shrugged. “Sorry, I’ve just found this method works best with them.”

“You tore me down, Pith!” I interjected, “You say you’re managing colts, but that’s not something you should be teaching them!”

“Let me make it up to you Tia. We will be rescuing your friends.” He suddenly smiled, dark, and pained. “Heck, I’ve already got a good idea where one of them is…”

“You still shouldn’t...!” He rolled his eyes, and I looked at the colt sideways. Wondering… “Okay then. Where? Where are my friends?” I asked.

“I’ll show you tomorrow,” he dismissed with a wave of his hoof. Oh no you don’t...

“Tell me now.”

He frowned. “Well, the unicorn...”

“Luna.”

“Well, Luna... she, right? She’d be taken to Pocket’s place, the unicorn hostage correctional facility.” He almost seemed to spit out that name. “I can show you that tomorrow. It’s too late for us to be wandering around out there, just to take a look.”

“And Discord?” I asked. He smirked again, suppressing a laugh.

“That’s an odd name,” he said lightly.

“Where would he be?”

“Well, if I was to make a rough guess? In a cage.”

I frowned. “That’s a horrible guess. Don’t talk about Discord that way.”

“I’m serious. He’s not a pony, so he’s probably caged up somewhere...” He thought for a moment, pulling at his fetlock, as if he was trying to straighten it. “He’s weird looking, so maybe Big Apple’s menagerie, if they don’t ship him out of the city altogether.”

“Alright.” I nodded. “Alright. Thank you, Pith, for being honest with me.”

“Your welcome?” he suppressed a quiet laugh again.

I still felt... well, these Ravens are going to help me. But what was up with this leader? It came to me then that this could just be another act, just saying exactly what I wanted to hear, trying to calm me down. That... really doesn’t sit well with me. The silence wasn’t sitting well with me.

“Oh, and by the way?” I suddenly said. “I wasn’t lying. About the Elements, I mean.”

“It doesn’t really matter at this point if you were or not,” he calmly replied. “I’ll help you either way.”

“I. Wasn’t. Lying.”

Now it was his turn to give me a strange, sideways glance. Was that him? I still doubt it...

“Well then.” He settled into his forelegs, face serious. “You better tell me exactly what I’ve gotten my Ravens into.”


XXI : Discord

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 21

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

~Discord~

I was awake. Who know for how long. Hours, I guess. I had that feeling again, that really, really irritating feeling, growing so large that it was becoming difficult to sleep. The feeling of emptiness, like a pocket of air was stuck in my throat, in my gut. It was like my stomach was mad at me, and all it could do was stare until I did something. Well, I can’t. Go back to sleep. Please, just let me go back to sleep.

Usually the feeling is pretty easy to ignore. It’s not like it hurts or anything… When I run around, chatting with Celestia and Luna, I can forget about it practically all day. But right now, all I had were my own thoughts. My breathing, and that little crackle in the back of my mouth. What even was that, spit bubbles popping? I tried to swallow them away, but no. Still crackling.

Last night, they led me here. I was forced to walk, even though all of my feet were numb. Every step, it felt like I’d place a foot wrong and it’d twist, or just break. But somehow, we made it. Wherever this is.

It’s not like anything had changed the past few hours. I was on my side, on a little pillow, right where they left me. I was still bound, but instead of the lasso, there was a cushioned shackle on each limb. The effect was the same, however. My hands and feet felt thick, felt numb. Whenever I tugged on them, trying to scratch and itch or something, there was a light clatter of a metal. In the dark gloom, I could see the chain coming off the cuffs converge, then loop around a kind of big brass ring, one that circled around the entire room. Tons of chain hung loose off the end, collecting in a pile to the side.

As for where I was, it was a round glass house in the middle of a lush park, curtains drawn over every window. Through the dark, I could make out simple shapes. A low table on thin, almost wire-like legs. Vases. Potted plants. A four-post bed, also with its curtains drawn. A spiral staircase, leading up to a second floor. Occasionally, I could hear a shifting of cloth, a quiet clatter of pebbles, or maybe more chains shifting. There was a stream of water in here somewhere, burbling softly. Honestly, it would seem rather peaceful, if it weren’t for the fact that I was obviously a prisoner. What kind of jail is this?

I made a small noise, just out of boredom, annoyance. Please be morning now. Please, something, happen!

Nothing!

Then... I’ll make something!

I struggled with the chain cuff, worming my hand around it for about the billionth time that night. If I just felt a little less numb, I could magically make the shackle’s surface slick, and squirm my thin bird’s claw out. But no, I feel a little swell in my bones, and then my magic just stops, frozen, no matter how hard I push at it.

Plus, the padding on the manacles… I was feeling it squirm on my wrists. Really weirdly. At first, maybe a few hours ago, I thought it was because I was shaking it around. But even long after the material settles, I’ve felt it moving. Eaugh. Is my mind playing tricks on me? Is my body finally fed up and instead has decided to rebel, messing with my head? I have no idea.

Morning.

Moorrrrrniiiing.

I could see light coming through the curtains, just barely! Something happeeeennnn.

I swallowed back emptiness. Stomach’s being passive aggressive again. You shut up, you stupid—

Wait, a new noise!

My head jerked up as I strained my ears. I wish my hearing was sharper, what is that?! It was a clattering, a sort of heavy jingle, rhythmic too. Jingle JINGLE  jingle JINGLE. And it was getting louder! I craned my neck up higher. It was definitely coming from outside…

It stopped! What did that mean?

I nearly shot out of my skin where there was a loud CLICK, the lock popping open. Light streamed in from the double doors as a pony in a black doublet pushed it open, letting in the pale blue morning light. A silver platter hung in the air beside him, held aloft by his yellow aura.

I stared at him. He looked down at me. I frowned, and opened my mouth to say something, but he didn’t quite let me get there. The pony strode past me, walking over to the brass table and placing atop it three white plates, two with weird lumps of… food, I guess, and another with rocks? What? I watched him as he circled the room, pulling all the curtains open, flooding the room with the pre-sunrise light, giving me a better view of the garden park beyond.

Finally, he walked up to me.

“Hey, um…” I started.

The pony ignored me. Instead, he shifted the padlock so the yards and yards of loose chain were giving me slack instead, locking the final few links in place.

“Uh…”

He ignored me once more, and in just a moment he was out the big double doors, locking it behind him. I heard the rhythmic jingle as I watched him walk down the little cobblestone path, keys swinging off his belt.

“Okay…”

I looked over to the chain. Theoretically, I could move around the room a bit more now. Practically, I doubted it. I placed my paw on the floor, feeling how numb, how stiff and unmovable it was. With my other elbow, I heaved my weight up and AH geez, that’s my shoulder, that did not feel right, that did not feel right at all. Friggin… weird manacles! Why’d they even need them to work like this?!

Cautiously, with all the dignity of a beached fish, I heaved myself up, and then flopped over onto my other side, crashing onto the cold floor, and onto the even colder chain.

“Ah, mother-of!” I snapped.

“Sheen?” Something vaguely feminine grunted, “Izzat you?”

There was a sharp intake of breath, and a rustle of cloth. Still trying to get on my feet, I watched as the four post bed shook lightly, the curtain fluttered, and out popped the strangest looking face I had ever seen in my life.

I admit, my exposure to cats is pretty limited. A few detailed illusions, maybe I had seen a couple in a street once. So, even though my first was impression was that this being was some sort of cat,  it was the strangest dang cat I had ever seen. It had a black nose, a cleft lip, like a cat would, but its face was flat and hairless, with almost no snout to speak of. A thick forest of tawny hair encircled its entire head, a silver collar was stuffed over the mane. A silver chain hung off that, slowly unfurling down to the floor as she blinked blearily up at the ceiling.

“Sheeeeeen,” she yawned. “You alright?”

“HZUNUH?!” There was a loud clatter, like a landslide of pebbles. I shoved myself backwards as two, then five shiny rocks plummeted by my head, bouncing and ricocheting off the polished floor. There was a strangled sound, and I looked up. Above me was another platform, a loft or something, a circle that was maybe half the size of the room. A head shot through its railings, red, lizard-like, and contorted into absolute horror.

“No!” It screeched, “My babies!” The face vanished, and there was a scraping  of claws over stone. “What have you done, Cleo?!”

“What have I done?” the not-a-cat whined.

The lizard-like creature barreled down the stairs, and suddenly, it clicked. That was a dragon. About the same size as a griffin, scrawny and bony, panicking and scrabbling on all four feet. Yet another chain trailed after it, also hooked to a collar around his neck, with one of those leathery pouch lassos bound over the base of his wings.

Suddenly, he went sprawling backwards, hacking a cough as his chain snapped tight. He spun and yanked at it with his claws, still clearly panicking.

“No, where’s it caught?!” He whipped his head around, then locked eyes with me, eyes bulging. “You, small thing!”

I blinked. “Uh, me?”

“Hand me those gems! Hurry!” I stared at the fallen rocks, then looked back at him. “But don’t scuff them!” he snapped.

I tried to walk again... no, this isn't going to work at all. Instead, I dropped onto my middle and tried to scoot forward, pawing the vibrantly colored rocks together with my useless, useless hands.

“Lovely, we have a new face!” The cat... mare? had eased out of her bed, and I saw that most all of her looked exactly like a lion. So the only difference was her strangely smooth visage... Pretty odd. She smiled at me, mouth full of sharp fangs, “What’s your name, little creature? where do you hail from?”

“Discord,” I said simply, still trying to get all the gemstones together. I don’t know why, but it bothered me, back to being called a creature… I was a being, not just a weird-looking beast. She waited a few moment more. If she was wondering where I was from, well, the less people that knew, the better.

“Quite a strange mix you are!” she finally declared. She took a deep bow, arm twirling by her side. “I’m Cleo, of North Quaggatalia. And this panicking dragon would be Sheen, origin unknown.”

“Nice to meet you two,” I muttered. Finally having gathered up all the gems, I pushed them across the floor, much to the dragon’s horror. Well, what else could I do, try and carry them? When I reached Sheen’s feet, he dropped to the ground, scooped them up, and ran back upstairs, pausing only briefly to grab a plate off the table. Cleo chuckled as there was a loud clattering of stones up above.

“Oh, don’t mind him. He’s just a bit fussy about his rocks…”

“Gemstones!” Sheen cried.

Cleo rolled her eyes, and sauntered over to the brass table, chain trailing silently after her.

“Here,” she pushed the plates apart with her paw. “Have some breakfast.”

“Breakfast sounds wonderful,” I cried as I tried to scoot myself forward. The crawling motion seemed to work fine as I inched myself over and heaved myself up on the table, elbows slamming down on the surface. Cleo jumped a little as silverware poured out of a crisp napkin in her hand, but screw that, finally, something to eat! I haven’t eaten since...!

“Wait,” My face creased down into a frown. “What the crap is this stuff?”

The plate came in several different flavors of weird, which I will attempt to describe. There was yellow mush, slightly burned white mush, cut circles of mush, and a puffy brown breadlike… mush. And a lump of… I have no idea. It looked like a chunk of meat, but it was white, and looked dried out. There was no fluid or anything. What kind of animal does that come from, and how long had it been sitting out? Is it... moldy or something? Doesn’t smell like it...

The only thing I recognized on my plate were three more chunks of bright and colorful gemstones. Is that some kind of really weird garnish? How in the heck would rocks count as breakfast?

“Oh, did you tell anyone what your diet consists of?” Cleo asked, looking over to my plate, “Apple Dumpling probably just took a shot in the dark... Is any of this correct?”

“Well, I don’t eat the things…” With the back of my paw, I pushed the glittering rocks off the plate, clattering onto the table. Sheen’s head was beside me just a moment later, chain still rattling down the stairs.

“Can I have them?!” He demanded.

“I... guess so?”

He snatched the rocks off the table and popped one in his mouth, munching on it as he trampled back up to his nest. I stared at his retreating back.

“He eats rocks?!” I cried.

Gemstones!” he shouted back.

“Okay then...” I turned back to my plate, hoping that would be the strangest thing I had to deal with today. “Soooo,” I looked to Cleo for guidance, “What’s the rest of this stuff?”

She looked down to my plate, then leaned over, holding her fork over the yellow stuff.

“Well those are scrambled eggs…” she said. I frowned.

“Those don’t look anything like eggs.”

She shrugged, and moved her fork to the white mush.

“That’s potato hash.”

I forced a laugh, “You’re kidding me, right?”

“No, I’m not,” she replied, getting irritated. “And this here is chicken.”

“No it’s not.” She frowned. “Chicken is all… pink. And slimy.”

“Well, this chicken has been cooked.”

“It turns white when cooked?” I asked as she retreated to her side of the table. “How does that work?”

“I have no idea,” she snipped, scooping up some of her own ‘eggs.’ “If you don’t want it, I’ll have it.”

“No I…” I stared at the chicken, and let out a little breath. You know, I don’t have a right to be picky. I am freaking starved. “I guess I’ll just try some of this, see how it is.” I reached for the plate with my paw, then thought better of it. If I can’t walk, I doubt I could use my fingers correctly. Embarrassed, I placed my hands on the table and leaned down to the plate, taking a bite of the eggs.

I scrunched up my face. Mushy! Wet! Gross! Bleh! I swallowed it quickly, trying to force it down. It crumbled easily, dissolving... Ick! Nasty! Crumbs, or chunks, whatever, were left in my mouth, and I tried to swipe them away. It was only about then that I got a good taste of the ‘eggs.’

“Hey.” I said, “This texture is terrible, but I like the flavor.” I took another bite, scrunching up my face, forcing myself to swallow quickly. “Euagh... It’s not really like eggs at all. It’s kind’ve... sharp?”

“Oh, that would be the pepper,” Cleo told me, “Apple dumpling really loves to load on the spices.”

“Pepper? Oh so, is that this black stuff? I thought that they were just burned.”

Cleo chuckled, mood apparently restored. “Where in the world are you from that you don’t know what pepper is?”

“Nowhere special,” I said quickly. “I’ve just never had cooked food before. It’s always been raw.”

“Really?” She blinked down at me as I went for a bite of the potatoes. “Is that healthy?”

“Sure, why wouldn’t it be?” I chewed on the potato hash, still mushy and goopy, but to my relief, a bit more crunchy than the eggs. And! “Oh my god,” I said through my mouthful, “This is what cooking does to potatoes?!”

“Cooking, a bit of butter, some spices…”

“This is delicious!”

I quickly down the rest of the potatoes, forcing bites of egg in between. Then I decided to… My eyes passed over the weird, white chicken again. Iiiii decided to try the bread thing, yeah. I tore off a chunk, wondering what that would be like. It was kind’ve dry, and it quickly dissolved into yet another unpleasent mush, but as I chewed, I bit into something hard, and—

And my throat slammed shut. I shoved myself away from the table as my body retched, trying desperately to fight my gag reflex and force the bread down. My body sobbed betrayal, already working itself up into a frenzy of sick feelings. I glared down at myself, face heating up. You’ve been hungry all freaking day, and the first food you get, you spit back out?! Picky! Not the time for! You stupid… gah!

“You alright Discord?” Cleo said, peering around the table’s corner, “Don’t like raisins?”

“Yeah just… don’t like the texture. Or maybe I ate to fast, I don’t know.” I pushed myself back up to the table, shaking, an aftereffect of the reflex. I stared at my plate, less than half of it eaten. It didn’t look good anymore... I could probably… I hoped that they brought us something less mushy for lunch, or dinner, or whenever I’d eat again. If they didn’t let me go by then.

Or just.

Bleh.

I dropped my chin on the table, pushing my food away with the back of my paw, dejected. You know, I was half looking forward to sharing my first cooked meal with my friends. Celestia worked at a bakery once, she said there might be a day where she brought home a few things. Of course with this adventure trip, we never had the bits to afford something special or fun like that. I wondered, if we actually did spare the bits, would I have thrown that up? Just toss the gift back at her, no matter how much I enjoyed the flavor?

I apologized mentally for the possibility. Geez. I hope they’re both doing alright. Better than me, at least. Being ponies, and all that.

“Hey, don’t look so glum,” Cleo said from across the table, watching me uneasily. “When the servant comes back to take the plates, tell him what you like. They can work something out, they always have to deal with the diets of exotic creatures.”

“Right.” Because that’s my only problem here. “So uh.” I lifted my head off the table, looking around. “Is this what prison is like? This seems pretty nice, even if the food’s a little weird.”

“Prison?” Cleo balked, “Did you commit some kind of crime?”

“No. Not unless being heckled is some kind of crime.” But I could feel it. There is something very wrong here. “So, you weren’t imprisoned?”

“Sheen and I were captured!” she declared. “We’re rare beauties from far away and distant lands. Luxurious creatures…”

“So…” I frowned. She seemed to get way too into that description. “You’re slaves?”

Cleo gasped. “What a crude word! We’re not slaves, we’re not made to do anything! We’re the stars of the scenery, the crown jewel of the Apple family’s menagerie!”

“A menagerie… I don’t like the sound of that word. Sounds familiar.” I stared at Cleo, wracking my brain for the few times I heard that word. Like… a collection of beasts, of animals? I recoiled.

“I’m in a zoo?!”

“Zoo is a bad word as well!” Cleo snapped. “The reason why you’re here is because they thought you would make an excellent addition to this exotic display. However, if you’re going to be rude about it…!” She threatened me with a wave of her fork. I just stared at her. This is wrong, this is very, very wrong... Yet, she continued to defend it. “This is a comfortable life, Discord. You’ll grow to love it. Sheen and I have been here happily for years, haven’t we, Sheen?”

“Not now!” he cried, “I’m trying to get this stack just… GAH!”

I just... I stared down at my mismatched hands, shackled and bound. I may not be a pony, but, but I can’t be treated like this! Why was I taken here, of all places? No, I know why, it’s obvious, and wrong! Completely wrong! I’m a being, dangit, not a thing, not a creature! I am not some sort of freak of nature to be gawked at, not some animal curiosity!

I am not!


XXII : Luna

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 22

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

~Luna~

Today has been a very, very stupid day!

First doctor mister plastic smile asks me all kinds of dumb questions, half of which I can’t answer without his going “really?!” and “is that the truth?!” If it wasn’t, then why would I be telling you, huh?! Yes, my father was a baron. Yes, I’m from Canterbury. And yes, I’d been sleeping on the ground for the past couple weeks, and not because my sister didn’t love me, why do you keep insisting that?! This isn't really that weird and strange! Really!

Then he says, let’s put you in a class! So I go to class, and everyone’s like “woooah, you can hover stuff so easy!” And I say yes, yes I can hover things! Hovering is not hard! Sheesh, you guys live in a school, why haven’t you learned how to properly hover stuff yet? And yes, I know sonic magic, I know shadow magic too! Don’t you guys know at least one kind of magic already?!

Though, I guess I shouldn’t get mad at the other kids… some of them were really, really little. Like, really little. Half my age little. I’m not sure why I was put in a class with them, actually. But the teachers!!! Ooh, those teachers. All fussing over me, saying what my cutie mark should be. Luna, why on earth don’t you have a magic cutie mark yet? Shouldn’t you be magic? You have so much magic, do you know what a magic cutie mark is?

No, I don’t, and stop being all fawny pawny GRR! I wanted to just, just growl at someone! Rawr! Bark! I don’t know what my cutie mark is, and it isn’t magic, because I don’t like magic! Stop asking me about this!

But what really boils my cheese is that one teacher said “oh hey Luna, your stuff is in your own little cubbie right over there!” And I thought YES, first thing first, I need my Element back. I’ve gotten so used to having it around my neck, and I felt really naked without it. I don’t think I understood what being naked felt like until I started wearing clothes regularly… or… a necklace, regularly. Is a necklace clothes? ANYWAY.

My cheese is being boiled right now, because I searched through my bags, and all that was in there was the marbles! I rooted around the cloak, and it was the same thing!

Now that just is the cheese topping to a VERY VERY BAD DAY.

“Who took my necklace?!” I shouted, spinning around to the mostly empty bedroom place. “That was very very special to me, and whoever took is the biggest… big meanie head!”

The few fillies in the room looked over at me, muttering to themselves, shrugging denial.

Hopping cheese wheels, I just wanted to blast something right about then! I had already been warned once. Unauthorized use of magic… and you get THE CORNER. Fwah! The corner, oh no, I’m so scared! Also something something about privileges and you really don’t want to do that and whatever. I could give less of a care, but Tia’s always telling me, Luna, be a lady, ladies don’t blast things. And my lack of ladylikeness is what got us all separated in the first place. So no blasting. For now. Not until I find my sister, who, for some weird reason, isn’t here.

In a huff, I bucked the cubbie. It didn’t make me feel any better. In fact, it kind’ve made my hoof hurt.

One of the older students approached me, hesitant.

“I can take you to the lost and found, if you’d like…” she said carefully.

“Yes!” I declared, “Take me to that place!”

And so, I was promptly taken. It was down the stairs and in one of the teacher’s offices, I dunno which one. It wasn’t a very nice place compared to Pocket’s office. It was smaller and the furniture wasn’t nearly as nice. But I didn’t care, as soon as she popped open the little chest that was supposed to be lost and found, I dove in. A doll, a hat, an old shoe… but no necklace!

“I’m sorry it’s not here,” the teacher stammered, “Maybe it’ll turn up another time. Why don’t you go and have some dinner, or—”

“But I need it!” I cried. No! Retorted! “It’s important now!”

“I’m sorry!” And somehow, I was forced back into the hall, still stewing, still without my Element.

I felt like crying.

But no!

I snorted that away and strode down the hall. There was still one more place to look! I found the proper door and I bucked it right open!

“Mr. Pockets!” I declared. “I can’t find my necklace!”

“Luna! What are you doing here?!”

So, by the time I arrived, it was already pretty late afternoon. It was almost time to turn on some lights, which Mr. Pockets hadn’t done yet. Also, he wasn’t alone. Another big purple pony stood by his desk, covered in a simple black… no, a dark red cloak with a gold trim. She turned to me, and I could see that she was a she, and also a unicorn! I wondered if she was a teacher, but that was silly, because this was the first time I had ever seen her.

“I just said I’m—!” I shouted, then gasped. As I stepped into the office, there was a small flash of gold. Was it...?! I had to make sure! I ran right up to the desk, propped myself up, and there it was!

“My necklace! Finally!” I reached out to grab it with my aura, shouting a quick thanks. But then something crazy happened. My aura was overridden! A deep red glow surrounded the Element and yanked it away, moving to hover beside Pocket’s head. “What’s the big idea?!” I snapped, “That’s mine, give it back!”

“Luna…” Pockets said, peering over his glasses with a warning in his voice, “The adults are having a conversation here…”

“I’ll be outta your mane in a second, just give me back my necklace!” I reached out for it, mixing the auras, and trying to tug the Element away. But Pockets resisted, pulling it back.

“This is a very valuable, very old piece of jewelry, Luna!” he said. “I wouldn’t want you to be upset if it gets lost or stolen, let us take care of it for you—!”

“That’s my problem, let ME deal with it!”

“Stop, Luna, stop!” His head tilted forward a little as my horn began to glow more brightly, voice becoming strained. “You’re going to break it! You don’t want that to happen, do you?!”

“No, YOU’RE going to break it!”

I yanked at the necklace, and Pockets’ head and shoulders were pulled forward, struggling to steady himself on the desk, eyes wide.

“Fascinating.”

Startled, I let go of the Element. Pockets tumbled backward, throwing out his hooves for balance. I stared at the purple pony, who was looking down at me over the bridge of her nose.

“What is?” I demanded.

“How old are you child?” she asked.

I pouted, glaring at her stupid... haughty attitude, “You didn’t tell me what was fascinating!”

“Now Luna…” Pockets interjected, creepy smile creeping back. “Why don’t you leave the adults be? Go get some dinner, I’m sure you’re hungry from such a long and stressful day.”

“It was only stressful because I didn’t have my necklace!” I shouted back, stomping a hoof, “It’s very important to me, so give it back!”

“No,” he snapped. Then, Pockets ignored me! He popped open a drawer in his desk, making to drop the necklace inside.

“But that’s—!”

“Pockets.” The purple pony stepped forward. “Are you trying to stow the item?” Pockets hesitated, and in that hesitation the purple pony snatched the necklace away, hovering it beside her.

“Applebark, please,” Pockets pleaded, still displaying his fake smile. “Can’t you see the child is upset? Let’s leave the adult matters until she is gone.”

“NO!” I screamed, “No, give me it now! Or, or I’ll!—“ I revved up a spell, any spell. Screw being ladylike! They cant keep what belongs to me from me!

“Luna!” Pockets cried, attention snapping back to me. “Luna, what would your father think of such a display?!”

“My father isn’t here! That’s a silly thing to bring up!”

“But he is!” What? My spell instantly dropped, and Pockets fakey smile got a little wider. “I thought it was very strange when you said you were a baroness. Helios family, very confidently. The name seemed familiar, so I asked around.” He leaned over his desk. “It seems like there’s a Helios in this city. One, strangely enough, from Canterbury.”

“Really?” I stared at Pockets. My father… here? How did he get here? Did he... run away with mom? Is this what happens to ponies that get picked out after dark...?

“Now, I’m trying to get in contact with him,” Pockets continued. “Do you really want the first thing to hear, after so long, is that his daughter is recklessly harming other ponies?”

I stared at my hooves, still sorting out my brain, feeling empty, weird...

“I…”

“Now how about we ask him when he gets here if you can keep the necklace or not. Can I just keep it safe until then, Luna?” It was that baby voice again, that little voice for little foals. I frowned, refusing to look at him. “Will you allow me to keep this for now?”

I looked up, but not far, staring at the finish on his desk, brain still tumbling around, like it was rolling down a big, steep hill. My father? My father...?

“I… I guess?” I stumbled, unable, unsure of what exactly to say.

“So Applebark.” Pockets said sweetly. “Give the necklace here.” Now I looked up all the way, confused, at Applebark. It was getting really dark, but I could see that she had a look on her face. A very, very sour look.

“I said that I would be—”

“Now Applebark!” Pockets exclaimed. “Don’t upset the little filly further! It is hers, after all.”

Her sour look got even more sourer. With a face that looked like she might spit, she half threw it onto the desk. Pockets instantly wrenched it away and swept it towards his open drawer. In his haste, the necklace tumbled past and fell to the ground, clinking softly. I stared at it. Pockets closed his drawer, not even noticing that the Element had fallen. He just...

My face snapped down into an even tighter frown. How could he treat my necklace that way?! Thinking he’s gonna keep it safe better than I would, and he just lets it fall down like that?!

“I’ll be leaving,” Applebark snapped, spinning around.

“Let me show you out!” Pockets shot up, and I watched his feet as they passed over my necklace, almost stepping on it in his haste. “Come along Luna!” he said behind me. I heard the door open...

That’s it!

I yanked the Element to me, snapped it around my leg, and instantly coated it in shadows, blending it right into my dark fur. Only seconds later, Pockets turned back and waved me forward. I did so, covering my horn in shadows, trying to block out its light. And then I was in the hall, and walking upstairs, totally and completely ignored by everybody.

I nodded proudly to myself. Victory!

~Θ~

It was night, and pretty late at night. I could hear everyone around me shifting and snoring in their beds, me sitting in my own, blankets pulled over my head. I had removed the shadows from my eyes, was was nudging my Element with my nose. Just thinking...

I can’t sleep. I’m not afraid of the dark but… I had gotten so used to having Celestia beside me, using me as a pillow, or whatever Discord wanted to call it. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine her beside me, breathing lightly, but it only made me feel all alone.

Where are you guys? Where could you have gone? Can you rescue me from this weird place?

Or… do I want to be rescued? From this place, definitely, totally, it’s really dumb here. But… my father’s here, in this city? Is this is what happens to ponies that get caught in Canterbury? Do they get taken out of the city, shipped here, or all over Equestria? I imagined the pain on Discord’s face… how he refused to meet my eyes. Is this the huge secret he was so eager to avoid? Somehow, it didn’t seem... bad enough, I guess.

But another thing was... Do I want to see my father again? I closed my eyes really hard, trying to imagine what he looked like. It was so, so long ago… He was the same color as me, definitely. And he was really, really big. I remember his feet especially, his really shiny hooves, how smooth they were. I must have been still a foal the last time I had seen him. No face came to me, no mane color or clothes. I couldn’t even remember a cutie mark.

I nuzzle my Element again. My friends are my family now, really. They’re all I need.

But… My father?

I scrunch up my face. This is not the time to get all… tangled and silly! My friends aren’t here… so where are they? Why haven’t the come to get me yet?

Then it clicked! Maybe they don’t know where I am!

Well... I have a good way to help them find me!

I flung off my sheets, pulling the Element around my neck. I snuck out of the room, peering down the corridors. Empty! Good! I dashed across the hall and propped myself up to the window, pushing my feelings into the Element. Not enough to make a beam, but quite a lot, making it glow, warm and bright against my neck.

I’m here guys! I’m here! Please come get me, please come find me!

I don’t know how long I did this for, nonstop, but it was important that they saw. The city may be really, really big… but I’m near the top! Please, let this light shine far enough for them both to see it!

I squeaked as I heard footsteps. Instantly, I dropped the spell, hiding under some shadows. A teacher trotted by and looked around, puzzled. He left, I unhid myself, and went back to the window to make the Element glow again.

Celestia! Discord!

I’m here!


XXIII : Celestia

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 23

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

~Celestia~

Once, in a time so long ago, when we first landed outside the walls, I had been so afraid of sleeping on the ground. Not that it was uncomfortable. Not that it was dirty. Alright, maybe those were problems. But another icky, icky problem was the bugs. The bugs and the little skittering animals... I kept thinking I’d wake up and they’d be all over me. Nasty! But that didn’t wind up being as big of an issue as I had assumed, and after two weeks of ground sleeping, I suppose it became borderline fine. I’d rather sleep in a bed, but it was not that bad.

But in the Sickle Ravens’ hideout, there were rats. And I could hear them. Scratching. I’m sure in a few more nights I’d get used to the concept of rats as well but... that wasn’t a good thing! This is not a healthy condition ponies should be getting used to! Okay, okay Tia. Enough thinking about rats. Think about something else.

Goodness, I was so glad to be back out in the streets, even though the crowds made it difficult to keep up with Pith. The other few Ravens didn’t even seem to try, vanishing in and out of sight, weaving through the crowds.

“You know…” I said on the offhand, nearly pressing into a wall in my attempt to make room for a five cart caravan. “This city seems full of a lot of different species, many I’ve never seen before in my life.”

“Sorry?” Pith shouted over his shoulder, floppy hat pulled over his horn. I waited for the carts to pass before repeating myself, shouting anyway. He nodded, “That’s Stringhalt for you!” 

“How come the Sickle Ravens...” 

“The what, Tia?” he said, nonchalant.

I rolled my eyes. “How come ‘your boys’ are only Earth Ponies and Unicorns? Please don’t tell me it’s the same thing as your ‘no girls’ policy…”

“Not at all.” He cut in front of me, forcing us down another, wider street. “Stringhalt is a trade city, and most the species you see are only passing through. The only large permanent population would be the Zebras, and a few of my boys are Zebras. Didn’t you notice?” 

“Were the Zebras...” I think back to the gathering in the main room, the dozens of blurred together faces. “The Earth Ponies with the stripes?”

He nodded. “Zebras around here tend to stick to their own communities though… maybe I’ll show you their neighborhood sometime.” He thought for a moment. “Other than that, the only other permanent population would be the griffins. And they don’t tend to play nice with ponies.”

I decided not to answer. Certainly, all I had seen from the griffins were the slavedrivers, the boisterous group in a bar we passed. But that couldn’t represent all of them, could it? I looked up at the cloud spires, reaching down towards us. In their city there must be griffin bakers, griffin seamstresses, normal griffins who wanted no trouble. Unless they relied entirely on labor from ponies, from Pegasi... I... didn’t really know enough to say. So I let it be.

Pith nudged me, then shoved me down another rain and trash-slicked alley. Three Ravens ran past us, peered into the next street, then waved him through. Such extensive measures, just to avoid just a few guards!

Things were loud around us once more as we entered a market street, packed with foot traffic. I watched as our little entourage scattered once more among the crowds. It made sense for them, really, it’s not like they were trying to talk with us. I thought they were only acting as Pith’s guards. But then I spied a small one discreetly pull bread from one of the stalls, quietly trotting away with the loaf held in his mouth. I nudged Pith in the side, pointing to the offending colt.

“One of your Ravens just—!”

“Don’t point!” he snapped, “It’s very rude!” Then, he was silent for a while. I stared at him as he looked at nothing in particular.

“Pith...?” I asked, a bit bewildered.

“Poor street kids,” he stated simply with a shrug of his shoulders. I snorted.

“Is that your excuse?”

“Is that disdain I detect in your voice, Princess?” he asked, voice close to laughing.

“Is that disdain I detect in your voice?” I shot back.

“Here, Princess Tia!” I snapped my eyes down. A younger colt was rushing to keep up with me, a carefully balanced apple bobbing on his nose. He grinned as his head bobbed and weaved, trying as hard as he could to avoid the other ponies in the streets. “I got this for you!”

I stare at the apple. Knowing where it came from, do I dare accept it? Or…?

“Thank you, Sprout.” Pith took the apple from the colt, holding the stem in his teeth. “I’ll hang onto it for the Princess until she’s ready.”

“Ready?” I scoffed. Ready to accept stolen goods, is that what he means?

“Okay!” Sprout cheerfully charged off, lurking around yet another stall, certainly planning on swiping something else. I frowned at Pith as he stowed the apple in my saddlebags.

“Keep walking, Tia,” he said calmly. I immediately stopped, but it wasn’t long until the flow of the ponies forced me forward.

“Why stealing, Pith?” I demanded. “Why not begging?”

He tilted his head slightly. “Do you know how humiliating that is, Tia?”

“Yes. I do.” I retorted. He finally, finally turned to look at me, an eyebrow raised.

“Alright. Show me.”

“Really?”

“If you think it’s better, then beg for something.” He waved a hoof down the street, “Go to one of these vendors and demand food.”

“Must I?” I asked.

“Put your bits where your buck’s at, Princess,” he replied, face stern.

I huffed a bit, then forced my way past him, past a few other ponies, or whatever I was encountering. I approached a stall, hesitant. Hesitant is good. I let my nerves define me as I trotted towards a cart of tiny baked pastries. Tarts. Goodness, it had been weeks since I had a nice pastry…

“Excuse me,” I asked lightly, fluttering my eyelashes. “What flavor are these?”

“Oh!” The storekeeper, a thin Earth Pony, chuckled. He waved a hoof over his wares. “Well, these are cherry, these are apple, and those are rhubarb.” I looked over each type carefully, by all appearances intensely interested. Although, what the heck is up with this city and their apples? I know the Apple Family is in charge and all, but do apples really need to be everywhere?

“Those all sound so good!” All but the apple ones, really. I giggled, voice already creeping an octave higher. “I can’t decide! What’s your favorite, mister?”

“Me? Well!” he laughed again. A good sign! “I like apple best.” Bah, of course. “But I baked all of them fresh this morning, I assure you.”

“You made all of these by yourself?!” I gasp, bouncing on my hooves a little. “Wow… how do you find the time?”

“Hard work and diligence, miss,” he nodded proudly.

“I’m impressed!” I squeak. Okay, maybe going too high. I stop talking, and instead, I stare at the pastries for a long, long time. Scanning back, scanning forth, scanning back...

“Well, you gonna buy one?” the owner finally asks.

“I only have enough for one…” I pouted, acting sad. “I can’t decide which I want! They all look so good!”

“Here.” He smiled. “If you buy one, I’ll throw in an apple one for you.”

“Really?! Thanks!” I grabbed a rhubarb and an… apple tart. “How much would that be?”

“Just a bit for you, miss!”

I returned his broad smile and hovered over one little copper coin. Love it, yet hate it when they make things cheap for me.

“Thank you mister, you’re too kind!” I practically squeal.

“You’re welcome, enjoy!”

I trotted back to Pith, instantly letting my demeanor drop back to normal. I took a savage bite of the little tart, refusing to let myself gloat. Oh! Goodness, this tart is delicious! It’s been too long since I’ve had a taste of something sweet, of sugar at all really. I… feel a bit guilty though, enjoying this with Discord and Luna gone…

“That’s not begging, that’s bartering,” Pith pointed out, interrupting my gloomy thoughts.

“It’s trying to get handouts. That’s begging,” I retorted, offering him the apple pastry. Well, I sure as heck didn’t want it. He immediately chomped down on the tart, and my aura, much like an Earth Pony would. I eyed his covered horn. He could use magic fine, couldn’t he...? When had I seen him use magic anyway?

“You paid for suffg—” he said through his mouthful, “So, mm,” he swallowed, “It’s bartering.”

I rolled my eyes. It’s not a point worth fighting for. Deliberately, I took the daintiest bite of my pastry.

“Well, whatever it is,” I said, finishing off the tart. “I‘ve been doing it for the past few years now. I know its humiliating but it’s a little more… moral than just taking things.”

“We take what we need, Princess,” Pith replied, voice sharp. Then, he smiled his dark tone away. “Though it does surprise me to hear that you’ve been bartering much at all, nevermind for years.”

“Really?” I snapped. “And why exactly does that surprise you?”

“You did introduce yourself to me as a baroness. I would think that you were loaded.”

“Oh.” My irritation faded a little. “I was, once. But I guess the title’s meaningless now.”

We walked quietly for a while, taking another back alley detour in the meantime. Almost as soon as we walked back onto a main road, Pith spoke up. 

“However well that might have worked,” he said, “I don’t think any of my boys will be able to use their sex appeal to persuade the shopkeepers.”

“Sex appeal?!” I cried, whipping around to glare at him. “That was… I was being cute, darn you! Like I was a little filly! Your boys can act cute, can’t they?!”

“Cute…” he looked me up and down. “Maybe during those ‘few years’ you described, Tia. But not anymore. Now, it’s pretty much sex appeal.”

“Eaugh.” I look over myself, just a year from being full grown… but still a filly! Who would think that this is sex appeal? “Moving on!” I barked, “You said you were going to show me where my friends are being kept. I assume that’s where we’re heading now?” Again, he chuckled.

“In a rush, are you, Princess?”

“You only use ‘Princess’ when you’re mocking me,” I shot back. He shrugged.

“Or when my Ravens are within earshot.”

“But when it’s between us, it’s always mocking.”

“Hm,” he looked back at me, “Sorry, I don’t mean to offend you.”

Again, he seemed sincere, maybe even somber. And yet... I feel as though it’s difficult to tell what he’s really thinking. He just insulted me, and I know he meant it. Is he only trying to divert my anger? I just don’t know... I remember last night, how easily he was able to switch between demeanours. What was he thinking right now? Again, I just feel as though I have to let it go.

“Please?” I asked, trying to catch his eye, even as he casually refuses to look. “I just want to know where they are.”

“We’re making our way there now,” he replied, giving me the slightest glance. “The crowd’s thinner up on the hill, so I was waiting for noon to come around, when most will be out for lunch, or whatever the elite call it.” He let it sink in a moment as we were pushed aside to make room for a line of guards. With no alleyway to duck into, Pith pulled his cap low over his eyes, using his hoof. “We’re wanted, you know.”

“Not everyone’s going to recognize us,” I point out.

“The ponies around the correctional facility might recognize me,” he clarifies.

“So, what, are you an escapee from there?” I joke.

“If there’s a unicorn on the outside,” Pith said, voice tense as the last of the guards pass, “He’s an escapee.”

“Oh.”

Conversation was light as we slowly made our way up the hill. He told his Ravens to scatter for now. To avoid more risk, he explained me. But if he really wanted to reduce the risk, why did he lead me here himself? And why wasn’t he covering himself with a cloak, to avoid recognition of his ‘cutie marks’? I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to ask.

Buildings were more fancy up here, more orderly and placed in careful rows, following the uneven slopes as best they could. The streets were almost bare in comparison to the masses below, mostly consisting of foot traffic with the occasional carriage here and there, pulled by ponies with trim manes and dapper suits.

“Act natural. The place is coming up on your right.” I turned to see, but he stopped me before I got a good glance. “Don’t look directly at it. Watch out of the corner of your eye.”

“Why? How is sightseeing going to draw attention to us?”

“I know what I’m doing. Now hush up.”

Oh, I don’t doubt you do. But I have a better plan. I stared at the buildings around me, examining the architecture of each one closely, making it seem completely natural when my eyes fall over the school building. It didn’t really stand out from its surroundings all that much. Same color, same design... It was a bit longer, with a centralized entryway and a third floor. But otherwise, completely unassuming.

“So,” I refrained from using the unicorn’s name, lest he snap at me once more, “What are we going to do now?”

“Wait until we have enough information on the place.”

“That’s it? Don’t you have all the information you need? I mean,” I tried to catch up with him again, see his face. “Isn’t this something you do often?”

For a second, his face fell. Hard. I thought he was going to scream at me, but he almost instantly returned to his typical nonchalance.

“They change their locks, their guards, their tactics each time we break in,” he replied, voice even, “We have to learn more before we attempt a rescue again.”

“And you’re certain my sister—”

“One hundred percent positive,” he quickly said over me. “If there’s anything I do know about the system, it’s how they handle the unicorn delinquents.”

“She is not a delinquent.”

“Fine, she isn’t,” he replied, irritation on the edge of his voice. “But they consider her one.”

“Alright.” I nod. “So how long until we’ve got enough information?”

He looked to the side. Not to avoid my gaze, but rather to sort his thoughts. “Networks are being prepped, which may be a day or two... maybe four.” He paused. “If we cant get a hold of Brick Breaker. Then maybe a day of plotting, a few test runs, maybe a week in guard raids to get the weapons we need. Yesterday’s attack did not get us what we needed...”

I already didn’t like the numbers he was racking up. Not at all. But a more pertinent question sprung to mind.

“Yesterday’s attack?” I asked sweetly, “When did that happen?”

He was silent for a moment, then turned back to me and grinned. “During a rainstorm?”

“During a... Wait, that’s the reason you...?!”

“I told you already,” he interjected, cutting me off before I could fully collect my thoughts. “You. Are. Convenient. For that attack, and for this operation.” He looked away. “Look, your sister will be saved within two weeks. I’m helping you. Consider it your payment, if you must.”

Two weeks?! Two weeks of sleeping with rats… no, more importantly, two weeks where Luna and Discord are all alone and god knows what is happening to them. I looked back at the school, almost out of sight. Pith talks about the place like they’re brainwashing young unicorns... what would happen to Luna in two short weeks? And Discord... where in Equestria was he at all? I wondered, though, would he be any easier to save?

“Alright, so, the school is a difficult obstacle,” I stated. “Are we going to go look for Discord then, determine where he is in the meantime?”

He thought for a moment as we continued heading down the hill.

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to start looking,” he said slowly, “But if he’s in the menagerie, we might have to wait until nightfall to sneak in. It’s far too close to Big Apple’s property… Well, technically he owns it. But...” He shook his head. “Sorry, tangent. Let’s check a few other places, and then we’ll see about the garden.”

“And I don’t have to wait two weeks to save him?”

“I doubt it. Just a couple busted locks, and we’ll have him out by midnight.”

“Good.”

Pith quietly rolled his eyes, and off we went.

~¤~

It was night again, over twenty-four hours since Luna and Discord were both taken from me. Pith and I stood outside a stone wall about twice as tall as the average pony. Beyond it, I could see what looked like a forest again, a patch of green in the center of this stone and concrete city. Inside the park, it was dark as a forest would be, and we’d be exploring it without any magic to light our way. It was dark in the streets, of course, but there were still window lights and the occasional lantern hanging off a doorframe.

 “Now, don’t get your hopes up, Tia,” Pith said as I hoisted him up to the top of the wall. “We’re still not positive that your friend is here either.”

“I have to know.” I gasped for breath, rolling the bruises out of my shoulders. How could such a thin little colt be so heavy? He leaned down towards me, and I jumped into his forelegs. With a few heaves, there was a small burst of magic from his horn. Brown. So he can use magic... His aura pulled along with his legs, heaving me up, my stomach scraping on the stone. “Ow... alright. No turning back now, Pith.”

“Sure.”

We dropped to the other side, waited quietly for our eyes to adjust as best they could, then we began walking.

We were in what looked to be a fancy garden. Despite all the trees, there wasn’t a single fallen leaf on the ground, though there were plenty of petals lying here and there. Grass was everywhere, cut even and short, with perfect cobblestone paths curving and cutting around the landscape. It almost looked like a fairytale ideal of a forest... And I wondered for a moment if there were even any insects here.

“This just looks like a park to me,” I said, looking around.

“Yeah.” Pith looked around as well. I couldn’t see his expression, but from his tone of voice...

“What are we looking for, Pith?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted, “I haven’t been here before.”

“You... you haven’t?”

“Nope. We had a plan once to release all the animals and create a distraction for... well, it doesn’t matter now. It didn’t pan out anyway. Don’t worry,” he hastily tried to recover, “I know this city, and I know this is where Big Apple displays the animals he captures. I just don’t know exactly what we’re looking for.”

“Well, the animals can’t just be wandering around. It’s too easy to escape that way.” I peer through the dark, trying to make out shapes in the distance. One shadow seemed to stick out among the trees, a sort of thick cylinder. Carefully, I try to point it out to Pith “Is that a cage...? Or a gazebo?”

He was silent, for maybe a bit too long. I think he was looking where I was pointing, so...

“A what?

“A gazebo.”

“So you do see a creature out there? Where? What’s a gazebo look like?”

“No, the building!” I don't know whether I should laugh, or buck something in frustration. “That building, do you think its a... a covered patio thing?”

“It looks too solid to be a patio. Maybe it’s a cage. You know, something we were expecting.

Okay, now I felt like bucking something. This has been a long day, my legs are killing me from all this walking, and...!

“You know what?!” I started.

A rapping sound, hollow, like someone was tapping on a pane of glass. I looked around, confused, as the sound stopped, then started again, rapping far more urgently. I tried to see through the darkness as Pith started trotting forward, towards the cage or gazebo or whatever it was. I followed, getting a better look as we got closer. It looked like a kind of little glass house, but I couldn’t see anything inside of it. Nothing except one frantically bouncing figure, long and lizardlike, eyes little bobbing lights in the dark...

“Discord!” I cried.

Discord leaned against the glass, pressing his face, his forefeet against it. Even in the dark, I could see his wide, relieved grin… and a shackle on every paw. I wanted to burst out laughing as I approached him. Finally! finally, something’s gone right today! Discord’s right here, right in front of me, and we have the ability to get him out! Or...

“Discord!” I half shouted, leaning against the glass. “Is there some way in?”

He lurched backward, still smiling, and wave his forefoot to the side. He tried to say something, but it was muffled by the glass. He vanished, black space behind him shaking strangely... Oh! They’re curtains! I saw the black mass shake a little as he moved, occasionally popping his head out to check up on us, waving me around the building. Finally, he stopped, pressed up against the glass, and to my surprise, a thin panel actually popped out, lifting it upwards on a hinge.

“Tia! You have no idea how good it is to see you!” He wormed his way through the window, barely big enough for him to fit, and threw his forelegs around me, pulling me into a tight hug. “Aw man, I can’t believe you’re here! You’re actually here!”

“I…” I laughed a little, feeling his weird, stiff fur push into my face. Never before had I been so relieved to feel it. “It’s good to see you too, Discord. I was so afraid we wouldn’t find you!”

“Find me?! You know, I thought you were in jail, and that I’d have to find a way to come help you!

“I escaped, or, was never caught, I guess!” I nod to Pith, fumbling with my words in my joy. “Thanks to a local rebel force, a wonderful, wonderful...! This is Pith, by the way.”

“But what about Luna?!” Discord continued over me, “Is Luna with you, did she escape too?!”

“No, she’s been taken to a unicorn school. Ah, I mean,” I glance over at Pith, wondering how he felt about being glossed over. Level-headed as ever, far as I could tell. “She’s in a correctional facility. But she’ll be fine, don’t worry. We’re getting both of you out!” Discord gave me another tight squeeze, refusing to let go. Fine by me, I was just as relieved to see my friend well... but it felt like he was cutting off circulation in my back. My shoulders were starting to feel a little numb. “Are things that bad here, Discord? Are they treating you right?”

“I guess they’re treating me fine, considering that I’m just some kind of fancy monster they can gawk at.” His tone dropped a little, grew bitter, but his grip didn’t fade. “I hate it… there’s nothing to do, so I just stew in my own thoughts, and… I’ve missed you, both of you, like crazy!”

“Gosh Discord,” I laugh nervously, “It’s only been a day!”

“A day of torture, if you ask me!”

“Yeah… yeah.” I didn’t want to say it in front of Pith, but I almost feel the same way. This has been a torturous day... “It’s been a long day without you, without either of you,” I admit.

We hug for a bit longer, then I laugh nervously. “Alright, you can let go, Discord. You’re squeezing me so hard, my back’s getting all numb.”

Discord cursed and dropped me, squirming back between the panes of glass. But strangely, my back didn’t feel any better.

“Sorry, sorry, that’s not it. It’s these cuffs!” he cried, glowing eyes flicking downwards, chains clattering. “It’s like those freaking lassos. They make you all numb, and…”

Out of nowhere, Pith swore. I turned to him, barely able to make out his expression.

“Pith?”

“They’ve got you in smooze cuffs,” he said, tone bitter. “That makes things much more complicated.”

“What, why?”

“If they were normal cuffs, we could use magic to break them off right now. Your friend just showed that he can fit through the window with little problem, so we’d be out of here in a flash.” He shook his head. “But now things are a bit different. The smooze inside those sacs absorbs magic, or stops it, or whatever. The gunk stops everything, body, brain, magic… We would actually need the real, physical key to unlock them. I’m sorry, but,” he looked at me, expression hidden, voice even, even as it always is. “There’s no way we can get him out if he’s got those on.”

“I... there’s got to...” I fumbled with my words. I had, we just, we just found him! “Can’t we...”

“I got it!” Discord squeaked, voice on edge, “We can figure out the cuffs later! Here!” Something silver dropped from around Discord’s wrists, clanking and unfurling across the window pane. “Break this chain!”

“That might work.” Pith looked to me. “You got anything that can break that? A spell?”

“I…no,” I stammered, “I thought you would...”

“Sorry, but I don’t.”

“C’mon… you’re a rebel right?” Discord wormed his head out the window, looking over at Pith, “Wouldn’t you have some jail-breaking abilities?”

“Not related,” Pith said swiftly. Related to what exactly? His cutie mark scars? “But I do have someone back at base that could help.”

“Okay,” Discord said, nodding, horns clattering against the pane above him. “Alright. So how far away is your base?”

Silence.

“Pith...?”

“Now don’t take this the wrong way...”

Beside me, Discord made a small sound.

“I’m sorry you two,” Pith continued, voice firm. “But we’re going to have to come back tomorrow night.”

“NO!” Discord cried loudly, heaving himself out the window, his bright eyes wide, staring directly at me. “Don’t leave me here, Tia! C’mon… c’mon! I just saw you again, after so long! Don’t leave me here for another day!

“Pith…” I said carefully, unable to take my eyes away from Discord’s, “There’s got to be something more we can do. We can come back later tonight, can’t we?”

“It’s over an hour to our base from here, and it would be over four hours to go from there, to here, and back again. Practically morning. I’m sorry, Tia, but we’ve just got to wait for another opportunity.”

At the mention of my name, Discord’s eyes snapped over to Pith, staring, expressionless, and quiet.

“Discord,” I tried to say, “I…”

“It’s…” His voice squeaked, then became thin. “It’s not as bad as it could be here. You know, just, just so dull. I’ll be fine for another day.”

“Are you sure, Discord?”

“Do I have a choice?!” he snapped.

The group was silent, then I reached out to Discord, giving him one last hug.

“Stay safe.”

“You too.”

He vanished back behind the curtains, dragging the window shut behind him. As we left, I continued to stare at the little glass house, guilt gnawing at my gut as he reappeared, watching from his window. He tapped it again, and there was a vague suggestion of a point. I frowned, and tried to look forward. There wasn’t much to see in the garden, and looking over the walls themselves, there wasn’t that much to see there either, besides a few buildings’ second or third floors. But among what I could see, there was a curious little blue light, floating among the otherwise dark formless masses of the city. A color so familiar… One I recognized.

“Luna…” I said softly.

I watched it for as long as I could, barely pausing when we climbed back over the wall, not stopping when other buildings would obscure my vision. Even when Pith told me to get my head back together, I watched the little light as it stayed steady, vanished, and reappeared again, like clockwork. That is Luna, I know it is. Showing us the way to her, calling out…

Instantly, my face tightened.

“Pith! How long can we just sit here and do nothing?!”

“As long as we have to, Tia.”

“I can’t take it!” I yelled, trying to stem tears. “My friends…”

“It’s only been a day,” he snapped, “Get a hold of yourself!”

“It… I…”

“Prin-cess!” Pith spun on me, for the first time that day actually frowning, not even attempting to use a smile to hide it. “I am sick to death of your whining! Do you know how long I had to wait, with my own friends stuck in these horrible places?! Do you know how much the Ravens have suffered, how much they’ve wanted to tear down the system, but could only look in fear as their friends were taken by ti, one by one!? Your case isn’t special or even unique, Princess Celestia. And you know what, this entire day is making me regret the hell out of letting you into my base. I should’ve just had Lil’ Hoof drag you out the moment I saw you!”

“You’re a terrible leader!” I screamed back, avoiding his point, not even daring to think of his point. How dare he! “You have all the manpower in the world, yet you do nothing but sit on it, plodding around and dragging your feet when you could be doing something with it!”

“You think I’m bad at this? Because I plan?!” He burst out laughing, spinning around and stalking away. I didn’t want to follow. I didn’t want to follow him at all. Using and manipulating ponies like that...why have I been following him around at all?! He turned, some distance away, and shouted back to me. “Well then, if I’m such a terrible leader, what would you do?!”

“I don’t know! Better!”

“Why don’t you try it sometime?!”

“Fine!”

“Alright, the operations are yours, the men are yours.” He spun back around, still shouting. “Good luck!”

I stared at his retreating tail.

“I’m sorry, what?!”


XXIV : Discord

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 24

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

~Discord~

I watched the little blue light from my window, glittering in the jumbled mass of the city. Frustrated. Angry. Luna’s right there. I just talked with Tia! We’re so close... and yet we can’t quite reach each other. I can’t stare at my friends in the face, come so close to a solution... and then just let it fall apart.

I can’t take it! I can’t take being cooped up anymore! I can’t just sit here and do nothing, thinking about everything I could be doing. Things a billion million times more productive, more fun! We could’ve explored this city, we could’ve left by now, wandering the woods. We could’ve gotten a really cool job, or even a really boring job, and it would’ve been better than this stupid... stupid...!

Even back at the old castle, trapped, cooped up in the cold, cold walls, I could weave and illusion to pass the time. Screw around, prank people, find a new cubbyhole to sneak away to. Watch the ponies in the streets for cripes sake! But here, all there is is just staring at a wall, watching the fancy ponies walk around and point at me, laughing in their shrill little voices...

‘Ooh, there’s a new monster on display, isn’t he a cute one? Look at his widdle monster horns! What kind of monster you think he is? Would you like a sweetie, widdle monster?’

I am not a beast to be gawked at! I am not a being that can just sit there and smile for the fancy ponies! And I am NOT going to take this for one more freaking day! Screw you! Screw you screw you screw you SCREW ALL OF YOU!

I slap the glass with my useless paw and throw myself backwards, rage stewing around and around my head. Why did Celestia have to come and give me hope, only to just... just leave me like this?! If it were me, I wouldn’t leave! I’d hide, stay by my friend’s side and... wait. Wait a minute...

My rage takes me to a dark place, a dark thought. So, it was only the smooze that was preventing what’s-his-face, the stupid pony who called her ‘Tia.’ Who the heck does he think he is, using the name her friends should be using... No, no, I’m getting distracted. It was the smooze that stopped him from unlocking these shackles, from freeing me. So he...

He...

He could’ve opened the door, then removed the padlock from the brass circle…

“NO!” I cried, beating a shackle against my head. “Stupid, Discord! STUPID! Why didn’t you think of that sooner?! Why didn’t that jerkface think of that either?! WHY.”

“Will you shut up?!”

I nearly jumped out of my skin as Cleo ripped apart her curtains, her mane a angry tangle as she squinted in my general direction.

“I am trying to get some beauty rest here, and if you keep making a fuss, I swear! I will…” she stammered for a moment, gaze faltering, “I will be very, very cross!” she finally shouted. “And you won’t like me when I am cross! Now Good! Night!” She threw herself back down, huffing in anger as she ripped her blankets around her head.

“Well this place is terrible!” I shouted back, “And you should feel terrible for liking it!”

“GOOD. NIGHT.”

I shook my chains angrily, making as much noise as possible. I just wanted to… I don’t know! Hit something! Make something explode or, or, or throw something! I was this close to freedom, and I just let it get away! And you know what? I am not spending an entire other day here! These stupid cuffs are coming off, whether they like it or not!

Properly enraged enough to not give a crap about appearances, I bit down on the leather lining of the shackle, tearing at it, growling like the animal they think I am… Well… Well you’re not keeping me caged here for any longer! I’ll sink to this level, but only this once!

First bite! I gnashed my fangs and tore at the sack, but my teeth just slid right off.

Second try, then! With a growl, I snapped my jaws shut and... about the same thing happened.

I tried to work one of my longer fangs in between my wrist and the bag, gnawing sideways, bottom jaw scraping painfully on metal. Failure. Again. And now my mouth was starting to feel numb… I removed the shackle, glared at it, and spat on it for good measure.

“Freaking piece of…!”

“Find a seam.”

My head snapped up. Sheen settled beside me, staring at my cuffs, his own chain shaking, almost taut at the end of its length.

“A seam?” I asked. He nodded, face solemn.

“A seam. It’ll rip easier along a seam.”

I looked back over the sack, squinting. Was there a seam on this thing...? Even with my night vision, trying to make out little details like that was a little hard…

“You wanna help me look?” I asked, showing my bird claw to him. “Or maybe, you can try and pop this one while I rip open the other one?”

“Filed teeth,” Sheen stated. “Filed down years ago.”

“Oh…” I look over the cuff quietly, then glance up. “Um, sorry to hear that.”

“I’ll get new ones. Just can’t help now.”

I nod, mind wandering for a moment… Why was Sheen just suddenly helping me? Wasn’t he in the same boat as Cleo, just enjoying himself here? I offered him a quick glance, as if to ask but... the answer was obvious. Of course he wasn’t, and I shouldn’t get caught up on my blessings. 

From the look of it, there didn’t seem to be any kind of break or seam or nothing. I tried to shove my numb talons into the small gap, feeling for something out of my sight but… No, this isn’t going to work either. What else could I use to probe the area…? I stuck out my tongue, then retracted it. Uh, no, that’s a stupid idea. I got a better one. I scooted sideways, resting on my flank as I flicked my tail up. I winced as I shoved the tip into the shackle’s gap, my puffy tail’s hair getting yanked and pulled. Now to get a feel before this also went numb…

“I think…” I said, feeling around a bit more. “The seam is almost… all the way around. Like a ring around the middle.” I pulled out my tail, leaving behind a few stiff hairs. “I’m not sure if I can get my teeth into that.”

“Try.”

“Will do!” With that, I began again, gnawing, pulling, trying to affect the darn leather bag any way I could.

“You two aren’t serious, are you?” Cleo spat, rising from her bed again. “Where do you think you’re going to go, anyway? Into the city? Through the griffin’s clouds?”

I ignored her, retreating from my attack, for now. I wasn’t going to get anywhere with half of my face numb. I tried to shake off the feeling. Movement gets rid of normal numbness... why not the magical kind? It faded somewhat… But I couldn’t tell if it was me, or just time. What I could tell is that the cuff was shaking lightly, pushing at my paws.

“Thith smoothz…” I said, spitting the numb off my tongue. “Ith uh…” Spit, shake. “Ith it alive? It keepth moving on ith own.”

“A mind of its own doesn’t make it alive.”

“Gueth… Guess not.” I shook my head again. Bit better now. “Alright. Trying again!” I bit at the cuff once more, worming my fangs down... And back up again! I frowned. “Thith ithint working! I jutht can’t get my teeth down there…” I screwed my face up tighter. “Lemme try thomthing elthe.”

I worked my jaws a little. No cuff for now, just rotating them back and forth. Feeling. Cold feeling. Leave now. Eh. Good enough.

I snapped my teeth on either side of the bag, digging my fangs in, metal stuffed in my mouth. I recoiled from the taste, but bit down even harder, feeling my fangs sink...! Rise. Sink!!! Rise… Sink rise sink rise c’mon! The thing was practically making a squeaky sound this was so useless! Stupid freaking piece of unbreakable...! 

I felt a scaly hand brush under my lower jaw, and I only had a second to wonder what that was doing there before Sheen bashed down on my snout. The fabric gave, my fang sunk in, then snapped to ice cold. I shouted, let my arm drop, and something wet, something frigid slapped across my face, clinging to...

“EW! EAUGH! GETITOFF!” I slapped furiously at the mass with my talons, flailing in the air. The substance splattered as it hit the ground, a mass of dark, shapeless jelly, like the color and shape of congealed blood, only leaving purple trails instead of red. I stared at it, trying to get the taste out of my mouth, the purple residue off my face...

And it shook a little. From me throwing it, I assumed. But time passed and its wobbling grew more pronounced. In awe, I watched as the little mass seized up, an arm forming, a tendril that arced forward, reaching for the ground, trying to pull the rest of its body forward. It heaved and shook, light glistening, and I froze, stiff, as two white spots rolled across his back. Eyes, eyes with tiny black pupils, staring at me…

Then Sheen slapped a napkin over it, scooping up the living glop and neatly trapping it inside. The makeshift bag wobbled and began growing dark, wet as he dropped it back to the ground.

“Well…” I sputtered. “So, that’s smooze? Looks pretty alive to me…” I looked at my other limbs, sincerely dreading having to break open all of them. Was there another nasty little thing in each of of these? Well, duh, of course there was. But... Ew.

“Is your hand usable?” I looked up at Sheen, his face still calm and solemn.

“I guess it will be, in a second…” I wiggle my fingers. Yep, still numb. I am getting so freaking sick of this feeling. I tried to cast a spell… just, any spell, maybe that would help. I could feel the magic rising, boiling, making my hand tingle, like the blood was returning to it after so, so long. I grinned, feelings swelling with my magic. I’m really doing this. I have a shot now. I’m actually getting out of here! “The feeling’s coming back fine!”

“Then untie this.” Sheen flared his wings, showing off the large smooze bag on his back. Tucked under the crook of his wings, I saw a collection of tightly folded knots, string digging into his scales, almost rubbing them off. It looked like it hurt him... but I guess the bag meant he didn’t feel a thing.

Of course, another question came to mind about then.

“It’s not locked?”

He grinned, baring his uneven mess of teeth.

“Never tried to break it before,” he replied.

“You are taking advantage of their kindness, their leniency!” Cleo shouted. “They’ve offered you so much, Sheen! How many years worth of gems have you squirreled away, how much money have they poured into your upkeep?!”

“Given and taken,” Sheen replied. “Different from offered.”

“And seriously Cleo, you still care enough to shout at us?” I fiddled with the tangles, fingers still not as in control as I wanted them to be. “Go to sleep already, and stop yelling at us.” She huffed again, and I returned to the knots. Pull here... No, that’s not working, how about a different spot? Bleh, darn numb fingers... Frustrated, I bit into the thin rope, and it frayed easily. It may have been taking its toll on Sheen’s scales, but not without damaging itself as well. With a couple unsteady yanks, almost pulling Sheen over, the rope snapped, and the sack fell away.

Sheen’s wings instantly spread wide open. He took a deep breath, grin growing even wider.

“Now we’re getting somewhere!” he barked.

“I’m...” Cleo sputtered, still half wrapped in her blankets. “I’m going to call the guards!”

“If anybody was going to respond,” Sheen said, “They would have come by now.”

Cleo sputtered once more, this time without any words, looking desperately from curtain to curtain.

Well, no use continuing to talk to her. I worked my fangs around the second bag as Sheen kept trying to catch his breath, gasping a ragged rattle. It wasn’t long until the side of my face was numb again, fangs refusing to dip into the bag a second time, sliding and slipping around the smooth surface. I grunted and adjusted my bite. Finally, it sunk in… too little. I grimaced, found a better position, then quickly slammed my jaws down.

There is slime up my nose there is slime up my nose ew augh get it out! The purple loogie seemed to tear out my nose’s membrane as it splattered onto the ground, a nasty pile of gooey... snot! OW! I clawed and pawed at my face. The cold burning does not belong in my nose!

“Augh. Ack. Jeez, nasty, nasty stuff.” I snorted, whimpering. It only made it hurt worse! “Sheen! Do I have a nosebleed? Gah… feels like its freaking frostbite or something.”

I couldn’t tell if Sheen looked at me or not, but I heard him scooping up the second smooze, breathing still heavy, maybe a little less ragged. I showed him my face, and after a brief glance, he shook his head.

“Well.” I sniffed, and ow, and flexed the fingers of my paw. Ah, the burn of blood returning to the system. This was a pain I could live with. “I’m going to try and pry these off, then.”

First thing’s first. Slick the inside of the shackle with magic, yank bird claw out. But before I could do that… I needed a better handle on my magic. I stared at my hands, focused. C’mon magic. Magic magic. Comes so easily to me, when was the last time I had to force it? I don’t even remember. But I could feeling it swelling in my bones, trying to push past the tingly gloves that currently were my hands. C’mon! I forced it, and there was a jolt in my index finger, a single patch of heat. Okay... good enough.

I tapped the shackle. Nothing. Going to need to do this the hard way. Brow knitted, I forced the magic from my fingertips, manually spreading the magic, working my hands all around the empty leather bag. Satisfied, I held the shackle tight, and began trying to yank out my bird’s talon. The thumb folded up, hand squeezed tight. I yanked again, squirming it around in circles, spreading the magic a bit more. C’mon! Get. Out of. The stupid…! Yes… YES! Finally!

One last yank and… yes! Free at last! Purple residue streaked across my hand as I pulled my fingers free, but just about then, I felt like I could kiss it! Oh sweet, glorious hand! Never leave me again!

“Now for the other one!” I declared. but before that, I checked up on Sheen. His head was low, staring at the two soaked napkins, whole body moving with each deep breath. “Hey Sheen…” I asked, “You doing okay?”

He snorted, and a plume of orange flame spilled from his nostrils.

“Oh!”

Sheen shifted on his feet, lowering his head even further, even with the two napkin bags that oozed purple smooze residue. One last deep breath, his wings flaring, and on his exhale a bright blast of fire spilled forth, engulfing the bags in an instant. The air instantly filled with the stink of kerosene, with burning heat, and light.

Cleo screamed. I laughed.

“Holy crap, that’s freaking awesome!” I shouted, giddy. Sheen smirked, a small burst of fire snorted from his nose once again.

“Are you trying to kill us all?!” Cleo screeched.

“Just the smooze,” Sheen replied. His wings arced upward, drawing in another deep breath...

“Don’t do that! STOP! MADMEN!”

“Well!” I laughed, “It’s probably dead, or whatever now, so...” I looked to the charred remains but the lumps were still moving! Ash crumbling around it, floor covered in black scorch marks… but ‘alive’! “What the?”

“Very difficult to kill, smooze.” Sheen explained just before another blast of heat and light engulfed the oozing piles.

“The curtains are going to catch fire!” Cleo screamed. “Stop, stop! You’ll kill us all!”

The flames died, and again Sheen took another breath. Ecstatic, I returned to my cuff. Let’s get this thing off next! The magic came to me easier now. I just had to tap the metal two, three times, and the entire thing was slick, ready to be removed. But as I squirmed my paw this way, that way, I realized that no matter how much I pulled, my thicker paw was not going to get through.

I frowned as there was another burst of heat, of orange light. Wow, it was really taking that much effort to kill something that wasn’t even alive? Tough stuff. Anyway. I can’t get this shackle off by just working it… But now that my magic’s back, and the smooze is removed, maybe I can try to unlock it?

I bust out a laugh, because why not?! I have no idea how magical unlocking worked, but experimenting with magic, something I havn’t been able to do in so, so long... It sounded like so much fun! I shoved my talon in there and just started blasting willy nilly, loving, delighting its feel again! I could even feel how tight the mechanism was on my finger, pinching it uncomfortably. But after a whole day of nothing at all, stumbling around on dead limbs, a little pain was welcome! I missed it so!

I let lose another burst of formless magic, just a blast of color. Nothing! I laughed, jiggled the lock, and blasted it again.

And it popped open.

I stared at the shackle as it rattled to the floor. Okay… I didn’t expect that to work, I was mostly just joking around…

Well, I’m not complaining!

Sheen finished frying the smooze into oblivion as I turned to my feet, still held in their smoozy shackles. I could probably encourage my hoofed foot out pretty easily, even without magic. But my lizard one? Impossible, not with my back claw jutting out like that.

With only a couple tries, I yanked my hoof out, and propped up my lizard’s foot on my knee, staring at it. The burning inside my nose is still a lingering reminder of my last attempt to bust open a bag, so I wasn’t exactly leaping at the chance to bite the stuff again. I want to try the thing with the lock, the magic blasts, even though I know the smooze inside would just absorb it instantly. Well, won’t know unless I try! I shove a talon in and blast away! 

There was that swell again, that swelling feeling that stopped short of actually going anywhere. The smooze bag shook violently as I tried, surely eating my magic before anything significant is built up. I try a few more times. Still nothing. Drat!

I pulled my finger away and looked at them, rubbing away the cold. What did I do the first time, anyway? When I was just blasting without regards to what I was doing. I held my thumb and forefinger an inch apart, and let my magic arc between them. A burst of white light, like a lightning bolt, a spark suspended between them. Pretty predictable. Then it just… stayed there. Not fading, not vanishing. I frowned, and moved my fingers apart. My ‘magic’ snapped in half, a crumbly residue clinging to either talon. I smashed my fingers together, and the magic rubbed away, a solid powder that quickly vanished into nothingness.

That’s not right… Raw magic like this, my raw magic. It’s just supposed to be light… Right?

I formed a basic illusion, just a little green ball, and let it fall into my hand. Now usually, I wouldn’t feel anything. Make it react so that it rolled and bounced naturally maybe, but there was never any substance to the stuff. But it touched me, hit my hand, and little cracks appeared, crumbling, hollow. I crushed it, and stared as the powder fell away, vanishing into thin air. Then it clicked.

My Element. Distanced as it was from me, I still must've gotten a new magic from it. And it didn’t give me better control over shadow magic…

Blankly, I returned to basics. I traced a skeleton key in the air, and actually reached out to grab it. Solid. Felt like plaster to the touch but… I shoved it into the final lock, turned it sideways. The flimsy illusion snapped right in half. I stared at it, threw it away, and tried to turn what was remaining. With a click, the shackle popped open, and I pulled it off my foot.

“Sheen.” I said, wiggling my toes in awe. “This is the greatest night of my life.”

He burst out laughing as I scrambled forward, grinning like crazy, making another key. I tried to focus on another aspect to the illusion, weight, mass… what a curious thing to think about when weaving a spell! The key was heavy as it fell into hands, still rough and papery, but it doesn’t snap as I turn it in Sheen’s collar, freeing him, both of us.

I felt like I could explode. What was this called again, this crazy, crazy kind of illusion?! For all the life of me, I couldn’t remember, all I knew was that I couldn’t do this before! Never easily, no, it’s not supposed to be easy!

“Alright!” I shouted, spinning to the door, mind already racing with the possibilities. “Now let’s get out of…!” There was a clatter of claws behind me, and I turned to see Sheen running back upstairs. “Uh… Sheen? Where are you going!” I run up after him, legs still numb and fumbling a bit, but who cares about that right now! “Sheen! You can’t just...!”

I stopped dead, freezing as I reach the top of the steps. Sheen stood in the center of a dazzling array, piles and piles of gems. They were all organized neatly by color, by shape, by size, by shine, by a dozen different things I’m sure only Sheen could determine. The pile circled around the platform like a solid, glittering rainbow, almost twice the size of the dragon before them.

“Sheen,” I chuckled, “It’s a nice collection, but you can’t take this all with you,” I flipped around, waving him down the stairs. “C’mon, we’re free! Let’s get out of here while it’s still dark out!”

He looked over his shoulder and smiled, taking a deep breath…

And letting loose all across the glittering pile.

Cleo screamed again as the flames burned brightly, scorching the glass on the ceiling, rolling over the railing. I stared at the dragon’s illuminated red back, wondering if Sheen would rather have his masterwork destroyed than left behind. Heck, that was the only way this was making sense to me. Then I saw the edges vanishing, curling together, swirling into a bright orange ball of magic...

Sheen flapped his wings and nodded up at the massive swirling aura that spun like smoke around the ceiling. Work done, he dug in his feet, scraped the ground, and charged forward, crashing through the glass, aura sucked out behind him, spilling into the night. I ran to the window and stared, dragon swiftly becoming a shadow in the sky, following the trail of orange to who-knows-where.

“We could have just used the front door, Sheen!” I laughed, still elated, still... still free! That breeze, that night air! And an entirely new way to enjoy it, explore it! I snapped open my wings. I knew I couldn’t fly far, but I could at least have a safe trip to the ground!

“You two are crazy!” Cleo squealed, so far away. “Crazy!”

I laughed again, entire body shaking. “Do you want me to pop your lock before I go, Cleo?!” I shouted down.

“Get out of here, you madman! You are ruining my home!”

“Suit yourself!” and with that, I jumped into the air. Into the glorious glorious air!

Trees beneath me, limbs free, a new magic to experiment... And no pony to stop me! I snapped my wings open wide, gliding down, feeling the wing rushing across my face, in my mane and across my feathers, my fur. Maybe flying wasn’t so bad after all. Just one more thing I need to practice! I look around the garden beneath me, slowly approaching, then lifted my eyes over the wall, to where I saw Luna’s light. It was gone now, buuuut... 

I landed hard, then charged forward, bouncing into the air with every other step. Maybe I still have a chance to find it!


XXV : Luna

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 25

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

(And here's google docs for, um, readability)

~Luna~

They never came.

And I don’t know what I should think about that.

Should I have pushed myself harder? Stayed up later? Made the Element all beamy, spun around like a lighthouse? Were they stuck or trapped somewhere? Should I be looking to go find them? Was I being too hopeful, thinking they’d come to me when they saw my light?

All these questions just keep coming back, tapping at my brain, over and over. I couldn’t sleep. Maybe because my bed was so uncomfortable, or maybe because it bugged me. It bugged me a lot. Where was my sister? Where was my father?

Where was my father?

He could come and pick me up, take me home, back home to all my stuffed animals, to sleeping in the drawing room while he worked upstairs, tapping, tapping away at his paperwork. He smelled like old shoe varnish, I told myself. That’s what he smelled like as I played at his feet, nuzzling the hard nail of his hoof, rising almost all the way up his leg. That was my dad, tapping, tapping hard at work. My legs didn’t move right, but of course they wouldn’t, because I was so small. My legs were so short, all they could do was knock against the floor.

I dug my face into my dad’s leg, tap tapping away. My horn hit something stiff, something really hard. That’s my dad. A pillar. That’s what he is. One pillar blending into a dozen.

I blinked, world blurrying, and becoming clearer. Dad’s fur sure looks veiny... Or maybe that was just wood. When did my dad get a wooden leg?

Maybe that was just the wall.

Oh.

My knee knocked into the wooden planks, painfully stiff, prickling and hurting to move. I whined a little and forced it. It’s bad to just let it be like that...

But I still heard my dad, tap, tapping away.

I frowned. No, it was not my father. It must be some kind of bird or something, rapping at the window. I looked up to the ceiling, morning well on its way, light easily able to push through the white cloud city. But why would a bird be...?  I wobbled to my feet, stiff, only just barely glancing at the window...

“Discord!”

The Draconequus vanished, and, wait, where’d he go? I shoved my face against the glass, trying to look down. There were more scraping and scratching sounds as Discord tried to claw his way back up the wall, wings flapping to try and keep him up. But it was him! He made it. He made it! He found me! Am I dreaming? It would be terrible if this was a dream too...

“You saw my signal?!” I shouted

There was a muffled reply, and a laugh, just... really light-like. I pushed my face against the glass and wondered if I could make myself hear better through it. It got warm, Discord’s snout meeting my ear.

“How do I get in?” he asked.

“Well I don’t know that!” I shout back, looking back at him. “If I knew how to get in, don’t you think I’d know how to get out?”

He frowned off to the sound, mouth moving, but words stopped short. I turned to listen, and--

“EEK! WHAT IS THAT?!” I was shoved away from the window, Discord vanished again, and Ms. Buttercup stood beside me, mane tangled, eyes wide, gong clanging in her mouth. She looked this way, that way, then down at me just as I finished wrapping shadows around my Element. “Luna, dear! Whatever are you doing here, what was that creature?!”

“Um... A... uh....” I stared up at the teacher, brains turned off. “I was um... asleep... and um...” Gosh, just say something! “Something!” I smiled, snout shivering.

“Well, it certainly was something!” Ms. Buttercup said, amused, shoving me down the hall, “You know you can get a cutie mark for illusions, if you try really hard...”

I trotted away slowly, staring back as Ms. Buttercup vanished into a doorway, staring past her, watching the windows.

Discord poked his head up, waved, then vanished again.

And I smiled.

A small smile.

~Θ~

So the day went on, all dull and dreary in even the simplest easy classes, with teachers who wouldn’t stop fawning as I tried very, very hard to maintain the shadows with subtlety. It was kind’ve giving me a headache, focusing on it for so long. I’d think, okay, this is it. But then I’d hear some ponies shouting, or look out the window and see a glimpse of a little red tail, or a poof of blue feathers, and it made everything just okay. Everybody was running around in a panic, guards were summoned, teachers were distracted... but they never caught him. And I couldn’t be more happy for that. I could take the dumb classes and the dumber teachers if it meant Discord was working to rescue me!

Right. I can take this.

It was around lunch, and I had a bit of time where no teachers would be watching me. I started to wander up and down some of the halls, trying doors and windows, noticing that barely any of them would budge. None of the windows looked like they opened at all, and most of the doors were locked... Really, despite having no one watching, there was only a few places I could go. The cafeteria, the dorm bedroom things, one of the classrooms...

And then there was a “Hey! Luna!”

I snapped to attention, peering around corners. There! I saw a little wavy paw, poking out from behind an open door frame.

“Over here!”

I charged into the classroom, the door slammed behind me, and a very familiar Draconequus ran right into me, hug all tight and prickly.

“I was wondering when you’d get in here!” I squealed, worming under his tight grasp.

“Yeah, it was no easy feat, I’ll tell you that!” Discord laughed, grinning like crazy. “But hang on a second...” He dropped me and moved to the door, looking in the cracks in the frame. “Make sure we’re not disturbed.” He grinned back at me, then scraped a claw over the frame, leaving behind a trail of what looked like cement. “So, holy crap, what is this place? None of the windows open, none of the locks I tried actually unlock when I zap them, there are guards everywhere...”

“Zap them? With what?” I think for a second, then start again, slowly. “Did you get electricity magic...?”

“No, no! I can zap em with my illusions! Reality’s Illusion!”

“So um...”

“You know how I didn’t get more shadow magic with my Element?” Discord interrupted, giddy, practically bouncing on his toes. “Well, I got this instead! Reality’s Illusion, it’s like... the illusion of touch!”

I looked around my friend still... frowning.

“How the crap is that going to hold the door shut?”

He deflated a little, looking at me out of one eye.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, an illusion’s like, a mind trick right? You can’t mind trick a door.”

“Not it’s...” his eyes flicked back to the door. “It’s actual, solid stuff.”

“Then that’s not an illusion it’s um... material...” I frowned. “You know what? You can call it whatever the hay you want, it’s just cool to have you here! Though...” I look him over, “You don’t have your necklace on you.”

“Pff, yeah.” He frowned down on himself. “This unicorn called Applebark has it, far as I know...”

“Applebark?” I asked. “I saw Applebark, she was trying to get my necklace...”

We were both silent for a moment. Why were we?

“You think they know?” I blurted out.

“Yeah...” Discord said slowly. “Yeah, they’ve gotta know what these are... Though if they did, why’d they let you keep yours?”

“Probably ‘cuz I stole it back.”

Discord grinned. “Good. Um, anyway,” he waved the subject away, “I finally got in here by sneaking in the kitchens. A chef propped open a door to bring some crates through... Almost got caught like a half a dozen times, but with your shadow magic, I’m sure we can sneak right back out of here! So let’s go!”

“Yeah!” I trotted forward a few steps, then stopped. “Wait no. No, I can’t.”

“Uh, No?”

“I’ve gotta stay here, Discord, just for a few more days. Then we can go.”

Why?” Discord whined, leaning in close to me. “Why the crap do you want to stay here?”

“It’s... my father.” I stared at my hooves. Same color as his hooves... “Pockets told me that my father’s in the city, and he’s trying to get ahold of him.”

Discord looked confused. That didn’t... I didn’t like the look of that. I don’t know why, but I didn’t.

“How did he wind up here...?”

“I dunno. I thought you’d know.” I glanced up, “When... ponies get taken to the castle... Do they sell them?”

Discord almost laughed. A nervous, quick exhale before he stopped looking at me, smirking sideways.

“Well uh...”

“So, they don’t?” I didn’t think they did... but...

“Well, uh... I’ve never heard of it, but maybe!” He shrugged, jerking his arms upward, stiff. “Hey, if you want to wait for your dad, we can just--”

“Does ‘never heard of’ it mean it never happens?”

Discord was silent, sideways grin faltering away. He nodded, looking right at me.

“Yeah, it never happens. This Pockets, he’s either mistaken, or he’s lying to you. So!” With a wave of his paw, the cement around the door vanished. “Let’s get going while--”

“So then,” I squeaked. “What did happen to my father?”

There was a moment of silence, too long of a moment. Why did it feel too long? I frowned at the feeling. Stop being... silly! Discord’s back remaining turned to me. I watched him breathe, fur along his back prickling a little, standing on end. He looked at me over his shoulder, still trying to smile.

“We’re kind’ve in a rush here Luna! And, well, Celestia’s not here, either. I don’t want to tell this story twice. Why don’t we wait until we find her?”

I stood firm. “No. No, you’re just going to keep avoiding the topic and hoping we forget.”

“Luna.” Discord nervously scratched his foreleg, took a deep breath, then placed both of his forefeet on my shoulders, gripping them tightly as he stared at me, right in the eye. “Luna, I really, really don’t want to hurt you.”

“It hurts me more when you try and find an excuse to lie,” I stated. Simple. It’s very simple.

“Ouch, Luna.” Discord laughed nervously.

“I’m serious!”

“He...”

“He what?”

“Don’t...” Discord shook his head. “He died, Luna. All the ponies taken to the castle die. They’re held for maybe a week tops before they get killed.”

Okay. Okay, that made a whole lot of sense. I guess I kind’ve assumed that already. So now there’s no reason to...

“So...” I squeaked. “So my dad is dead?”

“Well...”

“TELL ME!”

“Yes, Luna, geez! He’s dead, alright?! Good enough?”

“Well that’s...” I fell quiet, looking inside, thinking, feeling a bit dizzy, like the room was leaning forward, all of a sudden. Why? Why why why?

“Luna?”

“I guess I already kind’ve assumed that? I mean,” I shook my head, feeling my brains flop back and forth. “My dad’s always been... dead anyway. This doesn’t change much, in the end. Just gives me another reason to leave, right?”

“Right! So! Let’s get going!”

“But...”

Discord spun on me, face contorted into a face that just screamed ‘why?!’ right back at me.

“You know, this was a really, really great day! I got a new magic, I’ve been all clever in avoiding the guards, I found you. Man, things were great today! Then you just bring up death and despair and...” His face snapped down into a frown, staring downward. “I didn’t like that place, Luna! I hated it! It may hurt to hear about it, but darnit, I don’t want to think about it either!”

My face felt really, really tight. I felt... I felt, I don’t know what to think about this. Celestia? She would have an answer... Or...

“That’s...?”

He snapped his teeth a little, making a disgusted sound. “Bah! Total buzzkill. I mean... bah!” He spun  on me. “Can we leave now or what?!”

“I need to go get my stuff...” I said quietly.

“Sure, fine, but let’s just get going.”

I stepped into the hallway, snapping shadows around us.

What do I think of this?

Of any of it?

~Θ~

“Well,” Discord peeked around the alleyway’s corner, and popped back, “Looks like it’s going to be hard sneaking around in the middle of the day.” He frowned. “Guess we’re stuck waiting her until nightfall. you alright with that, Luna?”

“Why’d you break me out of there if we weren’t going to go anywhere?”

Discord stared at me. “I dunno, I thought you hated it.” He grinned, “No way I was going to leave you there for even another hour!”

“Yeah, I did hate it. It was terrible.”

“Um... okay?” He settled down beside me, sneaking into the shadows. It didn’t feel right having him near me. I didn’t want him close. I wanted my sister to save me. Not... not... Why was I feeling like this? So angry and bottled up, staring at the school until it went all blurry...

“Geez, Luna.” Discord looked over me, confused. “What’s wrong?”

And then, my entire face seized up.

“Being... I’m being stupid, that’s what’s wrong!” I snort and look over at the school. “I keep thinking that maybe I’ll see my dad just walking up to the doors, looking for me. I kind’ve want that to happen too. I don’t know why. I’ve never seen him before, or have any kind of connection or anything...”

Discord chuckled lightly. “He’s not going to, he’s...”

“DON’T LAUGH ABOUT THIS!” Discord stared down at me, eyes wide. “My... my dad is dead, Discord...”

“I... you said it didn’t upset you that much.”

“I didn’t think it would! It shouldn’t, it’s stupid! I don’t know why I’m crying... but... all I had was a color. All I had was, was my color. Now I don’t have anything...!”

“Luna! Don’t yell” Discord said, looking around nervously.

Discord was silent for a long time after that, blurry. Why was I crying? I don’t cry. Why did this matter? Celestia was my family, she’s all I’ve ever needed. I’m a happy filly and this never mattered. Who cares about some stranger, some stranger I never met, who never... never loved...

I sobbed.

“Luna, Luna please... calm...”

“NO!” I said, gritting my teeth together to make the tears stop. I’m not crying, and I’m not sad and THIS IS STUPID I AM CALM.

Discord reached a paw over to stroke my mane, to comfort me, but as soon as he did my stomach churned, and I drew back before I even knew what I was doing. “DON’T TOUCH ME.” I screamed at my friend, voice strained. He was only trying to help, why couldn’t I just let him? These were things I needed to here!

His hand froze, frown snapping tight, snapping angry.

“Why are you acting like this?!” he shouted back. Hypocrite! “He’s dead. You said nothing’s changed!”

Everything is changed.” I squealed, “He didn’t leave us, we wern’t abandoned. He wanted to see me again.” Before I even thought it through, the words hit me, just as I said them, along with everything that they meant. The alleyway was spinning, maybe because my legs were made of jelly, unable to hold me up.

“Well that’s a good thing, isn’t it?!” the frustrated Discord blur asked. He was sounding angrier, like he did at the school. He didn’t care then either! “‘Yay, you had a happy family and they loved you.’ Why can’t you be happy with what you have?!”

BECAUSE YOU TOOK HIM FROM MEI screamed at him. I guess I was trying to walk because I stumbled into a wall. Stupid stupid stupid. Where did I think I was going?!

“No!” Discord yelled back at me. “That’s not fair Luna, that’s not fair. I didn’t take anything from you, so don’t lay this on me. You said you’d hurt more if I didn’t say, but that wasn’t true, was it?! You’re treating me like I killed him or something!”

WELL MAYBE YOU DID!

“I did NOT!”

I couldn’t think, not any more. I didn’t want to hear it, I didn’t want to talk. I think Discord was making sounds, but they weren't words. The Element on my neck burned so badly, and my jelly legs felt like four back hooves, tripping all over the place. I just wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else. Not here, not now, not this.

Everything turned to shadows, cool and dark, and then I was alone. No Discord... just ponies wandering the streets, ignoring me.

I threw up my lunch and cried.

~Θ~

I don’t know how long I just layed there. A few hours I guess? I just knew I was all cried out, and I just couldn’t anymore. My eyes could not be blurry again but my head was still empty. I stood up and started walking through wherever I was. Still Stringhalt at least, but not on the hill, nowhere nice. The alleys were dirty, full of yuck and garbage, and the ponies that walked by were really, really quiet. I didn’t know where I was going, I just walked, turned, walked, turned. Trying to get somewhere.

There were voices, colts’ and fillies’ voices one way, so it was the way I decided to go. Even if it was the school again, anything would be better than going nowhere at all. Then I turned the corner, and I saw her. That while coat, dirty and grungy, and the cutie mark of a blazing sun, standing among a ton of little colts like a determined general.

“Celestia!” I cried.

She turned, looked at me and froze.

I started trotting towards her, one foot in front of the other. But she charged for me, and reached me way faster, talking on and on, even though I couldn’t make out what she was saying. I just rested my head against her neck and listened to the silly sounds in her throat, hearing her voice without words.

I still had family. And we had found each other.

I thought I was all cried out... but I guess I was wrong.


XXVI : Five Til One

The Steadfast Sky : Five Til One

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

~Celestia~

Eleven in the Morning

A question ground at me all night, pressing into my temples, too tense. How could I leave Discord behind like that? I should have been able to save him, he was right there. How could I have just left? Let us both leave, with nothing accomplished?

What was worse, I felt like I could’ve done something, if I had just tried. Days ago, whenever it was, Discord had wondered if my sun gave me fire magic. And now, I was wondering it myself. I had to try... it didn’t feel like it would work, but I had to, had to try. 

Lying on the inside of my cloak to avoid contact with the floor, I stomped a piece of paper into the ground, stabbed it with my horn, and tried to burn it. And not the narrow beam of light kind of burn, that would never get hot enough to melt metal. I felt my anger, my frustration spill across my skull, base of my horn tightening, heating with my effort. Never done this before... but...

Fire!

There was a sort of popping noise, and nothing.

Okay... Do over!

I grunted with the effort, stitches tightening over my brow. Fire! Fire, dangit! Alright. Alright... brute force isn’t working. I’m not going to discover anything this way. Deep breaths, Tia. Nice, deep, inhale… exhale…

I eased my horn down, tapping the piece of paper, once, twice, and closed my eyes. Inhale… Exhale. I eased magic back into my horn, feeling my skull tighten around the warming aura. Now. Fire. Flooowwwww onto the paper. Flooowwwwww… I frowned, tapped it again. Buuuuuurn… buuuuuuurrrrrrn, darn youuu.

I peeked out of one eye. The spell, whatever it was, had blown some dirt off the page, but otherwise, nothing had changed.

I huffed a sigh. I pretty much expected that exact result... but it was still a disappointment. My sun wasn’t about burning or heat. It was about… well, ideals and goals. I don’t even know what kind of magic I could get from it. Maybe I was just stuck with light magic for the rest of my life. Goodness, what a sour fate, being absolutely useless as a unicorn. Well, better this than whatever magic a begging cutie mark would have given me. Is there such a thing as...

Oh! Who could this be?

A tiny little colt, younger than Luna, peeked around the corner of the counter where I was sitting. It was that same little colt that had so kindly brought me back to this hideout in the first place.

“Good morning, Princess!” he squeaked, smiling.

“Was it um...” I scrambled for a name. C’mon, Tia, it wasn’t that long ago! “Seeds?”

“It’s Sprout, miss!” He nodded away, mane bobbing over his eyes.

“Well... Good morning, Sprout!”

“Have you had breakfast yet, Princess?” Breakfast? Wasn’t it nearly noon already?

“Yes, I had a few things left in my saddlebags... ”

“Ooh!” Another head popped over the counter. Again, distantly familiar, “Did you like my apple, Princess?”

“Well, um...” Was that stolen apple still in my bag? Goodness, I can’t remember. “Yes! Yes, it was very, very tasty. And what’s your name?”

“Swift Snatcher, miss!”

“O-oh...” What parent would give a child a name like...?!

“I’m Golden Orange!” another piped up, skidding into place beside Sprout, yet still barely peering around the corner of the counter. “Anything I can do for you, Princess?!”

“Well, ah...”

I remember getting this kind of attention yesterday before Pith walked me around town. I’m honestly not sure how I should receive it. I didn’t like the idea of just allowing it. I’m not a Princess, and I will not carry false pretenses of the sort. I’ve done nothing to deserve that level of respect.

“Now, now, Ravens. Leave the Princess alone...” And there was Pith, coming out of his special back room, hat already placed firmly around his horn. “Go wake the rest of the Ravens, will you? Princess Tia here has got a special announcement for you!”

I stared at Pith as the Ravens scattered. He wasn’t being serious, was he...?

~Discord~

Twelve Noon

I sat, shielded, blocked off from the world. There was no way I could maintain a shadow spell for half a day, so I went for the poor-pony’s alternative. An illusion of a barrel, woven around me, blocking out most light, and cutting me off from all vision. A pony could walk right into me, and I wouldn’t know it. Sure, now I could make the barrel solid so no one walked through it but...

I curled around my legs, cold brick to my back. This. Sucks. My body already complaining about a lack of breakfast, maybe even lunch at this point. My backside was numb from the cold, from doing nothing for who-knows-how long, wing joints aching from being splayed into the brick behind me. What the heck was Luna thinking, just leaving me like this?

No, why the heck was Luna acting like that?! I had never seen her cry before... maybe a few tears of pain if she scraped her knee, or that one time when the griffin scratched her. But nothing like that! Not... an emotional, teary explosion! And did she lie to me? She said she was fine, that she’d feel better if I told her, then she just blew up in my face! Clearly admitting to what happened hurt her more! Geez, if I had told her the whole truth, how the heck would she have acted then?

I curl a little tighter, blowing my mane out of my eyes. Throwing around such painful memories, such hurtful accusations like that... Geez, what did that place do to her?

Where’s my Luna?

Trapped in this illusion of a barrel, hours and hours until nightfall, all I could do is fiddling with my magic and think, over and over. Quite the rescue that was, Discord, look at where that got you. What a bombastic failure. I was completely unable to help Luna when she was hurting... And then she had to go and hurt me.

Geez... done thinking now. Just stop brain, refocus your attention. I lifted my fingers int front of my face and rubbed them together, summoning some magic to mess with. I unstuck my fingers, trying to make my magic soft, malleable, following in stretchy, taffy-like lines. I hope I can find her again, so we can just talk all this over. I may have been insensitive, but at least I was trying, you know? I have my apologises to give, but she better apologize too, for how she was acting.

Arrrg, no, I said to stop thinking about this! I slapped away the spell and tried again, making a liquid boil from my hand.

Whats the big deal, anyway? Father, no father, who cares? I never knew who my father, my ‘biological’ father was, but heck if that mattered in my life. Then again, ponies grow up in those kind of family units, so... Does this turn her situation into something like being outside the norm, and pitied for it? Disliked? I don’t know! Maybe I’ll ask. Its something that really, really needs to be worked out. Between all of us...

I growled, but quickly repressed the sound, small illusion evaporating the second I removed my focus from it. I literally cannot stop thinking this over can I? What’s done is done, and there’s nothing I can do about it now, okay?

I messed with my taffy illusion again. It was strange, having to focus on these new properties. What substances, objects look like in motion, I had gotten use to that. It was almost a second nature in my illusions. But trying to think about how an illusion would feel, how it would behave and flow... You’d think it would be a pretty good distraction, focusing on that. But no. I just get sidetracked by my own thoughts and the illusion loses its physicality.

I wished I could be running around right now.

Yeah, that’s a helpful thought, brain.

There was some shouting outside my barrel, down the street somewhere. I barely paid attention to it, ponies, guards and such, had been shouting about stuff all day. This was nothing new. Instead, I focused my attention on splattering a stream of water across my paw. I tried to get the splashes to look just right, trying to make it stop feeling like a stream of grainy sand...

“I am not taking your excuses, Pockets!”

The illusion between my hands instantly vanished. No, it couldn’t be. I fidgeted in place, then poked the tiniest hole in the barrel, peering out, back at the school.

“Please, Lady Applebark, we’ll find the girl soon!”

It was!

I watched as Applebark descended the steps of the school, whipping into a turn. Her cloak billowed behind her, echoing her frustrated huff of a stride. Some other pony in glasses stumbled after her, flustered. His step was stumbling and halting as he tripped all over himself, trying to keep pace with the mare.

“It’s not just the girl, Pockets!” the large unicorn snapped, “You knew her capabilities. Didn’t you think to keep a closer eye on her?!”

“We’re spread thin as it is, Lady Applebark,” from this distance, I saw the second unicorn flash a hesitant smile, “If anything, this shows we should have more...”

“More what?! Money? Unicorns?! How dare you beg after such a massive failure!” She turned to flick her horn at him, stomping and snorting. “Begone! Out of my sight!”

“But, my Lady...”

No! I scrambled to my feet, horns cracking holes in the fragile structure  as they vanished from the narrow view of the alleyway. I have to follow! She must still have my necklace... My only lead! But how the heck can I...?!

Aw, jeez!

I rolled my shoulder and dug my hands under the shadows, crawling under them. It felt like I was forcing my way under an especially tight blanket as I scraped forward on my stomach, minimal magic just barely leaving me enough room to move. Please, please let it be enough to remain hidden while I move...

~Celestia~

Quarter Past Eleven

There was a burst of crowing as more of the colts shoved their way out of the bedroom into the main area. Some were still half asleep, and stumbling into others and tripping over their own feet. But many more just as hyper and excited as I usually saw them. From one corner of the room, bread and fruits were being chucked out of barrels into the growing mass of children, the scraps scrambled for, but not quite fought over.

“Listen up, Sickle Ravens!” Pith walked around the front of the counter, head held high, already shouting. “Princess Celestia herself has something important she wants to tell all of you!”

“Um...” I stood up on the counter, trying to not fall off one side or another, staring over the crowd... They had begun to stare back, gnawing on their breakfast. “Well, uh...”

“Well, Princess Celestia?!” Pith loudly demanded, face stiff and serious. I bet a thousand bits he was grinning his head off on the inside. “Don’t you want some changes around here?”

“Um... well... y-yes.” I took a deep breath. Steady yourself Celestia. Take charge. You’re in control. “This operation we’re on... its vitally important! Very, very vitally important! So important, that your leader has handed over control to me!” I nodded, teeth tightly clenched. In control. “Because, you see, it’s no longer a game, so--”

“Yes it is!”

The crowd snickered, commenter lost among the countless faces. The colts lightly stomping their hooves in applause. I felt my face flush away.

“No, please!” Aug, was that a whine? “This is very, very serious! We’re talking about my sister here...”

“The other Princess?”

“Well, um...” I really, really didn’t want to perpetuate that lie. “N-no...” I stammered.

“Wait, your sister isn’t a Princess?”

“How does that work?!”

“Yeah!” “How?” “Caw caw!” “Tell us!”

“Please! Everybody, quiet down!” I shouted over the swell of voices. For a moment, it almost seemed to work. “It... it doesn’t matter what Luna is, right?! We’re going to free her either way!”

“Yeah, save the Princess!” “Yeah!” “Caw!”

And then the room broke out into a massive cawing battle, hoof applause beating loudly into the ground. I rubbed a hoof into my eyes. Okay... clearly, I cant fight against this at this point. Pith declared us both Princesses, so we’re both Princesses. Let’s just go with it. For now.

“So... So! SO!” The applause slowly died down, but the cawing never stopped, three or four colts in the back trying to not-so-quietly be the very last to crow. “Let’s all gather together, and focus.”

“HEY WAIT!”

A Zebra on the top of the steps, apparently guarding the door and maybe a year younger than me,  waved a hoof in the air.

“Um...” I stared up at him, “Yes, you...?”

“How can you lead us if you’re not a member of the Sickle Ravens?!” he demanded, leaning over the railing. There was a general murmur of agreement, along with another swell of that darn crowing. Will they ever just stop?

“But girls cant be part of the Sickle Ravens!” “Celestia’s not a girl, she’s a princess!” “She’s special!” “Caw!” “Let’s let her join.” “The proper way!” “CAW CAW!” “Yeah, the proper way! she’s gotta pass the tests!” “The tests, yeah!”

“Please!” I shouted again, feeling my voice crack from the strain, “We don’t need to waste time on this! My sister is what’s important, rescuing...!”

There was no getting through that tidal wave of hoofbeats, of screamed birdcalls...

~Discord~

Half Past Noon

I squirmed forward, trying to focus on too many things at once. The spell, the stalls, Applebark... I thought crawling behind the stands on the street would be easier than making my way through the legs of the crowds. Fewer ponies to trip over, more shade to hide in.... But in reality, it was more stuff to get around, with less visibility. Shopkeepers turned their heads as barrels tilted all on their own, as their wares tumbled to the ground without provocation. I winced as my claws scraped on some wood siding, making the pony manning the stall turn his head, staring two inches to my left. This was a dumb idea, this was a dumb idea, dumb idea, dumb.

I fought the urge to just jump onto the next stall. I wished, I dreamed I could just dash along ton top of these stupid blanket awnings and still have enough shadows to hide under. I wish I could just walk in the crowd. A normal pony, neither cared about nor noticed. That would be nice, no, wonderful.

And while we’re piling up fruitless dreams and needless worries, I still hadn’t eaten since yesterday. Yes, this is clearly what I should be focusing all my attention on. Right now. Screw you, body. You’re more trouble than you’re worth.

I double checked my shadow lining, then quickly grabbed a carrot from a slouching burlap sack. Please don’t pop the whole spell please don’t pop the whole spell... Okay. Looks like that worked. I shoved the pathetically small scrap into my mouth, gnawing as I wormed my way through four more barrels, pinching the corners of the fraying shade.

Now, where’s that Applebark...? I peered out from under the spell, trying to pick her wide berth from the crowds. Ah, there she is! I shot forward, stopped, fixed a rip that had appeared. Munched on the carrot, ducked under some cloth, avoided a flicking tail, and walked around another barrel. Back into the street, back behind a stall, double checking on Applebark... Crap, where was she? Oh, there she was. Relieved sigh...

CARROT!

I hacked up orange flakes, a chunk, stuck down the wrong tube, the size of a fist, I swear, it was! My whole body heaved as I hacked, wings flaring. Chunk finally dislodged and I spat it to the ground. It was no bigger than a thumbnail. Friggin stupid... I slapped it away. Into the hooves of a shopkeeper. Who was staring down at me.

What a frail hold I have over shadows....

“Uh... h-hi...?”

And then the screaming started.

~Celestia~

Half Past Eleven

Quiet, firm control. Quiet, firm control. That is how we are going to fix this situation. Show that you’re the one in charge. Be firm. Control, even in your breathing. Breath in, breath out.

I flicked back my mane, head held high.

“I refuse.”

“Aw, c’mon Princess...” the little purple colt whined, holding out his sullied hoof. “It’s war paint! You gotta wear war paint!”

“That is not war paint,” I explained. Concise. Clear. “It is mud from the streets. No, a rain gutter. I saw where you got that, and I am not allowing anything like that near my face.”

The child pouted, mud dripping down his hoof.

“Do you want to lead us or not?!”

“This has absolutely nothing to do with leadership.”

“Of course it does, Princess Celestia!” Pith boomed, appearing from who knows where, head rivaling mine in arrogant angling. “Accepting the gifts the people have to give you is very important in leadership! Speaking of” He turned and yanked his head sideways, almost forcing a shifty-eyed colt in front of him. “One of your boys has a report to give you!”

I practically marched up to the shifty colt, clicking my hooves loudly on the cobblestones. Goodness, am I showboating? I quickly shook the idea from my head.

“Yes...?!” I asked, maybe a bit too loud, “What is your name?”

“I’m Stone Skipper,” he mumbled, “I watch the guards, and...” THERE IS A WET HOOF IN MY FACE AUG AUG EW AUG! I skitter sideways, shaking my head, spitting out.... ITS IN MY MOUTH! “Yeah, uh...”

“YES?!” I squeal, all composure lost, “Continue!”

“Yeah, guards are getting real agitated today,” he said, eyebrows lazily raised, “Some creatures escapes from the zoo or something, and they’re going crazy trying to find ‘em. Nopony’s been bit or nothing yet, but...”

“Yes, thank you!” I squeaked, avoiding the wild swings of the filthy, filthy filthy! “Iwillkeepthatinmind!”

“Welcome Princess...”

Satisfied, the purple colt who’s name I never got backed away from me, nodding as his horrible, horrible handiwork.

“Okay!” he shouted, “Now you gotta run into the town square and filch something, broad daylight!”

“What?! I refuse! I could be arrested!”

“No you wont, you’re supposed to run!” he nodded, grinning, eager, “It’s a very important test!”

“That has nothing to do with leadership! Please, listen to me. Or...” I turn to find the reporting colt, but he had already wandered away. Calm, Celestia. Calm, even explanation. “I need more things like what Stone Skipper told me. Information, plans. We have to plan for this attack, we can’t just stand around and...”

But of course, I was shoved, pulled away, surrounded by half a dozen little cawing colts, caught up in their ‘fun’ ‘tests’. Oh, will I ever manage to rescue my sister?

~Discord~

Fifteen Til One

I hate running. I hate hate hate hate hate hate RUNNING. I hate feeling powerless, I hate feeling weak and useless! I wish I had some sort of, I dunno, a laser blast to just overpower everything because I hate this feeling!

I slam myself between two barrels, knocking one over, flapping, struggling upward. Clutch at the cloth awning,tear it, shove myself up, bouncing across the heated cloth. For all the life of me, why is it this hot?! Ponies shout around me, ‘what is that?!’ ‘Guards!’ ‘Get it!’

I’m not gonna find Applebark either! For frig’s sake! No, just get away, Discord! Just get away and try again! Just get away and try again! My wings stretch and snap fitfully, weak weak stupid wings, go up you darn things!

And then the cold, the all-to-familiar numbness strikes my back, scraping at my feathers. Wing’s been smoozed! I try to flap, but the world spins upside down, falling too fast, out of control. I draw breath to scream, cobblestones under me...

My stomach smacks into an awning, winding me, bruising, I can feel it. But control, enough control to land on my feet when I tumble off. I smack down below, on the rocks and concrete on all fours, gasping for breath, body tense, jittering, twitching.

“Stop right there!”

I spring away, almost on instinct, body tense, fast, devoted, dodging, weaving in and out of hundreds of scampering pony feet. Left, right, left right, left left, moving, go, just go.

“Move out of the way! Please move!”

There’s shouting, guards, baritone and bass. What? I glance back, spin around. An idea, a snap judgement. I’ve always had to trick the eye, trick the mind. There’s a wall there, honest. But one touch,and trick’s over, they keep coming.

But now, I don’t have to trick.

I fall back, flick my hands up.

And there’s a wall.

I drop back onto my hands, surging forward, not even seeing if it worked, if it was spread too thin, or a million other things that could’ve gone wrong. There’s a crash, like a shell breaking, maybe louder. Was it still effective? My gosh, was it a breaking through smash, or a ‘we just hit a wall’ smash? Am I that...

I glanced back, stumbled, and slammed into a brown paw.

“Gotcha, you little skarn!”

A hand yanked at the scruff of my neck, talons digging into my fur. I beat my wings furiously as I was dragged upward, looking right into the orange eye of a griffin.

My hand snapped forward and filled it with raw magic.

The griffin swore, throwing his arm around, but not letting go. Digging claws deeper, into my skin, blood! I cry out, afraid to struggle, wings twitching and tense with restraint. if it tore my... What am I thinking, the griffins have me! There was laughter, a clacking of beaks.

“What, can’t handle a baby, can you Olaf?”

“Shaddap! The prick scratched my eye!”

“Oh dont complain, your momma can fix it, can’t she?!”

“Halt!”

~Celestia~

Fifteen Til One

“Okay, so we’re heading back to the base... Does that mean we’re done? Can we finally start planning this?” I said, feeling broken... No! Exhausted! These little...! It’s like raising dozens of hyperactive little toddler Lunas, except none of them will listen to me. Luna at least listens to me, and she’s younger than half these kids!

“No way!” one colt exclaims. Like a knife to the heart.

“Yeah, we just forgot the silly hat!”

“You gotta wear the silly hat, Princess!” “It’s very important!” “Uh-huh!”

I felt like screaming. I held myself back by a hair.

“Why?!”

“Cuz it proves um...” the purple colt looked to his friends. Oh, he didn’t even know. He didn’t... even...

“No shame,” another colt pipes up. The purple one nodded, happy.

“Right, is shows you’re not afraid to wear the silly hat!”

“Wouldn’t this mud on my face show I wasn’t afraid?!” I squealed, trying to stop myself, digging my hooves into the cobblestones. Don’t get up in his face, don’t he’s just a poor, uneducated, little freaking brat! “Wouldn’t you tying my mane in pigtails show that I didn’t feel shame?!”

The colts around me looked honestly surprised.

“We didn’t try to tie your mane...” one piped up.

“But it would have done the same thing, wouldn’t it!?! Ooh, look, Celestia’s hair is in pigtails, isn’t that just fan-ick-AUGH!” I bit my tongue, stomping around in place,  “Why do you need a silly hat for this kind of test?!”

The colts looked between each other, “Because um...” “It’s really silly...” “I like the hat.”

“Well I do NOT!” I shouted! “We do not need a silly hat to prove ANYTHING!”

The crowd around me froze, staring. Quiet for once in their tiny little lives? Oh, Goodness, Celestia! Tia! Get a hold of yourself! They’re just... I shouldn’t shout, it’s not...!

The little purple colt shrugged.

“Well, okay then.”

“Yeah, the silly hat was kinda a silly idea.” “Uh-huh.” “It’s a silly hat, but...” “Yeah...”

Of course this is all that they respond to. Shouting means authority. Oh horsefeathers I wish I had been proven wrong, that acting calmly and rationally had just gotten through to them! Having to resort to screaming to get them to do what I want... Such poor, undisciplined youths... Do you think this is funny, Pith? Conditioning them like this?

I took a nice, deep, shaky breath.

If this is the only thing I can do...

“NOW!” I shouted, already feeling my throat strain. “I, PRINCESS Celestia, am still very, very worried about my sister!” I glared into the eyes of every single boy that surrounded me. Now, finally, they were quiet. “What are we going to do to save her?!”

There was a wave of muttering, “I dunno” repeated over and over.

“Well I... I tell you what we’re going to do!” And then I got a little bit more cheerful. No, crazed. That’s a much better word. “We’re going to go right up to that school!”

“And we’re going to attack it, right?!”

No! They were starting to rev themselves up again. They never listen when that happens! Somehow, I managed to shout over the rising sound of crowing.

“No! No, if we attack it, Princess Luna might be hurt!”

“Oooh.” “Yeah, that’s true.” “Caw!” “Uh-huh!” “Cawcaw!”

“So!” I clicked a hoof into the cobblestones. “We’ve got to...!”

“Celestia!”

I looked around, confused. That didn’t sound like the voice of a young colt... It sounded far to familiar to be one of the Ravens. Like... like it was...

I turned, and saw her.

“Luna!”

I ran, hooves on air, meeting my sister, clinging her tightly to me. She buried her face in my chest, wet from tears, already sobbing and sniffling. I comforted her, shushed her, weight lifted from my shoulders. When did that get there? Yet I was so glad for it to be gone. Luna, my sister! How in Equestria did she get here? This didn’t feel real, planning for long to come get her, and she just appears? Oh, I’d ask her in a moment, I... I hugged her again, her face warm against my neck.

“Oh Luna...” I softly said, “I’m so glad you’re safe...”

“You hear that, the Princess is safe!”

“That means we can attack the school!”

I snapped my neck around, trying to find the energy to shout again, against the massive swell of crowing.

“No it...” I said. “Wait...”

~Discord~

Five Til One

The grip loosened. I allowed myself to breathe, to open my eyes. I recoiled as a pony pushed past me, hugging the wall, inches from my snout. Another did the same. Our eyes meet and she looked away, shoving past. I was drawn back a little, tail drifting against the cold shingles of the griffin’s armor. Three pony guards pushed through the crowds full of worried faces.

“Thank you for assisting in the capture of the escaped creature,” the central guard states, voice loud and clear over the sound of the crowd.

“Well, you’re welcome!” the griffin cackled back.

“Now, please allow us to take him into our custody.”

“Hey, hey...” another griffin said, out of my sight, armor clinking, “Don’t you remember? Draconequus escapees, our jurisdiction.”

The guard glanced over to those following him.

“We have not yet identified the species the creature belongs to...”

“You’re blind!” the griffin laughed, whipping me around, pain pain, pain again! My eyes squeezed shut. “It’s a Draconequus!”

“Hey!” A cart pulled by a single pale pony clattered up behind the guards, taking up the majority of the road. “Move outta the way, I gotta get through!” Other ponies squirmed past the cart, by the guards, by the griffins. The streets began backing up, ponies glaring everywhere.

“In a moment, citizen.” The guard nodded, helmet bobbing as he turned back, then forward again. “Until we can confirm the species, we ask you hand the creature over.”

“Pfft, no friggin way, you dirt rutters.” One of the guards snorted, and I was yanked backwards, still held at arms length. I struggled, flapped my wings, and the nails dug deeper. Ow owowowow ow ow! Stop struggling, body! I squinted out of teary eyes, trying to hold myself still against my will. Ponies were trying to move past the griffins, past me, trying to get away, trying to hurry along...

“May I remind you,” the guard said, “We are the standing authority in Stringhalt...”

“Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah, heard it a million times. Now if you don’t mind, we’re going to go collect that bounty now.”

I heard a stomping of hooves as the griffin turned sideways, showing me down the long, narrow street, outer wall far, far in the distance.

“You will remain here and respect--!”

“C’mon, you’re taking up too much space!” Someone cried out, “Move outta the way!”

“SHADDAP! You buncha mud-soaking skarns! Know your place!” The griffin rolled his shoulders, yanking my head back and forth, and glanced back to the guard. “Respect nothing! You dirt rutters can go back to your Big screw-off and just--”

I crashed into the ground, slammed out of the griffin’s claws. One of the guards had charged, digging his helmet into the bird’s neck, pinning him to the ground with a grinding hoof. The two other guards charged forward, to stop their friend. I fail up to my feet, staring up at the shocked beak of the second captor...

And then a pony, just a face from the crowd, spun around and bucked the second griffin straight in the chest.

~Celestia~

Five til One

When Luna turned up, I thought, I must be dreaming.

I don’t think the feeling’s faded at all.

I watched the Ravens run down the street, into a main passage, sticks in their mouths, bucket helmets on their heads. They just ran through the crowds, beating, bucking, stomping ponies out of the way. A guard ran up, but then they engulfed the scene in smoke, cawing and chanting,

“Fight! Fight! Fight five hours! Fight five days!”

And the people echoed it, repeated it, carried it down the street. Like it was just another rainstorm, a vital piece of news. Some ponies looked at each other, confused, but others... Some pony, just a normal adult, maybe a bit nervous in step and shifting in eyes, bucked a guard.

Am I dreaming? I felt a bit faint, a bit empty in the head. Did I pass out somewhere?

“Look, you made this mess, now fix it!” Pith screamed, somewhere to my side. “Your Ravens have started a panic!”

“My Ravens?” I frowned, staring through the cloud of smoke. “Since when are they my Ravens?” I laugh, hollow, strained, “They didn’t start acting like this until I started acting like you.”

“That pathetic display?! You call that acting like me? Like a leader?!”

“Last I checked, you’re the leader of these boys, Pith...”

Pith tried to force himself into my vision, face contorted, twisted in fury. “I handed control over to you!”

“Well, then you’re a very, very poor decision maker.”

“Big sis...” I felt a nudge on my neck. Luna looked up at me, face still so sad, strange... “I left Discord behind by accident. We gotta go find him.”

“And we will.” I nodded, and turned down another street, world sort’ve tilting to the left a little. No, right... “Let’s go Luna.”

“You can’t just leave!” he screamed. “You witch! I should’ve never helped you in the first place!”

“Since when was this about helping me? I thought it was about using me. Well, there you go.” I nod to the clearing smoke, feeling like I’m about to fall over. The Sickle Ravens had passed, run off. “They’re properly excited now, aren’t they?”

Pith swore as I trotted off, head still spinning, yet so, so blank. I don’t want to think about this situation. I don’t want to think about who’s at fault. I just want to leave. I just. Want. To go. The mantra followed us as we walked. “Fight, five hours!” “Fight, One to Six!” “Riot, five hours!” I closed my eyes, tight, then opened them. Nothing changed.

I don’t understand this place.

~Discord~

One in the Afternoon

I think, maybe, I should be running again?

No, no, its not like I haven't seen this before. The act itself isn’t strange.

It’s just

Ponies surged forward, trampling, stomping on the griffins. Multiple ponies rushed forward to stop, to pull their friends off. Then someone bucked a guard... I watched the back of a griffin’s head bob loosely in a helmet half fallen off its head, jerking back and forth as his body was kicked and beaten. No resistance. Like a doll...

Ponies are capable of this?

I looked away, between the rows and rows of colorful legs, rising and stamping on the concrete, worming around one another. Shouting rising and rising and rising... how could it possibly get any louder than this?

A guard fell beside me, bucking and whinnying as the crowd surged around him as well. A well placed kick dented his breastplate, another knocked his helmet askew...

I think I should run.

I flipped over to my feet, tail close, wings close, body low, finding plenty of shadows to hide under as I wove my way under the legs of the masses. If I can find my way behind a merchant stand again... But where is that? What direction?The streets aren’t that wide, but with everybody crowding together...

The crowd thinned, but that just meant there were more running. Streaming, stampeding in one direction, pitch of their voices rising. They drain into a single side street, almost becoming single file, or two by two. But with all the frightened faces around me, who knows how long this will last, this order...

“Discord.”

Me? I looked around, the single clear word rising from the noise. It’s almost funny to think someone actually meant it as my name. With all of this happening, it was probably used as a well-fitting adjective...

That’s a little...

“Child!”

A pair of purple feet fall into my vision, stomping under a red cloak with a fancy gold trim. Wait. I look up, and it’s Applebark, staring down at me, stern jaw twisted even tighter than normal.

“There you are... No, no, dont go back out there!” Her feet twirled around, tail poking out from the bottom of her cloak, a mix of white and violet. “Come. Follow!”

A call rises from the crowd, echoing down the streets, but instead of passing by, remaining.

“Fight, five hours!” “Rebel, one to six!” “Fight, one to six!”

“Stop standing around, child! We need to go. Now!”


XXVII : One To Six


http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

~Celestia~

 With a goal to reach, I cannot be swayed.

Initially, there were crowds. There’s always crowds here. But these all seemed to move in one direction. Down the slope, stumbling on loose rocks, half trotting, just barely on the brink of a stampede. There were shouts, yelling, the ponies, the zebras, the people carried the mantra with them, jumbled together in one loud, almost unintelligible shout. I could only tell what one was saying when they barreled by, skidding around us.

“Riot, One to Six!” “Rebellion, all night!” “Fights, five hours!” “Rebellion, all night!”

I inched upward, against the current, trying to not get trampled, trying not to force myself too hard, wondering what I’d find beyond those smart enough to flee. Luna clung to the corner of my cloak, and even as I felt her rub against my flank, I constantly checked back for her. Yes, she’s there, looking back at me, eyes still watery, still scared.

What is there, beyond this?

The crowds weren’t thinning, but their pace increased. I tried to stay near a  wall, a building, tried to stay out of the way as ponies brushed by me.  We were coming up to a level square, and a shout rose above the rest.

“PONIES OF STRINGHALT. RISE. REBEL. POWER TO THE RED DAWN. DOWN WITH THE APPLE AUTHORITY. REBELLION, TONIGHT. REBELLION, FOREVER. PONIES OF STRINGHALT. RISE. REBEL”

A unicorn stood atop a palenque, flanked by dozens of creatures in red hoods. His horn glowed a bright green as he shouted, voice magically magnified. Sticks, held aloft by aura or grasped in the mouths of other ponies, flicked back and forth like switches around him, parting the crowd as they passed through the square.

There was a squeal. A guard on the run, helmet and lasso gone, followed by half a dozen cawing colts, the Ravens. A blue unicorn in a red hood smashed the guard over the head with his stick and the Ravens jumped on the fallen pony, yanking at the straps in his armor... Just before the entire scene was shrouded in smoke.

“POWER TO THE RED DAWN. DOWN WITH THE... OH, GREAT, YOU STUPID KIDS AGAIN. NO, HEY, GET OFF! STOP IT! YOU STUPID BRATS!”

I continued upward.

~Discord~

“Applebark, c’mon!”

I looked back, flabbergasted, as Applebark slowly picked her way through the crowds. Earth ponies had begun smashing windows to our right, but most ponies almost shifted back and forth, not running, but not smashing anything either, mumbling to themselves. “Riot.” “Rebellion.”

“I’m sorry, but this is as fast as I go.”

“C’mon, can’t you run?!”

“Inadvisable,” she huffed.

“C’mon... I mean, it must be hard, being, um...” I looked up the hill, then back down at her, “Well, uh, large... But you’re the one who told me to hurry!”

“We do not have very far to go, and I’d prefer to not strain myself...” She gasped as she tried to walk around a group of five or six mares, muttering among themselves. “Oh for goodness sake.”

Again, I wondered.... I darted back to Applebark, and with a flick of my hand, a wall sprung up, pushing a line through the crowd, and, with a jolt in my throat, some ponies were caught halfway through it. They easily pulled themselves out, thank life, the wall was already crumbling like an eggshell. Those around stumbled back, staring at the strange appearance, making a clear path. I banished the illusion and looked up as Applebark passed by me.

“Do not bring attention to yourself, do you want another griffin to come and catch you?”

“I got the ponies out of the way, didn’t I?”

“Yes...” she muttered, looking straight forward. “Now, veil yourself, it’s only just up ahead.”

~Celestia~

The crowds were thinner now, higher in the town, in the richer sections of the city.

It wasn’t a good thing for the crowds to thin. It meant all the sensible ponies had left.

Ponies bucked at doors until they crumpled, rushing inside. Rocks, sticks, lose bits of cobblestone were hurled through the air without abandon. A couple dozen ponies crowded around a stone tower, beating at the door, battering ram improvised out of a city bench. I stepped around bits of fallen glass and broken beams, watching a tan unicorn as he grit his teeth, sending sparks over a torch dipped in pitch. It caught alight, and he held it through a broken window, watching it quietly, head tilted slightly to the left. I walked by a lasso without a guard, thick bag punctured by a file and a knitting needle, a purple liquid nearly dark enough to be black oozing out, rolling down the gentle slope of the street.

There was a screech, and Luna slammed into my leg. An ungodly sound, the call of a hawk in hunt, but louder, echoed, a new mantra to fill the streets. I looked up, and the sky, the white cloud spires, had begun to fill with black specks. Thick bodies raced overhead, griffins, the sound of their wings an ever-increasing gust, a heavy backdrop to their high-pitched screams.

One dove, barreling through a group of ponies, scattering them, heavy bodies slapping sideways into the ground. The griffin rose, body rising and falling like a wave with each beat of its massive wings. It turned, circling, sharp eyes flicking back and forth, looking for another opportunity to strike.

I jumped sideways as a bit of wood tumbled inches from my head, clattering loudly into the ground. I stared at it, making out the vaguely familiar shape. Was it... a wooden sword? It had almost seemed to have dropped straight down. Again, I looked up. Above me, beyond the swell of charging griffins, there was a low hanging spire, maybe a hundred feet above my head, and a griffin was falling from it.

She landed beside me, on all fours, with a heavy ‘thud’. She straightened herself out, shifting and flicking her wings back into place by her side. She was dressed unlike any griffin I had seen before, not in armor, but a loose-fitting piece of gray cloth, baggy folds tucked into a thick sash. A patched cloth was loosely tied around her head, tied back feathers poking out of the top of circling folds.

She looked down at the wooden sword and scooped it up into one of her claws, eyeing me.

“Scuze me, miss,” she muttered, voice gruff, “Young master dropped this.”

And with that, up she flew, vanishing back into the descending spire.

I kept walking, Luna tugging gently at the edge of my cloak.

... Where was I going?

~Discord~

I remember, however brief that time was, when in the Stallion’s tower. It was the nicest place I had ever seen, as well as the most dead quiet place I had ever been in. Objects and paintings staring at me, demanding why I was there, almost accusing. Yeah... it was pretty unpleasant, despite the wealth it showed.

The place Applebark brought me wasn't nearly that quiet. I could still hear the crowds outside, and maybe once or twice some pony in a silk doublet or a pressed apron would run by, hoofbeats muffled on the crushed velvet carpets. So, more noise, and with it, wealth double, maybe triple fold.

Every surface was made of varnished wood, polished to an almost golden brown shine. Yet, that was only the start, because everywhere I looked there was some kind of thick oil painting, or a marble statue, or something coated in gold foil, or something impossibly grand, cluttering and filling the space with an opulent white noise. I think that was a good word for it. Opulent. Like an opal, or an opiate. Something shiny to overwhelm the senses, to drown in. Even the floor itself, something that was supposed to be boring and without distraction, was an infinitely weaving pattern of red, blacks, and browns, a line of carpets tightly pressed together, never allowing itself to end. And it was soft. Fuzzy.

All my life, I’ve had dirt, rocks, sticks, mud, everything underfoot. I had gotten used to them, gotten almost comfortable with being able to feel these things. I can see the appeal of a fuzzy floor, I guess, gentler on your feet. But the lack of things between my toes was a strange feeling, like my feet and hands had gone numb all over again. Or like I was walking along the back of some creature, about to rear up and attack me.

And yet, in a place I felt so... so distanced from, so alien in, I was allowed to walk free. Applebark told me to hide from the rows and rows of guards as the wrought iron gate, but once we passed through the giant double doors of the mansion, she told me I didn't have to hide anymore, and strode off without another word. Now, the passing ponies glanced at me, maybe avoided me, yet never said a word, never screamed or pointed me out.

This place is strange. Very strange.

“Here we are.”

Applebark pushed open another pair of double doors at the end of a hall, opening the way to the largest pile of wealth and clutter. It took me a few looks to even see that it was a study, and not some sort of poorly guarded vault. Every surface was patterned in fine wood and gold, no cloth left simple or plain, no surface of the wall not coated in overlarge, complex tapestries. Trees with faces as leaves. Battles between great beasts and alicorns. The banner of the city, stitched to a whole new level of complexity, hung off a balcony rail, behind a grand oaken desk, nearly clean besides a few leaves of carefully stacked paper and half a dozen whirring knickknacks. Applebark ascended a brief staircase, railing and base of each step carved into swirls, pressing into my palms, almost sharp with disuse, sticky from the varnish.

On the balcony, the loft or whatever you would care to call it, stood a heavyset Earth stallion, cream colored with faded red and green mane and beard. His thick body hinted at a musculature that had passed him by, and his thicker golden necklaces and armbands clinked each time he took a breath. Across his flank was a single apple, bright red, and adorned with a single silver sparkle.

This stallion peered out of a little golden telescope down into the streets, staring out two huge, thrown open windows, flanked by heavy purple and gold curtain.

“Ah, there it is again... ” he muttered to himself.

“Apple,” Applebark said clearly, stepping forward, “I’ve brought the escapee.”

Apple, Big Apple, as I heard some ponies call him. Head of the city. He turned and looked right at me, face stiff as Applebark’s. He turned to her, bushy eyebrows raised.

“You mean the Element?”

“I...” Applebark made a small choking sound. “I wasn’t going to admit to that knowledge, Apple.”

“Ah, I see.” He shrugged, and trotted past me, jingling like a bag of bits. “Well, now that we’re done tiptoeing around that issue, let’s get down to business!”

~Celestia~

I don’t know why we were here, or why I agreed to do this, but here we were. I poked my head around the corner, staring at the sky. No griffins right now, though I could still hear them screeching, all around us. I hoisted my sister onto a low roof and she immediately began to make her element glow, shooting a beam upward, fading before it hit the clouds. A beacon. For Discord, of course but... Who, what else would come for it?

It wasn’t even five minutes before a griffin landed right beside her. I scrambled against the stone, trying desperately to look over the ledge.

“Luna! Luna, get back here, please!”

“Just what do you think you’re doing, little skarn?!” The griffin barked. Luna’s light instantly vanished. “You sending a signal to your rebel friends, huh?! Tellin’ them to...!”

“Mr. Griffin!” Luna snapped, “My friend is lost and all alone out in the riots! I just wanna find him, and this is the only way I know how!” There was a tiny, tiny sound, her hoof being stomped against the stones, a small flash of blue. “I’m not doing anything wrong, and you’re being a jerk for stopping me!”

There was a flutter of feathers, the griffin shifting his wings. I pictured him, just smacking my sister. Oh, why did she have to be so direct...! I scrambled against the wall, trying to look up again, teetering on the precarious stack of barrels...

“Well uh.” He snorted. “If those rebels do turn up, you’re in big friggin trouble, missy, you got me?! We got this city surrounded, so no way we’ll miss ‘em...” Another loud flap of his wings, “But right now, I got better things to do than listen to some snot nosed dirt rutter!”

I jumped up against the wall again, finally able to peer over. Luna was firmly on her feet, alone, and shining the light into the sky.

~Discord~

“You’re quite the little troublemaker, you know that, boy?”

“Always have been, um, sir.” I frowned, staring sideways a little left to Big Apple’s head. How do I treat this situation? This is the man who technically imprisoned me, imprisoned Luna and made her all funny in the head... But I don’t know, he seems a little funny in the head too. Not the stallion I was expecting. “You know...” I said slowly as Applebark hovered a dark wooden box, carefully carved and gilded, in front of Big Apple. “I already kinda knew you guys knew it was an Element.”

“You see?” Big Apple looked up at his... assistant? Advisor? “Now he admits to what it is.”

“He could just be clinging to whatever we tell him it is, Apple.” Appplebark sighed, letting the box fall with a ‘clack.’ “We were going to let him name it himself, remember? Now he could just be conforming to our expectations.”

“True, but... Technically we work against the Elements, don’t we?” Big Apple grinned at me, teeth straight and white. “So, boy, you willing to keep calling it an Element?”

“Can I just have it back please?”

“Not quite.”

“Why?” I demanded, “It’s mine.”

“Oh, if we know one thing for certain, it’s that this isn’t yours.” Big Apple nudged open the box with a heavy hoof. “See, we got a message a few weeks back...”

“He doesn’t need to know that, Apple!” Applebark snapped. Big Apple rolled his eyes and slapped her flank with a flick of his tail.

“Always cutting me off, this woman.” He chuckled and patted her on the shoulder, pulling the cloth askew. “Easy does it Applebark, you’ve had far more than enough excitement today. Think of your health.”

She snorted and magically straightened her cloak.

“Ah, and I forgot what I was going to say! Anyway.” He dipped his snout into the box, and pulled out a golden band, all too familiar. He held it carefully between his teeth, setting it on the desk in front of him as he pushed away the box. A dozen ways to just grab it flitted through my mind, a dozens reasons why I should and shouldn’t just take it and run.

“Darndest thing,” Apple laughed. “Tried to activate it, examine it through hundreds of different spells, and not one unicorn came close to figuring out what it does. Couldn’t even manage to put a scratch on it, and believe you me, some of those unicorns stomped pretty dang hard! Powerful, powerful little thing you stole, boy.” He smiled, warm, almost proud. So... he didn’t work for the Shadow Stallion...? “Could be an Element, could not be. But let’s just work in hypotheticals here.” He nudged the necklace towards me. “Assuming this is one of the Elements, then that makes you an honorable little colt, doesn’t it?”

“I um...” my hand hovered over the necklace, then carefully scooped it up. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“But it’s not honesty, Apple...”

“Right, right... but a good kid, if it’s activated like this. So, show me. No creature can use an Element but its owner...” He frowned, then looked back to Applebark, “Right?”

Yes, Apple.”

“Yeah, so if you can use it, then that must mean something.” There was a pause as Applebark quietly rubbed a hoof into her forehead, Big Apple watching me expectantly. With a wave of his hoof, “Well, you going to activate it or not, boy?”

“Oh!” I pecked the back with the tip of my claw, then focused on it, gently easing my magic through... And a burst of silver light popped from the necklace. I smiled and pulled it back around my neck, finally feeling comfortable again, even as the cold metal stung across the cuts on the back of my neck.

“Excellent!” Apple exclaimed, “So that proves it’s an Element, right, dear?”

Applebark continued to rub a hoof into her brow “Well it... helps, I suppose.”

“Oh, Applebark, stop being a skeptic!” Big Apple laughed, “There are no lies here! We’re all honorable ponies, right?”

“So um...” I eased out of the too-soft chair onto the too-soft floor, “I’m gonna get going now, thanks for returning this to me!”

“Oh, no, no you don’t!” Big Apple snapped. Then he frowned, off in thought. “Well, yes, you can go, but hang on just one moment!”

“We can’t just let him go, Apple...” Applebark mumbled as Big Apple shuffled through the contents of his cleanly cluttered desk.

“Not at all! Not without this!” He scrawled a note on a scrap of parchment and stamped his seal on the bottom, nudging it towards me. “Here you are, boy! Soon as this kerfuffle clears up, head to this address. The ponies there can help direct you to where you need to go next.”

“I’ll need my um...” I take the note... but... Kerfuffle? The riots...? “My cloak, as well.”

“Right, right.” Big Apple waved a hoof at me, dismissive. “Just ask one of the servants to lead you to acquisitions. We probably didn’t throw it out.”

“Apple...” Applebark said slowly, as if speaking to a child. “We can’t just send him on his way. We need the Element to keep the peace, to clear the rebellious shadows from the city, and purify the hearts of the people.”

“Wait, what?” I stared down at the silver bangle, listening to it click as I shifted, “It can do all that?”

“Oh, there are legends and such... Boring lessons, those were. But if I know anything, I know Equestria needs the Elements, Applebark. Not just this city.” He flicked both hooves at me, suddenly... bored with all of this. “Now hurry along, boy. See you after you’ve saved the world and such!”

~Celestia~

I sat quietly by the building as Luna continued to shine her light upward. I don’t know how she managed it for so long. She was up all night... and I don’t think we had ever had a day filled with this much turmoil. Not even our escape from Canterbury was this hectic. Yet there she sat, Element perched on the tip of her nose, shining her light into the sky.

And I wasn’t the only one to stood below her. It was like all the ponies who had come to loot or smash the buildings around up were snared by that light, only watching it, or looking between each other before trotting off, trotting away. The crowds grew thinner as the streets began to dim into sunset, and though I could still hear shouting, screeching in the distance, there was very little going on around us.

And then Discord’s silver light appeared on the crest of the hill.

Luna wasted no time. She slid down the wall, landing, then tumbling off a pile of barrels, barely getting to her feet before she ran off, between the legs of the little flock she had gathered. I followed in her wake, watching the Element as it glowed brighter and brighter, silver light in the distance getting closer and closer. Five streets, three, one block...

Luna slammed into Discord, knocking him down, instantly breaking his feeble cloaked pony illusion. She hugged him around the middle, digging her snout into his stomach as her light appeared and disappeared beneath his fur, his own element still glowing bright. I awkwardly wrapped my forelegs around the tumbling pair, dropping to my knees as Discord shouted a dozen jumbled comforts. Laughing, crying, who knows.

I just hugged as tight as I possibly could.


XXVIII : Luna

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 28

The Grey Potter

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

~Luna~

Things were so quiet now. I lost my place somewhere, and now I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know this city, its streets. The sky was too bright for it to be sunsetting, and everywhere, there were strangers. Dangerous ponies, streaming away until everything was quiet, leaving behind all the broken things. Glass, wood... an overturned dairy cart spilled milk down the streets, rivers flowing through all the little criss-crossing cobblestone cracks. We were going down the hill, I knew that. But I didn’t know if we were leaving or going or arriving or nothing.

I snuggled tighter against my sister’s leg, still refusing to let go of her cloak, even as it got soaked and yucky from my spit. I don’t want to lose her again, not her, and not Discord either, I guess, but he kept moving away when I got close... Even though that was my place, snug by both of their sides.

“Luna, don’t walk so close,” big sis laughed, nervous, “You’re going to make me trip.”

“I dun wanna ge’ losht.”

“Ha, don’t have to worry about that,” Discord chimed in, “Heck if we’re going to let that happen.”

Yes, they weren’t going to let it happen. They’re both really smart and stuff, since they both found me so easily in the huge city. They always make sure we’re all back together in the end. But I really, really didn’t want to let go. I’d fall of the world, if I did. Just fly away and never be seen again.

I held back a yawn, air escaping through my back teeth and I continued to cling on tightly, shoving my face into the cloth. This day had way, way too many hours.

“Where’re we goin....?”

“Out of this horrible, horrible city, thank goodness.”

“Yeah,” there was a crinkle of paper as Discord spoke. “The address big Apple wants us to go to is a few towns away, so...”

“I don’t think we should head there, Discord,” Celestia said in her ‘delicate matters’ voice. “I don’t trust the pony. He works for the Stallion, this city is a mess because of him...”

“I dunno... I met with him, and he made it pretty darn clear that he was on our side!”

“Yes, he told you...”

“Hey, he had me ‘in his clutches’, couldn’t he have grabbed me and sent me back to Canterbury right then? And he knew I stole the element. Doesn’t that count for something?”

“Discord...!”

“No more fighting!” I squealed, neck snapping back. “No fighting!”

I gasped up to the sky. Where was the cloak?! It fell out! I stumbled forward and stuffed it back in my mouth before I fall off the world, clutching it tightly. Don’t disappear, don’t vanish, I’m here, we’re together again, no one’s going anywhere...

“R-right...” my sister said, somewhere right beside me. “Discord, really, it is wonderful to see you again. To see both of you safe.”

“Yeah, this city is, was freaking horrible. Let’s just get out of here, fast as we can. We can figure out where we’re going later, after some food, and some sleep.”

“Yes. Definitely.”

So they walked, me in tow. The slopes evened out, the roads became covered in petals again, sweet and white, stuck together in the mud. Flowers and grass sprouted from the cracks in the stone, smashed flat by the cart wheels, by pony feet.

“Oh, no,” Celestia moaned, “I just remembered...”

“Remembered what?” Discord asked.

“It’s going to stink for miles, if the wind is blowing with us.”

“What? Oh... the garbage.” Discord paused, making an irritated thinky noise. “Well we can’t spend the night here.”

“Oh, definitely not, definitely not... Horsefeathers, we didn’t manage to make any money either!” More whines, more irritated thinky noises. “Oh well... it’s grass and grass alone until we reach the next town.”

“Uhg.”

“Yes. Bit bland, but I suppose we’ll manage. Well. Well, Well um. Here we go!” Celestia took a deep breath as we passed through the city gate, or what I think was the city gate. There was a sudden wooden beam in the road, and then everything became really, really stinky. Her pace quickened. I stumbled to keep up with her, tugging at her cloak. When she broke into a run, I cried out, pulled her back, cloak taught in my mouth.

“Don’ lea’f me, don' lemme go!”

“GASP! What, Luna?” She looked back over the tight red cloth. Shock, then disgust. “Oh, ewwww.” She sneezed and tried to plug her nose, garbage ditches dipping on either side of the nearly empty road. “Come on Luna, let go!”

“Noooo.... noooooooo.”

“Well... let’s at least hurry, please!

We hurried up another steady slope, rising into the forests... a different forest, a different road. We weren’t going back south again... Now I really, really felt lost, like falling off into space. But I didn’t quite feeling like asking where we were going. Celestia and Discord are smart, they know stuff I don’t...

Before the city became lost among the trees, I looked back at the walls, the impossibly huge white dome, orange glowing through the cracks in the cloud cover. Sunset with unclouded sunlight, way, way too bright.

~Θ~

I slept close to my sister again last night. Her cloak was my blanket and I was her pillow. That’s where I wanted to be, that’s where I belonged. I missed the woods, the dead leaves. The stray grasses I could nibble on and Celestia right here beside me. Discord vanishing in the middle of the night and crickets going crazy. I didn’t need to sleep, I had all of this to keep me safe. And every time I would nod off, lose feeling of Celestia beside me... Then, in my head, I was gone, lost forever, in the--

“Morning Luna.”

I yanked myself awake, feeling the back of my head slam into something hot, something hard. Slowly, Celestia rose away, yowling.

“Auuuu.... Luna?!”

“Crap!” Discord pushed his face through the grass, eyes wide. “Were you actually asleep?”

“I um... Celestia?” I twisted myself around, trying to see my sister. She clutched her snout, face all twisted up as she rubbed it with her fetlock. “A-are you...”

Ow Luna,” she hissed, “I’dve gotten off of you if you asked, didn’t have to hit me...”

“N-no I...” I stammered, squirming closer to her. “I’m okay with you sleeping on me, really!”

“I just startled her, that’s all...!” Discord piped up, easing around the little grass clearing. Celestia inhaled sharply, lowering her leg. She squinted up at the sky, still well before dawn.

“What time is it...?”

“I dunno... Sun’s not up yet.”

“You’d think the city wouldn’t throw off our clocks that badly,” Discord chuckled through a mouthful of something.

“You guys...” Celestia sighed, “You’re such early risers...”

“You can go back to bed, Celestia, I don’t mind!” I snuggled up even closer, trying to find her warmth again... She shifted away. Why? Whyyyyyyyyyyy

“A few days in the city, and we’re back to my old name, huh...” she laughed lightly. “Well I guess...”

“Sorry, Tia!” I blurted, “Big sis, you can go back to sleep!”

“No, I think I’m...” She stood up, and I shot to her legs, hugging them tight. “Uh, Luna...?”

“You um.” My mouth moved, but my words were blank. They didn’t exist. “You haven't combed my hair in ages, big sis.”

“And your hair is becoming quite a mess as well!” she laughed again. I didn’t like that laugh. She was gonna stand up again, out of my reach. “Lemme just, well, take care of some morning things, and then we’ll get you cleaned up.” She tried to pull her leg out of my grip, and I clung tighter. She stared down at me. “Luna...? I kind of got to go...”

“No.”

“Luna, I really, really have to go...”

“You don’t have to go!”

“What...? Oh, I mean go to the bathroom, Luna! I don’t not have to... do that?” she laughed again... “Goodness, it’s early...”

“Well... Be quick, okay?”

“Of course, Luna.”

I watched her go, my necklace tangled in the back of my mane, almost like it was biting at my hair. she could get hurt, walking around in the dark. She doesn’t have the vision I do... A light, her light popped on, between the trees. But that didn’t matter at all.

“Hey Luna?” Discord edged his way into my vision, obscured without my magic to make it lighter.. “You doing alright?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You sure?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Um...” He held up the little oat bag. “Blueberry?”

“No thanks.”

“You seriously don’t seem like you’re doing alright.”

“Celestia might get lost.”

Discord looked into the tree cover, then back at me.

“She’s just a few yards away, Luna.”

“But she’s taking really, really long...”

“I’m FINE, Luna!” Celestia shouted back. “Just, um, this may take a bit...okay?”

I didn’t reply, staring at that little light, making sure it didn’t disappear. Celestia doesn’t have an element, if she were to get kidnapped and disappear... How would we find her?! I felt my face go tight and--

“Luna!” Discord put his hands on my shoulders, “She’s just taking a dump!”

“Discord!” Celestia squealed, “She understands that!”

“But,” I said, very, very quiet, “what if she falls down a hole or something...”

“She’s right there, Luna.”

I shook myself out of his hands, staring into the trees. If one little thing went wrong, I’d be there, in a flash! I didn’t need anything to hold me down!

“Luna...” Discord said, “are you sure you’re doing alright?”

“Uh-huh!”

“That um... what happened yesterday, it’s still not bothering you, is it?”

No.”

“You really really sure?”

Yes.” I think I coughed or hiccuped, “He’s dead and that’s all there is to it.”

“Who’s dead...?” Celestia wandered out from behind the trees, and I immediately ran to her side, snuggling against her legs. “Luna! Did something horrible happen in that city?!”

“No. Just a dumb school.”

Things were really quiet for a moment, except for really loud crickets and chirpy pre-morning birds.

“Luna...?”

“Comb my haaaaiiir!” I whined, “I really really missed you combing my mane...”

“Well... alright...”

We sat down, in silence as the day slowly grew a little brighter. Celestia tugged at my mane, carefully teasing out the knots, pulling a little too hard, pulling out my hair. It was comfortable to feel her there, feel her steady my head with her ankle, tugging the brush with her magic. It didn’t matter that no one was talking. This was okay. I reached forward for a small bite of grass, but I wasn’t hungry, so I just gnawed and gnawed on it, turning and twisting it in my mouth.

At the school,” Discord said suddenly, voice rising. “Luna was told that her father was coming to pick her up.”

“Really?” The combing stopped. “He was in the city?”

“No, it was clearly a lie. I um...” suddenly, he faltered. There was a shifting sound as he repositioned himself. “I told her, and am telling you now, that I am um, very, very certain, to say, that your parents are dead. HOWEVER. I think it’s what’s upsetting Luna. She got so--”

“I’m not upset,” I snapped. He made the combing stop! “And I told you I knew already, so it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, he just left...”

“Luna... He didn’t just leave...” Celestia stood up, floated her bags to herself as I scrambled for her legs. “Goodness... I hardly remember him myself, but, he wasn’t the kind of pony who would abandon us.” She looked down at me, “Is that what you think he did?”

“I dunno what he did and I don’t care.” I rubbed my face into her fetlocks, holding her in place. “Big sis, you didn’t finish combing my hair.”

I listened to my sister breathe. The grass rustle and snap as Discord skittered off somewhere, I don’t care. I felt the straps of my bags settle on my back, soft tinkling of my sisters magic tying them in place.

“Do you want to hear a few stories, Luna? Would knowing a bit more make you feel better?”

“No.” I said quietly.

“Not even one? How about something fun? Did I ever tell you about the I snuck an alley cat into the house?”

I relaxed my grip a little, staring at my own feet. The same color as his feet...

“Okay, maybe one.”


XXIX : Parents

The Steadfast Sky : Parents

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

~Celestia~

“So... when I was little, before you were born, I was walking home from school and I found this cat on the street. I brought him home, thinking I could hide him, but,” I chuckled. “His paws were dirty, and he was leaving tracks everywhere! I tried to get some water to wash him, but that only made things worse, running around the house, hissing...! Oh, mother was throwing a fit, but father!” I laughed aloud. “The look on his face! He picked up a broom and shooed the little thing out!”

Luna leaned against me as we walked, dragging her hooves and kicking up the sandy dirt of the road. Why wasn’t she saying anything...?

“Luna?”

“That story didn’t really have to do with dad,” she said, kicking at a pebble.

“Sorry?”

“He only came in at the end. You just told me a story about you bringing home a cat.”

“Well, um...” I tried to picture the scene in my head. I could see father, how he moved and acted. It certainly seemed about him to me... I nudged my sister’s head, a smile to encourage her own. You can do it, Celestia! Your sister needs you! “Let me see if I can describe it for you.”

~¤~

Mother leaned over the railing, red hair frazzled, sparkling shawl askew. She flicked her hoof, almost afraid of the little mudball ten feet below her. “Get it, dear!” she almost spat. “Get it! Get rid of it!” I looked through the railings beside her, staring down at the poor little kitty, its fur still wet with layers of mud and the soap that was supposed to clean it.

Father, tense, jaw squared under his perfectly coiffed blue mane, eased sideways, broom held aloft in his aura. He didn’t mind the mud from the floor, even though it scuffed his perfectly polished hooves. He had a purpose, and nothing swayed a stallion of his composure. He lowered the broom’s straw end, and lightly swiped it forward, nudging the cat, making it tumble sideways a few steps.. The cat looked almost indignant. Yes, thats what that cat’s face was like. Irritated and downright offended! But Father nudged it again, forcing it to stumble even closer to the door.

The cat hissed, looked like it was going to pounce! Arched its back and everything, hair on end. “Look out, father!” I remember shouting that. He didn’t look up at me, I think, and then he just bonked the little cat on the head! It hissed again, but he wasn’t afraid as he swept it right out the door, slamming it right shut.

One of the maids, um... Gab? Gab brought out a bucket to wipe up the mud, but father shook his head. “Celly, get down here and clean up this mess.” So, I cleaned up all of the floors... and it hurt, mind, I wasn’t used to cleaning. But afterwards, he gave me a cup of ice cream!

~¤~

“Is that a bit better, Luna?”

My sister frowned at the ground... angry? Was that better or worse than sad?

“Luna...?”

“Why would mom act like that?” she asked, so suddenly, kicking up a puff of dirt.

“Hm?”

“She was scared of a little cat?”

“Well, no,” I laughed, up at the clouded over sky, “I suppose she was more afraid of getting mud on her fancy dresses!”

“Really? Is that what mother was like?”

“Hm...” I let us walk a bit longer while I combed it over in my mind. “ You know, I actually didn’t see much of mom. But don’t fret! Let me try to tell a story about her.”

~¤~

Orange. Mom was dressed in this kind of poofy dress, and the light going through it made the floors orange. I don’t know why, but I found it fascinating. I tried to fiddle with the cloth, tried to make it light different areas. I think I thought it was a mirror, and I could direct its light...? I’m not certain, I remember I was very little at the time.

“No no, Celestia. Mother can’t play now. Mother’s getting ready for ___!” I’m sorry, for all the life in me, I can’t remember what she had to go to. She was a socialite, you see, she had a lot of fancy parties and such.

Anyway, she’d step lightly around me, trying to tug the cloth from under my hooves “No, no, Celestia. You’ll tear the material!” She had a really sharp voice... no, a very practiced voice. Fine, and clear, specific and enunciated. It was... like our crystal glasses, you remember those? Glittering, detailed and specifically carved. That’s how mother felt.

“Honey. Honey Dough.” She would always call for the nanny in a very specific way, and it was always my cue to hold on tightly to her. But I’d be pried away, “Celestia, be good for the nanny, mother will play later.”

~¤~

“Why would mom do that?” Luna snapped me out of my daydream. I fumbled with a few more words and... Oh, she had such an angry look on her face... Was it something I said? I floundered with words for a moment, crippled. Such anger...

“Well... well, well she hired a nanny to take care of me, so I wouldn’t always be under her feet. I mean... Mother was always so sweet when we were together.”

“She sounds stupid.”

“Luna!” I snapped.

“She sounds like she didn’t care about you at all.”

“ No...!” Luna, are you hurting this much? Goodness gracious... “No, she was very nice! Let me tell you a better story.”

~¤~

Every year, the Halls... you remember the Halls, right? Well, they would always throw an absolutely splendid Hearth’s Warming Eve party. But it was, well, an adult party. The kind where everyone stands around with drinks hovering at their sides, talking about things I didn’t care for. The kind where none of the hors d'oeuvres looked like something a child would like to eat. Like celery sticks without peanut butter, and desserts made without sugar. Where you have to wear a fancy saddle dress, even though it itches and doesn’t let you run around without tripping. And the Halls themselves, well, they didn’t have young kids anymore, only older stallions. So they didn’t think to have a play area for the younger children that attended. Not that many of these parties had a proper play area anyway... I think only one party I ever attended ever did... Nevermind, I’m getting off track.

When I complained to mother, she asked me to walk beside her and talk to the guests. She would introduce me, and tell me to say hello, proper and ladylike. The other guests asked me questions, the same questions, over and over, and I answered over and over, bowing and curtseying all the time. Lots of ponies complimented me on how polite I was, and mom left early, long before sunset, to buy me a piece of cake on the way home, because I had been a proper lady. She was very, very proud of me.

~¤~

“Well?” I smiled. I remembered this being a good memory, though all the details blur together. The party, mother, the faces of the guests... Was father even at that party? It wouldn’t make sense for him not to be, but... Such a warm, wonderful memory. Even in that horrible city, there could be some wonderful, gentle times.

“Maybe I’m missing something.” Luna sighed, my cue to remember how bad I was at this. “I’m not getting a good picture of mom...”

I laughed lightly. “Maybe I’m just bad at picking these stories...”

And then, another silence fell between us. I stared up at the clouds, the leaves that blocked out what little light there already was. There must be some story I can tell. Something, anything... finally, Luna spoke up, demand clear.

“Can you tell me about dad again?”

“Alright!” I wracked my brain, trying to find a good one. “Let me see...”

~¤~

I remember lying on the library floor, flipping very, very carefully through my favorite storybook, trying to not tear the pages, trying to not disturb the gold foil, already starting to crack and flake. Father sat behind his massive desk, in a cushiony leather armchair. I remember trying to crawl up onto it... not then, I mean, another time entirely. He, and the chair, they smelled like his cologne. Even when he didn’t leave the house all day, he always put on his cologne. It was always really heavy. Kind of sour, but floral, underneath it all.

Now, his desk. You wouldn’t remember, they took it away almost immediately. But his desk, the bottom half of the front board wasn’t all the way there, leaving a gap just above the floor. I don’t really know why, but I remember being able to crawl under it.

Back to that day, I nudged the book ahead of me as I scrawled under that gap. My father’s pen was scratching away, and on a quieter level, the light tinkling sound of his aura, something so difficult to hear unless it’s quiet... I pushed the book between father’s hind feet, placed firmly on the ground as he sat in his armchair. They lifted, so slightly, as his body shifted to look down at me, forehooves still on the desk.

“Father, I don’t know a word.” And he asked which one, so I pointed.

“That’s ‘star’.”

“Oh. And this one?”

“Playful.”

“That one?”

“Friend.”

“That one?”

“Celly, do you need me to teach you how to read?”

“No, I know how.”

“Do you?”

“I know how.”

Then, he got up. The chair scraped backwards, I remember it being very loud. His aura picked up the book and he told me if I wanted to learn, it was far too advanced for me. He gave me a different book, a smaller book with flat colors painted on the cover. He told me to recite my ABC’s while I looked at it.

~¤~

She sighed. Such a small little sigh, trying to hide her exasperation certainly! Recover, Big Sis!

“Oh! And when you were born!”

~¤~

Father had told me that it was very, very quiet time, and I was supposed to stay in my room until I was called. I could hear strange voices in the hallway, hooves I didn't recognize beating up and down the stairs, and I couldn’t help myself. I kept poking my head out the door, only to be shooed back in. “We don’t want you caught underhoof!” But being alone in my room almost felt like a punishment.

The next thing I know, I was in father’s office again, reading books as he--

~¤~

“What was I like when I was born?”

“What?” Well that was sudden! I didn’t even have time to get to the good part...

“What did you think of me, like, the first thing?”

“Well... Oh!” I laughed, suddenly struck by a memory, clear and perfect. “Oh my goodness, such a funny little thing!”

~¤~

Things were really quiet as we walked down the hallway. A strange pony, one I had never seen before with a doctor’s cutie mark passed by my father, nodding his greeting. We entered what was going to eventually be your room... but back then, it was more of a secondary tea room, or drawing room. Though it was still day out, the room was filled with light from four or five lamps, and it smelled like them, like hot copper and milk.

Mom was splayed out on the couch, that same ratty old thing that was in our drawing room. Her hair was tangled, brow sweaty, but talking with one of the maids, I don’t even know if she saw me come in. She was flopped on her side, tummy still bloated, udders popped out and round. I remember that clearly, because it looked so strange to me. I wasn’t used to seeing my mother like that, with strange bulges hanging off of her... I felt like I was staring, and I knew staring was bad, especially with mother in such a... a bizarre state. So I tried to find something else to look at...

And there you were, on the other side of the room. Just a little blue ball of ruffled fur, hardly a mane to speak of, eyes wide as you stared at the world around you. You always had such wide eyes when you were little, like you were constantly shocked. While I watched, you struggling to your feet. Honey was urging you to stand, to walk.

“So missus, what do you think you’ll name the little bundle of joy?”

“Oh... it’s a girl, right?”

“Yes, missus.”

“We decided on Luna then, right father?”

I don’t think I quite understood what was going on, as father walked past me. I was just watching you, walking back to you, stumbling towards Honey and staring at your feet as if you didn’t expect them to work, and were just so surprised when they did. Your legs were held too wide, and you kept slowly slipping back down to the floor, onto your stomach.

“Come here, Luna. Just walk a little bit more.” You stumbled forward a bit, stood still, and slipped back down again.

“Should it take this long, Honey?” Mom’s voice drifted from the other side of the couch, “Celestia stood just fine in the first five minutes.”

“Some foals take longer than others,” Honey replied, voice tired, “Don’t worry, missus. She’s a healthy one, your Luna.”

I walked right up to you then, I don’t think you even noticed, so alarmed by your own feet. You smelled like talcum powder, I think you had been washed. Honey Dough was saying a few more things, like ‘isn’t she cute, Celestia? that’s your little sister, Luna!’ You fell down again, and your hoof bumped against mine. Really soft, really warm.

Now, I have no idea what was going on in my head at the time, no idea.

But I picked you right up, scooped you in between my forelegs best I could, and dragged you over to mother, like a particularly large doll. I clung to you, warm and soft against my body, and stared up at my mother, my father, the maid...

“I’m keeping her,” I declared.

~¤~

“And then, everyone just started laughing!”

“They laughed?!” Luna stared up at me, eyes wide, maybe a hint of a smile on her face!

“I have no idea why!” I laughed along with the memory. “I didn’t know where you had come from, barely knew what you were! I don’t know, maybe I thought you were some sort of toy?! But goodness...” I slowed down a bit, trying to collect myself. “You were a lovely little foal. Rather adorable!”

“Was I really, really little?”

“Really, really little.”

And there she returned to a frown. But more of a puzzled frown, no longer quite so upset.

“I don’t remember this at all...” she said, “What was I like back then?”

“Well...”


XXX : Sisters

The Steadfast Sky : Sisters

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

~Luna~

I’m not certain how much time had passed, but I remember what your cradle looked like. It was fine, made out of wood, carvings almost flowing onto the rocking legs. The headboard rose, well, over your head, and there was a little mobile that swung above you, with little wooden stars, all painted a bright yellow.

It was just big enough so that I could place my hooves on the lip and tilt it over to take a look. You were always resting on your stomach, among dozens and dozens of white ruffles, your adorable little baby outfits. But when I tilted the cradle, you’d topple into the side. Then you’d try to stand again, and oh, I couldn’t get over how adorable you looked.

So, mother and father, they--

~Θ~

“Did you play with me a lot?”

“Huh?”

Big sis keeps getting so lost off in la-la land, sometimes she forgets the stinkin’ point of the story! I asked her to describe me when I was little, and she wants to make it about mom and dad... Well, I guess I thought that would make me feel better, hearing about them. But... It always feels like she’s talking about two strangers, so, um, in-ta-mentally. When she finally started talking about me, things just felt a little bit more in place. You know? I try to explain it to her slowly.

“So, I had a nanny.”

“Yes, Honey Bun, who--”

“But you played with me a lot too, right? I mean, I think my earliest memory is playing with you!”

“Oh?” Celestia’s been scrolling through some really weird faces today, but I think dumbfounded surprise suits her nicely. “Really?”

I nodded so hard my head kinda hurt.

“Yeah!”

~Θ~

So, I was really, really little, and my memory doesn’t really work all that well back then, so I don’t know how I came here or what happened after. But I remember that I had a tiny piano, painted bright blue. I remember the blue, like, a sky blue, my hair blue. I could see the wood under me, or I can see it now, in my head.

But I remember staring at that box thing, and wondering, what the heck is this? Somehow, I knew it could make sounds. It was a soundmaking box. Maybe Honey had tapped a few keys to show me, I don’t know. All I knew was that it was weird and a mystery.

I think I kicked the top a few times, then started placing my stuffed animals on it. One tumbled off, and it made the noise! So I shoved more up there, trying to get it to happen again.

Then you were there, just out of nowhere. I dunno, I’m pretty sure you walked in, but I wasn’t paying attention to things like that, I was really, really little. So, you picked up Tottering Trottingham...

~Θ~

“Oh, right!” Celestia interrupted, “Yes, I remember this!”

~¤~

So there you were, flopped on top of that little blue piano. Your toys were hovering all over the room as you tried to ease them, or force them beside you, sliding them around and knocking them all over the place. You were whinnying, a high pitched whinny, kicking your legs and tearing at the fabric of your dress, even through your little booties.

“Wassa matter, woona?” I remember Honey speaking just like this. It was the proper way to talk to you. “Wassa matter?”

You squealed, pushed some more of your toys off the piano, then tried to place more on.

“Wassa matter?”

“Guh!”

“Wassa matter?”

“Guwauh!”

“No, no, silly woona, that’s not how you play piano!”

You beat your little booties against the piano top as I picked up a random toy, one I thought wouldn’t upset you. You were very clingy back then, to almost anything you could get your teeth around. And Tottering Trottingham used to be mine, so... anyway.

“See, Woona? Watch Tot-tot!”

“Aoup-Auop!”

“Yes, bwah-bwah! Watch what he does!”

Then, I made Trottingham place his little hooves on the keys. The second I did, you squealed, really loud. I almost thought you’d start crying, or... maybe I didn’t, because I hit the keys again, and you laughed!

You spun around on your stomach, leaning over the keys... goodness, I can almost remember what your breathing sounded like. Almost like you had a fever, or your nose was stuffed up. Anyway, I played a few more keys, and you laughed again, and began bashing your hooves into them.

~Θ~

“I wouldn’t call the sounds music, but...”

“I would!” I shouted, “That sound was beautiful, amazing! We made a really great song together!”

“Really?” Celestia chuckled.

“Now tell me another one!”

And then she was puzzled... such strange faces today!

“Another what?”

“Another story from when I was really, really little!” Duh!

“Hm... oh! Oh, I’ve got a good one!”

~¤~

“Goodness, Woona, look at all this hay on your head!”

You looked up at me from your highchair, face the most foalish perplexity I had ever seen. Dribble was running down your bib as I stood over you, propped up by a stool. Hay was indeed on your head, spilling down your face and sticking in your mane. And you had no idea why it was there.

“Woona, what are you doing with all this hay on your head?!” I dropped another aura-full on the crest of your mane. You looked up,  and hay spilled down your back. You babbled, not excited or scared, but confused, horn lighting up on instinct.

“Goodness, Woona, look at all this hay! Aren’t you going to eat it?!”

You tilted back a little more, then forward. Hay tumbled down from your head, and your eyes grew a little wider. Your aura lit up around the straws, and with an excited squeal, you blasted the hay all around the kitchen.

~Θ~

“Goodness, I thought I was going to get in so much trouble for making a mess...”

“Then why’d you put that hay on my head?!”

“I don’t know! I was little, I thought it was funny!”

“What’s funny about it?”

“Well...” Celestia stumbled, smile growing a little wider. “It’s cute, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, I guess the story’s pretty cute...” I almost want to stop, but keep going, right as another question pops to mind. “Why didn’t I hear this before?”

Celestia shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s just a little random story.”

“Hm... Hey! I just thought of something.”

“What?”

~Θ~

Once, a really, really long time ago, again, I remember being really, really scared of the dark. I couldn’t see through it, and--

~Θ~

“Strange to think of,” Celestia said idly, “There was a time when you were afraid of the dark.”

“Lemme finiiish!”

~Θ~

So, anyway, I was buried under the covers. I tried only sticking my snout out to breathe, but the blankets kept slipping down... and then, I saw my piggy bank, on the top of my dresser. I had convinced myself it was moving, dancing around and doing somersaults, like a little pony clown.

I was terrified. I couldn’t look away. And I couldn’t move, or else it would see me. And who knows what it would do! So I was getting more and more and more terrified...

Then I just burst right out of those blankets and charged right out of my room. There were weird shadow shapes everywhere, and I didn’t know where to go. But I knew that if I ran to your room, I’d be safe! I didn’t think to go to my parents, or my nanny... I knew I just had to get to my big sister, and she’d protect me.

So I burst into your room, and you were really, really confused. Bucked off your blankets and everything.

“Luna! Luna, what is it?!”

“A monster’s in my room, the clown! The little somersaulting clown!”

You sort’ve sat there for a second, a really, really still shadow.

“I thought we banished the little thing last week.”

“It’s back again! Banish it please?”

“How about we banish him in the morning, Lu--”

“No, he’ll get me!”

“Of course he won’t get you, you’re staying right here with me.”

You scootched over in your bed and held open the covers, letting me crawl up beside you. You tucked the covers really tight around me, making sure I was safe and secure.

“Better, Luna?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well... sweet dreams.”

“Lullaby.”

“Sorry?” You were almost snippy, always trying to chide me into saying the right things. “What was that?”

“Please sing a lullaby, big sis?”

“Big... Oh, alright.”

~Θ~

I walked tall and proud, the best teller of the best memory stories ever! I waited, almost impatient for Celestia to start saying how cute it was and chime in with her own story... But she didn’t. She was really quiet, staring and frowning at the ground.

“Was this...” she spoke up, slow and deliberate. “Before or after our parents were gone?”

“I thought it was before,” I replied, “I mean, I chose to go to you. I remember feeling like I had that choice.”

“I actually think... That was after everyone had left, it must have been.”

“Really?”

“I mean, you didn’t start talking until after mother and father had gone.”

“Oh!”

I opened my mouth to say something else, but it kinda died on the way and I lost it.

“I feel like that sound upset me,” I said suddenly, “But it doesn’t really.” Celestia stared at me for a moment, nearly tripping over a root that was poking through the crappy dirt road. “I always remember, whenever I got really upset, that you’d be there for me, big sis. More than anyone else.”

“Yes... I did my best, but...” and then it was Celestia’s turn to flip through her thoughts. “But I’m not... your mother or anything. It actually kind’ve upset me when you’d try to call me that. Or thought that I was. Let me tell you...”

~¤~

I poked my head around the door to my father’s office. Strange men were in there, flipping through his books, analyzing them through tiny little lenses. Sometimes they dropped them to the floor. Other times they were set gently into what, to me, looked like a rickety old wheelbarrow.

I cleared my throat lightly. None of the men even offered me a glance.

“Um, Spit Shine?”

The gray pony looked up from the wheelbarrow and grinned, a wide grin.

“Oh, young Baroness! I didn’t hear you come home! How was your day, darling?”

“Well, I suppose school was fine, however...” I took a step into the room. Father’s smell, his cologne was fading from it. Now it just smelled like musty pages, old candle ash, “Father’s library as well?”

“There are still so many expenses, young Baroness!” he said, voice smooth, demeanor jovial, “Do not fret, some of these volumes will fetch a very, very good price. It might even cover the last of the tertiary fees!”

“Well...” I was hesitant, how could I not be? But I had no head for these things... and well, it was Spit Shine’s job to know the numbers. “Alright, if you say sooOOOAUGH!” I slammed myself against the doorframe, shaking. “NO LUNA!”

You stared up at me. Still a foal, still confused. no longer dressed in your nice, lacy frills, but not because you had stopped being a baby. You approached me again, lowering your head, little snout probing for milk...

“Luna! No! BAD! BAD TOUCH!” I ran down the hallway, trying to get a bit of distance, face burning a furious red as some of the stallions snickered. I turned back, and there you were still standing, tottering on your feet, staring at me.

“Luna,” I tried to explain calmly as you waddled towards me. “Woona, dear. I’m not a wet nurse. I’m not your mother. I’m your sister. Okay, Woona? Luna?” You stopped and stared up at me, they tried to walk to my side...

I stepped back.

“No, Luna.” Your face was blank. “No, sister. Sister! Not momma! Big sis!”

But you came right up to me anyway. You didn’t look for milk again... thank goodness. You dug your face into my neck, and slid down as you hugged my leg, your butt sticking up in the air.

“Mwam.”

~Θ~

“That always... always hurt me, a reminder that I couldn’t be that for you...” Celestia rolled away her bad posture, neck jutting straight up. “Sorry, I wanted to make you feel better about mother and father, but we wound up getting sidetracked, didn’t we? Do you want to hear a different story?”

“Tell me another one about the two of us.”

“...Really?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well...”

“No, no, wait, I got something I gotta say, I think.”

I stopped for a bit, trying to get it all together. But I guess I took too long, because Celestia nudged me in the side.

“Luna?”

“Um, well...” I nodded. “I think I have the words now.” I took a really deep breath, and looked up at my big sister.

“I was really, really upset that I lost my dad. But... he never really existed in the first place. I dunno why I’m afraid of losing him. You talking about him, it reminded me... He’s just a stranger, some thing that happened in my past, somewhere. None of your stories about him helped at all.

“But Big Sis, you’ve always been there for me. I think... what I’m most afraid of is just losing you. I dunno... I think, in that last story, I called you mom, and it hurt your feelings. And I’m sorry, because, you’re more than my mom, than just a word thing. You’re my sister, teaching me important girly stuff, playing games with me, protecting me...

“If you vanished from my life... Yeesh, I dunno what I’d do. So um.”

And then my sister hugged me. Close warm and tight, dirt from her hooves rubbing off into my coat as she squeezed me, maybe too tight. I nuzzled my face into her neck fuzz, element warming against her skin, just so glad to have her back, right here with me. It’s kinda silly how just a few days made me miss her so much.

“Alright... so...!” Celestia let me go, straightening herself out again. “Another story! Though, most of the ones I have you’d remember, wouldn’t you?”

“I don’t mind! Tell it anyway!”

“Okay, so...”

~¤~Θ~¤~Θ~¤~


XXXI : Discord

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 31

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

~Discord~

I followed after Luna and Celestia that day, in silence. At first I thought, hey, I have some cute stories too, right? Maybe offer a few of them, simplified, scrubbed of a few unsavory details. But I listened and listened and listened… And well, the things I felt I could say just shrunk, then became nothing. They went on and on for hours, and I began to question if even my best memories were any good at all. Like little lights of kindness that seemed so significant to me, yet were almost routine to a pony.

I guess I started to feel a little embarrassed. Not just about the memories, either. Like thinking that a hug could just cheer someone up. That a few comforting words meant a lot more than they really did. It had worked before! Gave Celestia  a hug or two, shared some kind words with her, she cheered up! Eventually. But how long, how many times and false starts it took Celestia to get Luna smiling again? And I don’t know, maybe that was just Luna? She’s always so cheerful, it took a lot of stress to crash her mood in the first place, maybe it takes that much longer to bring her back up to normal? Or did Celestia just pretend to be cheered when I talked to her…?

Gah!

I felt freaking stupid. Stupid and, and like I’m some sort of weirdo.

Uhg.

Bleh.

Other noises.

Bleeeeeh!

At some point I had to cut myself off from the self-attacks. No use spinning my head in circles, beating around the same points over and over. Put on a straight face and move past it. Try harder next time someone’s hurting. I let the pair talk, and distracted myself with magical experimentation. But it couldn’t hold my attention all day. Every little zap and pop of magic drained me more and more, digging in my gut, reminding me how little I really had to work with…

“So!” I finally piped up, after a long stretch of bored, bored silence. They both looked back at me, almost surprised?

“Oh! Discord!”

“Hiya!”

“Um… it’s starting to get late…” I looked up at the sky, double checking. Still light out, so my general exhaustion was all I was going on. “Think we should stop for the, uh, day? Night?”

“Goodness!” Celestia glanced up at the sky as well. “Yes, we probably should. Didn’t run into even one town today, did we? Another time, I suppose.”

“Discord?” Luna asked, “Where did you go today?”

I picked at the dirt under my claw. Wait, was I stalling?

“I was here the whole time.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

Luna, head level with mine, looked directly at me, blank. Or curious. Or…

“Did you have a story to share?”

“Uh, no. Not any good ones.”

“Are you doing okay?”

“Uh… well enough.”

I failed to say something again, but Luna refused to move away. Just stood there. Eugh… Why were things suddenly just so awkward? I watched Celestia for a moment as she stomped down some grass, set her bag down, spread her cloak across the ground… Okay. Okay, say something Discord, Luna’s going to get worried, and the last thing I want to do is hurt her. Again.

“I just uh… had a pretty bad childhood.” I laughed, trying to relax. “It’s really, really nice that you two had each other, even with your parents, um, gone.” Didn’t even realize that was a thing really. Not having parents in your life. Practically a standard among the Draconequus.

“Oh right!” And there’s Celestia, voice ringing in, like a trap snapping around my tail. “Discord… Well, when they take ponies to the castle…” she faded off, as if she was still uncertain if she should be asking.

“They kill them, yeah.”

“Thanks for finally telling me this, Discord.” Oh sweet life, she’s letting me off the hook! “But isn’t that kind’ve strange,” she said slowly, carefully, “Just capturing ponies, only to kill them?”

I stepped off the road, into the grass, uncertain if I was approaching Celestia or not.

“It’s all about scaring ponies into their place isn’t it?” I finally replied, “Showing absolute authority by taking all those that disobey?”

“But, there’s slavery out here. Wouldn’t it achieve the same effect to sell them?”

I just shrugged, as honest a response as I could offer. She was quiet again. There was more staring involved… Luna moved beside her, trying to find her own spot in the grass. For a while, that was all I had, Celestia’s eyes and that rustling sound. A day without talking to me, now they can’t take their eyes off me? And why, why this topic?

“You know Celestia,” I piped up, “This is really, really depressing talk to end a day on, especially one filled with happy memories.”

“Yes. So it is…” She laughed, just once.

“Let’s just set it aside for now. Eat some dinner, get some rest.” I reached for her bag, wondering if there was any food I could snatch from it before I just went to bed. A comfortably uncomfortable night back up a tree... But she nudged it away with her hoof, almost on instinct.

“But really, you’ve finally admitted to this,” she said. “You were hiding it for so long, I feel like, I don’t know, there should be more I should be asking, while you’re forthcoming with answers.”

“I don’t have many answers,” I pleaded, “I was still just a kid to them, Celestia. I didn’t know the why of things, and they didn’t share reasons very easily.” Oh please, just be satisfied.

She took a breath…

“Well, alright.”

Yes. I dove for Celestia’s bag and yanked a few apples out. She seemed almost overjoyed that I was taking them, actually. Well, happy to have something, I ran right for the nearest a tree and scurried right the heck up it. It felt wonderful to be climbing again, scratchy, sappy bark under my claws, heaving myself up with my own two hands… I half wondered if I could fly up to the branches yet, but I almost don’t want to try. This action, this movement is smooth enough.

I like trees. Yeah, let’s focus on the positive. Trees are comfortable. Apples taste awesome. And if I can get a bit more food, I can keep messing with this illusion stuff, right? Though maybe I should just get to sleep, save my energy. There was a quiet tearing beneath me as the girls started munching up grass. I settle onto a particularly sturdy branch and shove aside some leaves as I crunch through an apple. Secure on my stomach, head laying across my fuzzier arm, I focus on my hand. If I can try and capture the flavor of the apple, work it into the illusion… I mean, I can probably just do a little bit more, if I keep it small.

I formed a little apple slice in my hand, pale and rough with a smooth red skin. See? That wasn’t so hard. I yawn anyway, stretch out my wings, airing them out a bit as I shove through a few more springy leaves. Now who’s underneath me…?

“Hey Luna.”

She glanced up, mouth full of grass.

“Uh-huh?”

I released my hand between the leaves and dropped the apple slice. I made it spin and twirl to the ground like a leave, only losing brief focus to another yawn. Guy’s gotta entertain himself somehow, right?

“Eat it,” I told her.

She glanced down at the little slice, a small sliver among the half-picked grass. She swallowed her mouthful and looked up at me again.

“I thought you ate your apple!”

“I did.”

She was quiet for a moment, then frowned. Pouted, really.

“Is this made of something gross?”

With a laugh, I released the springy leaves, and was unable to prevent them from smacking me in the face.  “No, no!” I asserted, beating away the branches.

“Goodness, Discord,” Celestia called out, from somewhere else. “We may have been separated a few days, but that doesn’t mean you can prank us so bluntly.”

“It’s not a prank, I’m just trying out a new kind of magic.”

Celestia eased into sight, hovering over the tiny slice, making it vanish from my sight. There was a slight rustling again, her shoulder shifting slightly.

“It’s solid,” she stated.

“Uh-huh.”

“Okay, lemme try!” Luna said, her sister tutting as she backed away. There was a quit crunching… and she spat the illusion out, “Ew!” Luna cried, craning her neck up to show me as clearly as possible her disgust, “Ewww it’s sour! Yeck!”

“Dang. Well.” I released the branches a bit more slowly, pressing an ear back into the fuzzy crook of my arm. “I guess I can actually flavor illusions, just a matter of practice now.”

“Are you saying something, Discord?”

I open my mouth, shut it again. Meh, not really worth repeating myself. I begin to weave another wedge, slowly, carefully, not wanting to overextend myself…

“Wanna try again, Luna?”

“Um… no thanks.”

“Aw, c’mon. How am I supposed to learn if you won’t help?”

“Okay, okay, this is just silly.” And that was that, straight from ‘big sister’s’ authoritative mouth. There was the sound of a lot of movement. Celestia was probably trying to find a position to see me through the leaves. “Discord, get down here, we need to discuss our next course of action.”

“I thought that was pretty obvious. We go to the address Apple gave me.” Maybe it’s not so much about trying to replicate the exact flavor… maybe there’s some trick to it. Like… yummy. I think yummy thoughts…

“I don’t know Discord…” Celestia huffed, “He worked for the stallion, we can’t take him at face value.”

I shrugged into my arm, knowing full well Celestia couldn’t see me. “He had me right there in his office, and he let me go. Guards were right outside and everything. Even said ‘save the world.’”

“Well… that might be what he wants you to think.”

I rolled my eyes and dropped the next slice, not bothering to watch it fall.

“Try that one, Luna.”

“I’m serious!” Celestia said, “Apple could be trying to use us. Vinegar, imprisonment, didn’t work on either of you. Maybe he was tempting you with honey, flattering you, trying to make you feel heroic.”

“This apple tastes like butter.” Luna whined. “Butter and pennies.”

“Really?” Well that’s weird. “Is it better than the sour one?”

“Nuh-uh.” She spat, somewhere below me. “Not better at all.”

“Dang,” I heaved a sigh. “This is hard.”

“Discord!” Celestia barked. “I’m serious!”

“You know,” Luna said, “Do I get a say in this serious business?”

“Oh! Well… of course, Luna, what do you think we should do?”

“I say we find out where the next Element is.”

“Yeah,” I chimed in, “And this place--”

“Nuh-huh,” Luna spoke up, “There’s gotta be other ways to find the next Element. Sure, Stringhalt, this letter, they’re good ways. But it doesn’t mean we can’t ask somewhere else about them. Or… alicorns!” she gasped, and there was a bit of silence as she tromped through the grass. “Big sis, We could ask if there’s any alicorn statues around. That might make things easier!”

“That way we could avoid mentioning the Elements altogether,” Celestia said.

“But if we don’t find anything, then we’re going to… um,” I root around underneath me, trying to find that darn slip of paper. It nearly tore as I pulled it out, eyeing the slip with one lazy eye. “Uh, Hock.”

“Yeah, I’d think that’s fair!”

“I’m almost certain that asking about a statue will lead us true.” There was a crinkling sound, Celestia opening up her map, I think. I swatted at the leaves, trying to get sight of her. But it wasn’t long until my arm got tired, and I released the leaves, returning me to the silent green cocoon.

“Hock’s the next town on this road!” Luna giggled, “Wow, are we getting close then?”

“Well…yes, I think so. Sometimes distances aren’t entirely accurate on this map, but yes, we’re getting close. But! There are a few more little hamlets around the area. We look at them, then go to Hock.”

“Alright,” I mumbled, “Whatever.”

I yawned again. Maybe get a little bit of sleep before I go running around again, looking for a bit more to eat… I dozed off, best I can with just an arm and some bark as a pillow. I was wondering how soft leaves could be when…

“Discord? Going to sleep already?”

“Um…” I rub my eyes across my fur. “Celestia?”

“We never did get to have another serious conversation.”

“Yeah… uh…” I fished around the leaves again, trying to find an opening I didn’t have to constantly hold in place. “What do you have in mind?”

I continued to mess with the leaves in silence, stuffing them under my back leg. When did it get this dark? Did I fall asleep that easily? Up here? Wow, I must’ve been more tired than I thought. Celestia cleared her throat as I was finally able to spot her puff of pink hair, the top of her shoulders and backside.

“I um…” She started, stopping quickly. Wait… I laughed.

“Not much to talk about, huh?”

“Well there’s lots to talk about!” And she was silent again, “But… … … Discord?!”

I jolted. “What?!”

“I actually did enjoy the name ‘Tia’. I’m a little bit disappointed that it didn’t stick.”

“Really?” I sunk back into my arm. It’s quite cozy, relatively speaking. “I could try to keep calling you it.”

“No, that’s fine.” And there she fades out again. Goodness freaking gracious, could she pause any more? She laughed somewhere out there, and I began dozing again. I just wanted to go to sleep… Was I this out of shape, after being locked up for a few days? The tree started shaking under me, and I dug my claws in. A breeze?

“Hello?” Nope, Celestia.

Yeah?”

“What about your name, Discord?”

“What about it?”

“Will you accept my offer?”

I dug my eyes into my elbow. Geez, what is she talking about?

“Sure, whatever. Whad’ya got?”

“Um… I was trying to think of a short way to say your name. Not, like, changing it, like Resonance.”

“Well, good, ‘cuz that name sucked.”

“So I was thinking, maybe Dizzy?”

“…’Scuse me?”

“Sounds a bit more friendly than Discord, doesn’t it? It could help you think--”

“Wait, you meant that random word was supposed to be my nickname?”

“Yes, it was.” She fumbled with her words a bit, thrown off her even keel. “What do you think of it?”

I leaned over the branches, stuffing them back under my legs, holding them firmly in place as I stared down at Celestia. She looked back up, probably unable to see a darn thing. But whatever, good enough.

“That name,” I clearly stated, “Makes me want to puke blood.”

She stomped one of her hooves. “You’re just being obstinate! It’s a perfectly acceptable name!”

“No, you are just really, really bad at this, Celestia!” I laughed and laughed, rolling onto my side, just so I could laugh at her harder. “Geez, at least come up with something cool sounding! Like… I don’t know.” I flipped onto my back, trying to avoid resting on my wings wrong. “My name’s pretty good, really.” I knotted up my snout, and… “Discord.” I chuckled. “Spit it out like a swear word. Discord!

“It’s a cruel name to be saddled with,” Celestia snapped. I just laughed again.

Discord!” I growled.

Discord!

“Luna!” Celestia cried, “What are you doing up?!”

“Listening to you two.” She giggled, then said my name again, trying to imitate my growl. I laughed again, heaving.

“Nice one, Luna. No, no…Luna!

Lou-NAH!

Celestia!

Big. SISTER!

Luna! Shouting!”

“Wow, that was a good one big sis!”

“I’m being serious, Luna. Too loud.”

“Oh.”

Luna!” I snapped, imitating Celestia’s snapping, “You’re being too quiet!” She broke into a giggle fit, struggling to say

something through her teeth.

“K-kay! A-hem…!”

“Luna…!”

I know Celestia was trying to be firm with her sister, but it was just too silly at this point! I giggled into my hand, watching, titling over slightly as a little blue light grew beneath me.

DISCORD!

The tree shook, branch shook even more. On my back, arms in front of me, wings scraping past bark and twigs, I tumbled off, and there was nothing to stop me from falling.


XXXII : Celestia

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 32

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

~Celestia~

“I said I was fine!”

“You are not fine. You passed out on your way here.”

“I did? I mean… I probably just fell asleep.”

“No, you passed out. Now, let the nice man examine you.”

Don’t talk down to me like that.”

Discord curled up in what little space was allowed, practically falling off the edge of the squat table. A red welt burst from his shoulder, specks crawling all the way down to his elbow. The walls of the small room could hardly be made out in the light of two guttering candles. Lining the shelves were strange bottles, and stranger instruments, curling hooks and curving blades made the space seem, well, rather unlike a Healer’s office. Honestly, it was a little hard to believe the sign out front. But the unicorn attending did have the Healer cutie mark… He adjusted his glasses, looking down over Discord.

“Fascinating creature…” he muttered. Discord did his best to pull away, glancing over the edge of the table, ready to drop at a moment’s notice. I hovered behind him, ready to catch his stupid… We were here to help him, and here he was being obstinate about it! The nerve! “However,” The Healer continued, “I really only deal with ponies. I’m not sure how much I can help you here.”

“Can you please take a look?” I said, firm, “It’s just his foreleg.”

“Well… lie down, ah, what was your name again, young man?”

Discord,” he snarled.

“It will do you no good to snap at me, now lie down, on your stomach.” He looked over his shoulder, distracted. “Let me just

get some supplies, I’m sure I have something somewhere… “

Discord watched his back, then waved me over with his good arm.

“He’s gonna cut me up,” he hissed.

“He is not!” I shot back, whispering, “Did you see his cutie mark?”

“Do you see the knives?!”

“He won’t use those on you, I’m sure.”

“Are you?!” Discord snapped, “Why’d you bring me here?! He’s going to--!”

“Look,” Luna piped up, holding herself high. “I’ll clear this whole thing up, kay?”

Luna!” I snapped at my sister, moving to stop her… But then what if Discord fell again? And so, my sister trotted over to the Healer, stiff with self-assurance.

“Mister Healer!” she proclaimed.

“Hmm?” He glanced down at her, half a dozen little jars hovering above his head, “Yes?”

“You’re not going to cut up Discord, are you?”

The Healer chuckled. “No, no, no… well, if he needs an amputation, then maybe.” Discord fell back, clutching his arm, and I had to physically shove him back on the table. I knew this would happen! “But I doubt it’s that serious. Just had to find a pot of this.” The Healer hovered down a small clay jar, carefully prying off the cork top. “Now then, Discord? Where does it hurt?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Discord grumbled. He hesitantly held out his thin, birdlike arm, suppressing a wince as he shifted his shoulder.

“Just the arm then? Please, onto your stomach.” His horn began to glow a bright green, filling the small space with a strange light, drowning out the weak candles. The Healer waved his horn over Discord’s shoulder as my friend settled onto his stomach, still refusing to look away from the unicorn.

“Yes, it’s just my arm. Friends are just overreacting.”

“Worrying isn’t an overreaction!” Luna stated, nudging her chin up over the table, “If I fell out of a tree, you’d rush me somewhere, wouldn’t you?”

“You can’t climb trees.”

“But you would.”

“Yeah, sure, I guess…” Discord flipped away from my sister, swiping at the Healer’s horn. “There is nothing wrong with my back!”

“There were lumps under your fur, I assumed they were bruises,” the Healer explained. “Are they natural?”

“What?” Discord shifted again, rubbing his good paw down his back. I looked more closely myself but… I could see nothing, not in this dim light. His fur looked a little matted, but Discord’s always been a bit of a mess, fur-wise. “Lumps? Were there bruises?”

“They seem more like hives,” the Healer said. Then, more carefully, “But since I am unfamiliar with beings of your type...”

“Yeah those aren’t…” Again, Discord ran a paw down his back, prodding certain spots. “Right…”

“An allergic reaction, perhaps?”

“I didn’t think I was allergic to anything,” Discord mumbled.

“Have you eaten anything strange lately?”

“I dunno, some berries…”

“You’ve still been eating those, Discord?” I cried, glaring up at him. He avoided my gaze. “I told the both of you not to pick up any random fruits! It’s dangerous!”

“Eh.” He just shrugged away my comment, like the advice was hardly worth minding. Well! No wonder he fell, with how much he was already hurting himself…

“Why do you keep eating them?!” I demanded, a sort of unintended whine edging into my voice.

“I like the taste maybe?” he snapped back.

“Well, I think you should probably cut back on the berries. Focus on your grains, your vegetables… Not enough nutrition in berries, it’s not healthy for a, ah, growing boy like yourself. Now please, lie down so I can mend your arm.” Discord hesitantly laid back down, digging his head into his unhurt arm. The Healer hovered a silvery substance from the pot, magically applying it to the wound, weaving a spell around it. The bruise glowed green, then the flesh almost seemed to almost turn silver itself. Apparently satisfied, the Healer wrapping a bandage around the silvery mark. “There we are. Keep off of it for a few days, nothing strenuous, and it should be fine. Now…” The Healer turned right to me, adjusting his glasses once more. “My payment…?”

“Oh! Right…” I looked back to my bag, though… Goodness, knowing the standard prices in Canterbury, there is no way we would have enough. “Might be well, a little bit short.” And there’s the beggar voice again, light and pleading. Why? Why does it come to me so easily? “But um, is there anything we can do here, in the town for a little spare change?”

The unicorn stared at us.

“I’d be willing to exchange for one of your necklaces, if you’re a little low.”

“No.” “No, no, no way.” “They’re very special to us.” “Not for sale.” “No.”

The Healer was silent once more as our voices all stopped tumbling over each other. I don’t know about the other two, but, even though I don’t have an element of my own, the thought of losing one of the Elements felt like a literal punch in the gut.

“Okay…” he glanced at the clock, a small thing stuffed around the sharp clutter. “Can I just see what you do have?” I took a tiny little breath and hovered him the very last of our cash. He stared at the miniscule stack for a moment, then glanced up at the clock again. “I’ll just… put it on your tab. Now hurry along.” He pulled a cloak from the shadowy mess around him, dragging it over his shoulders, “It’s late, and I should’ve been closing up fifteen minutes ago.”

I curtseyed briefly, hurrying towards the door, watching Discord struggle with the ledge, staring over it as his wings fluttered open. Luna circled around the table, watching him.

“Discord?” she asked.

“Uh-huh…”

“I’m sorry for shouting you out of the tree.”

With a single flap of his wings, Discord eased himself down. On the ground, he lifted a paw to rub his shoulder, stopping

before it even hit the bandage. Instead, he snatched up his own cloak, practically yanking it out of my saddlebags.

In a low voice, almost angry, “No. I’m sorry for falling.”

“But…”

“Look, we can’t go around in circles, apologizing to each other. It was no one’s fault. For now, let’s just…” I nudged my head towards the door and hurried out, everybody following after me. The Healer practically ran past us, hooves clicking in a familiar way, too familiar for my tastes.

“I guess not…” Luna yawned, “Can we just find a place to sleep for now? Maybe head out of the city, find a nice soft patch of leaves…”

“Or we could, you know, go here.” Discord waved the letter around with his good hand, crumpled and torn. “And maybe they’d be able to help us. Both with a bed and this money issue.”

I looked down at the crumpled note, jaw set, ready to put my hoof down. Not in this town, not in this strange, creepy town. But with Luna tired, Discord injured… maybe I’m being a little too obstinate.

“Alright. BUT!” I whip my own cloak on, glare split between the two of them. “If any funny business starts happening, we’re getting right out of Hock, okay?”

At the first sight of the town of Hock, I wanted to turn us right around, run to another town, see if they had any kind of Healer there. The town, larger than a hamlet but nowhere near as big as Stringhalt or Canterbury, was constructed out of that smooth black cobblestone, the same stone Canterbury was constructed from. If anything, Hock looked like something Canterbury spat out, splattering down the countryside, walls replaced by roads that crisscrossed up and down little farms in the hills.

I didn’t want to go there, of course, but taking a chance on a different hamlet was a shot in the dark. Why would they even need a healer, if they could just travel to this dark, dark city? In the end, it took Luna marching right down into the heart of it for me to work up the courage to follow. It’s rather embarrassing to think about, actually, having to be directed by my little sister.

It was lucky that we had settled down early, as we caught the doctor before he closed down his shop for the night… But… wandering corridors of black stone again, and at night of all times. I know Stringhalt didn’t have Draconequus kidnappers, nor did any other town we arrived in. But that stone… The knives in the Healer’s office were nothing compared to it. Healers have weird tools. There was only one other place this stone shared similarities with. But now we were walking the roads at night, and I’m sure I was not the only one put off by the color of the rock, even if it didn’t have the intimidating walls to go with it…

And another thing, unrelated to the architecture. This place, this little city of Hock, it had its own style. In its own way, each town we passed through did. In every town, the people lived and spoke in certain ways, gathered in certain places, wore a certain style of clothing, or none at all. Canterbury was a town where most would go bare, save a ruff here or there, only pulling out fancy gowns for parties. Wherever I went in Stringhalt, everyone was wearing some sort of scrap across their shoulders, and I saw a lot of tunics, a lot of doublets.

Here, apparently, they all liked to wear cloaks? The kind where you can easily hide both your face and cutie mark? We were talking to one such individual now, a shadow on the walls, face gone, cutie mark firmly hidden.

“Good evening children,” he drawled, voice strangely high-pitched, almost nasal. “Are you attending the ceremony?”

“Uh…”

“Hey,” Discord interrupted my thought-sorting moment, waving around the scrap of paper in his good hand. “Where’s this place, Fallow Street, The Chapel of the Hurricane?”

“Oh! Such loyalty, from such youth!” The pony sniffled as dramatically as possible, “Such a wonderful thing to see, and from strangers as well! Are you from one of our sister towns?! Are you from Cob? Gaitsville?”

“No.”

“Well, you go tell all your friends, wherever you’re from. The Stallion will be pleased.”

“Sure,” I squeaked, looking pointedly at Discord, “Sure we’ll do that. Where is it?”

“Just follow the crowds,” the strange stallion waved to a modest line of ponies behind us, a strange sight for this late. “They’ll lead you right there.” Goodness gracious, did we start talking to the town fool accidentally? This is almost embarrassing to listen to. I mumble my thanks and shove our group away from another cry of youth and loyalty and—

The Stallion.” I hissed.

“You know,” Discord retorted, stuffing the scrap back under his cloak, “‘stallion’ is such a generic term. If we reacted to every single instance of that word--”

“Don’t give me that, he said ‘THE’ Stallion. What if he’s here?! Apple could’ve known where The Shadow Stallion was going, and sent us right to him!”

Discord was silent as well fell behind the modest line of ponies, completely blending in with the simple fact that we were also wearing rather large cloaks. Discord forced a sigh.

“I am tired, hurt, and hungry. I don’t wanna argue this.”

“We did say that we’d go take a look,” Luna said with a nod, “And if funny business happened…”

“This is the funny business! There is nothing funnier than this!”

“The knives were funny business,” Discord said low, hissing again. “Thought I was going to get my arm cut off, you didn’t care.”

“Evening, kids!” We all jumped as another group passed us by on the wide street, a black faceless mass of flowing cloaks. “Heading to the Ceremony are you?”

Luna nodded, “Uh-huh.”

“Well, don’t dilly-dally! You don’t want to be late tonight!”

I smiled as the form passed us by, then ran up to Discord, wanting to talk face to face…

When Discord had fallen out of that tree, he had a very particular look about him. No, he looked like a totally different person. His fangs were bared, a mismatch of jagged canines and flat molars. His eyes, when they opened, were sunken in, the yellow ‘whites’ almost turning brown. As he curled up, clung to his arm, I could almost see his bones pressing against his skin, his ribs. I wondered, was this a result of the pain? When was the last time I really looked at Discord? This felt strange but… was he always like that, and I just never noticed the details?

Here, now, he looked no different. He looked ill as drew away from me, yanking his hood over his eyes. Even in the dark, I could still make out the bones in his ankle, down his arm.

“Celestia, the pain is killing me,” he grumbled, “If we get in trouble, we can just blast them. Apparently an element can purify a heart.”

“Ooh, really?” Luna ducked her nose under the pin of her cloak, pulling up the glittering blue gemstone. “That makes sense I guess…”

“Luna, put that away. And…” I was going to say how the Elements only worked when they were all together. How this was still a crazy idea, how we were all going to wind up worse than before. But I couldn’t. If I was the one looking out for the good of the group, then…

I looked back at Discord. I can’t argue with him. Not when he’s hurting. Any other time, I’d have us all run somewhere else, because I knew we could put up with it. But right now, discord looked about ready to drop. I couldn’t force him somewhere else in this state. He still needed help. And as slim as the chance was, maybe this Chapel place could do that for him.

“Well…” I cleared my throat, “Well alright. Let’s go.”

“We’re here!” Luna cheered.

“What?!”

“That’s it, right?”

Luna pointed to the stream of cloaks, like living shadows flowing to a single location. The Chapel, and it did seem to be The Chapel, was a low building. It was bigger than those around it, but in berth, not in height, and oddly shaped at that. It was circular, built from that same black cobblestone… It was strange, seeing the familiar color in such an unfamiliar shape. In Canterbury, anything with an official sounding name like ‘Chapel’ would be built high and tall, competing with the never-ending walls and towers.

But it wasn’t only the shape that was strange. While there were a few stallion banners here and there, another one joined it. A gray tornado and storm cloud, imposed on a field of blue. I wondered, was that the symbol of this town? Were they allowed to have their own banner, like Stringhalt?

I set those thoughts aside, and did as the strange cloaked stallion had told us, follow the crowds. Even here, the streets weren’t Stringhalt packed, but they were lining up at the doors of the Chapel, making the crowd seem larger. They would have all fit through the door nicely if it wasn’t for two pony-shaped figures at the door, greeting each pony with a single hoof that almost seemed to appear from nowhere in the dark.

“Are we going through the front?” Luna asked. And before I could reply, Discord marched forward, shoving himself as close as he could get to the front. I followed him, what else could I do?

“You.” I reached Discord as he approached at the greeter, “We’re looking for…”

“You’re right on time, child!” the greeter replied, overjoyed. A pink hoof emerged from his shadow and waved excitedly inside. “Now hurry and find a seat!”

“But we were sent by Apple…”

“Oh, Green Apple sent you?” He squeaked, “How lovely, we thought he was lost! Now hurry along!”

“No, Big Apple!! Stringhalt’s…!”

“Hurry along now children, more people wish to enter! Welcome! Welcome!”

Discord was shoved inside, and I followed after, dodging away from the greeter’s mysteriously hovering hoof. The crowds forced us to some sort of antechamber, filled with the whispering breath of hundreds of ponies, the loud clatter of their hooves. I could only just barely pick out Discord’s frail frame from the lot, as he made his way to a wall, squeezed against it to avoid being swept through of the many archways that lead into what looked like a dimly lit amphitheater, the chapel proper.

He glared at me, as if daring me to say something.

“We’ll wait until this ceremony’s over.” I refused to reply, honestly not wanting to argue the point any more than he did.

“Hey, um, guys?” Luna called out, trying to be heard over the whispering. I lowered my head, trying to find her through the sea of multicolored hooves. Her little cloak, blending almost perfectly into the sea, was standing next to an open archway, one that lead to the chapel proper.

“Luna?”

She stabbed her hoof through the archway.

“Look! It’s a statue, an alicorn!”

“What?!”

I dashed over the archway my sister stood under, waiting for several ponies to pass before I could see it for myself. Lit by a sort of magical glow above… yes. Yes, it was an alicorn. But was it the same kind of… A body moved into my line of sight. I pushed my sister forward.

“Front row, now.”

“Why? We can see it from here.”

“I have to see the details, if it’s a replica, or actually like the other statue…!”

I pushed my sister down the stone rows, lined with candles, all the way to the front. Everyone settled directly on the cold stone steps, so when I reached the front, I did the same. It was cold. I expected cold. I tried to not mind the cold. Instantly, I glued my eyes to the statue.

Rearing up at an impossible angle, frightening, or frightened himself, I couldn’t tell. The figure was huge and muscular, slightly larger than life… but then, so was the statue of Golden Jubilee, right? This alicorn was dressed in a studded barding, a style I had never seen before, and his mane whipped around him, between his massive wingspan, as if caught in a tremendous gust. Individual strands rose and fell from the stone, thin enough to be practically unbelievable… Fetlocks carved, teeth and mouth unbelievably twisted into an enraged  scowl. And the cutie mark, the same that I had seen on the banners outside. A thick tornado descending from a cloud, inlaid like Jubilee’s was, darker than the stone around it and smooth as can be.

At his feet, an epitaph. A very familiar epitaph.

GENERAL HURRICANE

SKILLED TACTICIAN

VALUED FRIEND

“That’s it!” I whispered to my sister, “It’s the real deal. This must be his tomb! Where he was buried.”

“So that means his Element should be here, right?!” my sister whispered back to me.

“Somewhere.” I chuckled, honestly surprised. Taken aback, even! “Apple wasn’t kidding, I guess. This is exactly where we needed to go. Now let’s get to…”

Discord, wounded arm held tightly to his chest, shot beside me, taking a seat right as a blast of organ music filled the chamber. Its blast shook dust from the ceiling, and only barely drowned out the sound of the doors being slammed behind us.


XXXIII : Celestia

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 33

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfiction.tumblr.com/

~Celestia~

I sat quietly on the stone bench, just watching the ceremony… No, the farce of a ceremony. Run by that crazed, jester off the streets…!

Now, now, Celestia…

“YOU! Minty mare…” the stallion bellowed, waving a hoof over the crowd. “What will you do to prove your loyalty to the General?!”

“I, I will give him fifty bits! No! Seventy five!”

“SUCH LOYALTY. You are blessed by the stallion, he smiles upon you!”

The speaker paced up and down in front of the rearing statue, cloak billowing so dramatically behind him. Only his nose poked out of his shadowy hood. I could picture him sniffing at the crowd like some dog in search of some garbage to dig through. The crowds beat their hooves, whinnying like crazy. They loved this fool! Each shout just wound me tighter and tighter and tighter…

“And you, fair stallion!” he roared. There was rustling somewhere out of sight.

“Me?” came a distant squeak.

“Yes, you!” For goodness sake, you don’t have to scream every. Single. Word. “How will you show your loyalty to the General?!”

“I-I don’t have any money, things are so tight…”

And the crowd just… titters. Ooh, oh no, he doesn’t have anything to prove he’s loyal? Anything physical? He needs to have money to prove that he’s loyal! Gasp! I can hear the pony behind me chitter among themselves. “He has to give something!” “The general might not give back…” “Not going to miss out because he’s not loyal!” The jester waved them silent, at least that’s what they took his flailing to mean.

“Do you deny your pursuit?!” he demanded, “Do you think that, no matter what you do, you will not be CHOSEN?!”

“I, but,” the tiny voice piped up, “I will come every Saturday, every single Saturday to help clean this most sacred place! That’s how loyal I am!”

And the crowd cheered! Such loyalty. What a generous pony. So relieving that he came to his senses!

“And… oh, some fresh faces are with us tonight!” The stallion swung towards us. “Such young fillies, yet clearly so loyal!”

Yes, yes clearly we’re loyal because we arrived here. The crowd agreed. The faceless, nameless… I thought the Sickle Ravens were idiotic because of their youth, but this…! Just the thought of those stupid moronic little… it stabs me, a very raw wound. I don’t want to be reminded of them! I don’t want to deal with this! No!

“So child…” he walked right up to my sister, billowing over her. “How loyal are you?” Luna stared up at him, tipping her head to the side. “What do you have to prove your loyalty? Don’t worry,” he chuckled, “Since you’re a child, your donation can be small.”

“Well…”

“She doesn’t have to prove anything,” I snapped.

“Hm?” The jester’s fat nose spun on me. “Yes, I suppose arriving in our fold is enough for now. HOWEVER!”

“There is no however!” I shouted, “She doesn’t have to prove anything!

“Certainly, loyalty demands…”

“You don’t even know what loyalty is!”

I find myself nearly standing, one leg already off the stone seats, horn lowered and face burning.

“Uh, Celestia…”

The jester squared his shoulders, standing tall. “Bold words to say to a Priest of Loyalty,” he said, “Do you not think I do not know my own religion?”

“Religion, is that what you call it? And no, you don’t know!” I pushed off my seat, throwing a hoof at him. “This is a mockery of loyalty, no matter what you call it!”

He took a deep breath, probably to shout his stupid, stupid. I stomped my hooves, cutting him off right then and there!

“I don’t want to hear it! You are driving me crazy! Loyalty has nothing to do with pledges, or the things you do! No matter how much time or money somebody dumps on you, that doesn’t make them loyal! Loyalty exists when there’s no incentive, when you’re all alone and there’s no other reason to follow! Loyalty can involve giving, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get back! You just have to like the guy, or your statue, or whatever!!” I’m rambling, I’m shouting, I’m stomping in place and making a fool of myself, I don’t care. “All you’re doing is corrupting your message! How many people would be here without the promise of a reward, huh?! Ten?!”

“There were, uh,” he coughs into his hoof, glancing around. “Almost twenty-five when I got here. But really, miss…”

“Twenty five?!”

“Kid,” the jester spat, “Sit down.”

“No!” I squealed, “I am not a child, you’re more childish than me, and I refuse to continue listening to this farce! This is not what loyalty is, and I EEK!”

A flash from above made me skip back a step, teetering on all four hooves. A light, the light above the rearing alicorn statue glowed even brighter, and, though it was difficult to tell, it began to descend, making the chamber just a little bit brighter. The crowd around me began whispering and half shouting, as stunned and surprised as I was.

It hung in the air, then shot forward, straight at me!

I reared up, nearly fell as it smacked me directly in the face. I somehow managed to remain on my feet, bumping back into the pew, blinded. Something began wrapping around me, and I tried to shake it off. Was it some crazy spell from the priest? What was he doing?! I bucked the stone behind me, tried to shake off the heavy weight as it settled, snug around my shoulders, bouncing off my front.

It took me a while to realize the weight wasn’t coming off, and longer to realize it wasn’t trying to choke me. I slowly eased open an eye, trying to see in the significantly darker chamber. A golden band had wound around my neck, over my cloak, with a bright orange circle set solidly in the center. I instantly saw the comparisons to my friend’s necklaces. Where Luna’s stone was heavyset and uncarved, and Discord’s was smooth and ovular, mine was carefully carved, a warm orange circle with a smaller, raised circle in the middle. Like the center of my sun cutie mark.

“Well,” I said to no one. “It’s an Element.”

“Yay! Hooray!” Luna stomped her hooves, almost bouncing in her seat as she cheered. She was the only one doing so. “Congrats, Tia! You got your Element!”

“Huh.” Goodness, I feel drained and shivery. And I could feel my face heating up even more. Did it really take a display like that? I just made a fool of myself, and I got an Element for it?

“Hey!” There was some clattering in the back and someone leapt onto their feet. “I, I was thinking the same thing, you know!”

“Yeah, me too!” “She’s new, how come she got chosen?!” “I’ve been attending for weeks!” “I’ve been attending for months!”

“Um…” I spun on my friends, “Guys?”

“Out of here, got it.” Discord fell down on his forefeet, crumpling sideways on his bad leg. He leaned back, clutching his claws to his chest. “I don’t need that arm to cast,” he mumbled, “Just tell me what to do.”

“I don’t even know where to go…” I look up at the doors surrounding the outer rim of the amphitheater. Ponies were already starting to seep into the steps, daring us to run past.

“You’re not going ANYWHERE!” the jester priest bellowed, his gusto back and cloak re-billowing. “You have stolen our sacred artifact of Loyalty, heretic! Return it, or pay the price!” All around us, there were squeals of agreement, two or three lights popping up in the rows, unicorn horns flaring…

“Oh my…”

Before he could come any closer, Luna hopped in front of me, horn and Element radiating a cool blue aura.

“Harmony blast!” she shouted.

“What?”

“With the three of us together, maybe we can blast them into being harmonious!”

She turned and smiled at me. I just stared back.

“Now hold on a second! That doesn’t make any kind of sense!”

Heedless, my sister dipped her snout under her Element, breathing it even brighter. The jester priest took a step back, red aura still held in place. I looked down at my own Element, wondering what in the world we could hope to do with it, or if I could even get it to work.

Still staring, I eased my horn alight…

And there’s a popping sound in my ears. The world flashes white, blinding me, my ears ringing and deaf. Was that me? I barely had enough magic to light a candle, let alone… I blink a few times, and realize I’m not blind, all the candles had just been snuffed out. And I can’t hear anybody around me, not a soul.

What in Equestria just happened?

I take a step back, trying to find the pew, but my hoof hit something else. Sticks? They rattle around me, clattering to the floor, straw ends scraping at my ankles…

“Ow!”

“Discord?”

A shadow shifted beside me, bright eyes flicking open in the darkness, wide open in shock.

“That flash…”

“Yeah, I saw it too.”

“It was white, the color of your Element.”

“What?” he squeaked, “I didn’t do anything.” A black mass waved at nothing in front of me. “Luna was the only one doing anything magical.”

“Cool, I can teleport?!”

“Luna? Teleport?” I babble, “We’ve moved?”

“Lemme try again!”

My eyes slammed shut as another flash seared into them. One foot lifted to block, I toppled sideways, crashed through a stack of buckets. Wood bounced off my back, instantly bruising, as I stepped, slipped, and slapped into the stone wall beyond.

“For goodness’s sake, Luna!” I cried.

“Sorry…” Luna’s light instantly vanished, leaving a blue smear across my eyes. “Just wanted to try it again…”

“Maybe that wasn’t us. There were dozens of unicorns in that hall.”

“I guess so…” there was some more clattering, and a squeak from my sister. “Wow, this place is pretty small. Where are we?”

“Looks like a broom closet,” Discord said.

“Does it? Hang on, I’m going to make a light.”

“Might not be necessary…”

“Why not?”

Discord was silent, and his eyes vanished. I could hear a light clattering, the uneven sound of his claws on the stone. There was some clopping, Luna moving, I guess, and a scratching sound. I just stared in the dark, trying to make out shapes. If we were in another room, shouldn’t there be a door? And shouldn’t there be light coming from there? I couldn’t tell, all I could do was listen to the rattle of heavy metal, some light squeaking, silence…

There was a loud banging, and I blasted a light to life.

“For goodness sake!” I shouted.

“The door’s locked,” Discord replied, guiltily pointing at the handle he hung off of.

“Who locks a broom closet?!”

Luna pushed herself into the wall as Discord dropped awkwardly to the ground, surrounded by fallen buckets and brooms, along with a few other random bric-a-brac. Beside what looked to be a slab of marble was a tangled pile of netting, fishing rods poking out of the top. Discord took two dragging steps to drop back beside me beside a gigantic and often-carved lump of pearly white soap, pulling his cloak tight around him.

“I’m sorry…” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes. “This was a trap. It was an obvious trap.”

“What?” I stare down at him. “It’s a very strange trap, if it was. We were allowed into the chapel. Everyone seemed shocked that we were able to get the Element. Then they teleport us to a locked broom closet with said Element? When they could’ve just taken it then and there?” I pause, waiting for his response. He fiddles with his fingers, refusing to meet my eye. “I think things just got a little weird. Maybe this was supposed to be safe… Maybe we weren’t supposed to go to that cult meeting thing.”

Discord continued to fiddle with his fingers. Luna looked at the fallen debris around her, trying to step around it quietly, trying to find a seat for herself. Finally, discord sighed.

“Thanks, Celestia.” Thanks…? “And you know.” Discord chuckled quietly, exhaustion clearly coming through in his voice. “Never thought you had that in you. Shouting at the priest in front of everybody…”

“Goodness, I don’t know what got into me!” I could already feel my face heating up. “It was only a few minutes ago and I already regret it. Goodness, this is just embarrassing…”

“The Element agreed with you.”

“But I didn’t need to shout it over an adult, a priest of all things…”

“What even is a priest?” Luna piped up.

“I don’t know!” I cried. “But it sounded important! I just, can we talk about something else?!”

“So uh…” Discord looked over the door, resting his head in his good foreleg. “How are we getting out?”

“Well that’s easy!” Luna squeaked, smile smacking her across the face. “We can harmony blast it!”

I stared at my sister.

“Where is this sudden obsession with blasting coming from, Luna…?”

“We all have our Elements now, I dunno.” Luna looked down at her Element. “Maybe that means we can all work together?” Discord snorted, rubbing one eye.

“So… Harmonize?” he chuckled.

“Yes! That! And we could shout something really cool like—“

“We don’t have to shout!”

“—Bringers! Harmonize!”

I laugh. “Luna, where are you getting all this energy from?”

“Aren’t you excited, Celestia? You finally got your element! Now we’re really the Bringers of Harmony!”

“I suppose…” I looked down at the necklace firm against my neck, glittering in the light of my aura. It felt… comfortable, and warm. Like a part of me put into place. Or something that was a part of me all along. Neither Luna nor Discord really mentioned that feeling at all… But it’s not like they ever removed the bands, and they looked perfectly in place around their necks. “You know, it’s just crazy, just thinking these are the Elements…” I look up at my friend and my sister. “I mean, that was just a random guess of mine, based on an old story book.”

“But I got proof that they are the Elements,” Discord said, “Remember?”

“Yeah but… yes, fascinating.” I nod, watching my Element bob. “Let’s see if we can Harmonize. Or just see if we can do anything!”

“We could focus on the door, pump a lot of energy into the Element”

“Or focus on eachother!”

“Or maybe we should unify in one task, one mind. Like… Escape!” I thought for a moment. “Maybe we teleported ourselves out of that situation.”

Luna stared up at me.

“Huh. Maybe we did!”

“So if we all focus our thoughts, and just think… I don’t know.” I finally sit myself down, collecting ideas. “About the square outside. Maybe we’ll all teleport.”

“Okay!”

I’m surprised how easy, how naturally I can push my magic through the Element. I remember what it was like trying to force myself through Discord’s necklace, when it was only a necklace. I remember how my magic kept sliding off. But I can almost feel myself in this Element, my Element. Like a brightly glowing focal point, or another horn. I wonder, briefly, if Luna and Discord are feeling the same way, or if they even notice how odd the feeling is.

I focus my thoughts, my magic through this new source. I don’t know how to teleport, but if we’re all focusing on the same thing… The room fills with the lights, silver, blue, and orange, becoming almost as bright as the sky above the clouds. There’s a ringing sound, each in our own tone, chiming in, well, Harmony. I listen to the chimes, maintaining my own quietly.

But after about five minutes…

“Um…”

“Teleport!”

“Luna!”

“Shouting, I know!” Luna plopped down into her forelegs, light fading as she pouted. “Just thought maybe the elements needed a bit of help…”

My light falters as well, looking around our broom closet prison.

“Well.”

Luna hopped up again, instantly re-energized.

“I guess we try blasting the door now!” she exclaimed.

“No,” I said. “We’re just firing blind. Why don’t we try and use our normal magic?”

“I think I’m drained for the night,” Discord mumbled. “And I’m kind of thinking we need all the Elements to actually do something.”

“Yes, maybe…”

Luna stared up at the door quietly, shifting in place. She flicked her tail, her ears in a pent-up irritation. Finally, with a little stomp of her hoof:

“Man, these things are useless.”

“Luna!”

“What?” she glanced back at me, shocked. “I didn’t shout that.”

“You insulted a set of highly powerful artifacts, the very artifacts that were used to save all of pony kind, I assume!”

“Well if they can’t do anything without all six, then that’s just silly!” Luna said back, “Why can’t we just do the same stuff, but weaker with three?”

“It’s not like we got them to do anything spectacular with two,” Discord pointed out.

“But now this is all of the Bringers working together! All three of us!”

I sighed. “I don’t know how these things work anymore than you do, Luna. But if it makes you feel better, we’ll try, um, blasting the door.”

Luna’s head bobbed vigorously, and she hopped to face the shadowy planks, head lowered, scooping her nose under the Element. I squeezed up beside her, shifting aside some buckets and brooms to stand more firmly. But even with all my shifting, I still wound up leaning a little bit sideways, with one leg parched atop an overturned bucket.

Discord slinked into position on Luna’s other side, never standing up. More like he flopped around until he was good enough, knocking the fishing poles aside and barely blinking when they fell of him. I couldn’t help myself, I had to laugh at the sight. Quietly, of course.

“You doing alright, Discord?”

“I am exhausted. Can we please get out of here?”

“Are you going to have enough magic for this?”

“For this? Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

“So um… Harmonize again?”

“Uh-huh!”

The air began to hum again. Luna, bright and vibrant, my own light about the same… Discord’s little silver light almost seemed to be swallowed up by our auras. Goodness, even Luna alone was drowning the both of us out. This felt like it would work even less than our first attempt, we didn’t feel in sync at all…

“So…”

“Boom!” Luna shouted.

“I don’t think that’s going to—”

The door flew open, everybody screamed, and a pale blue pony got blasted by a flood of light.

~¤~

I sat on the cold floor, a bare table in front of me. Still night, of course, but the falsefire candles hanging around the circular library made the place bright, as bright as that black stone can get, at least. Luna was beside me, eager and chipper, while Discord…

“Discord,” I hissed, poking my head under the table, “I know you’re tired, but it’s rather rude to be sleeping at a time like this!”

He grunted, and tugged his cloak tighter around himself, curling up into a ball. He mumbled something about the morning and his arm, and fell still. I shrugged at my sister, who continued bouncing in her seat.

“Aren’t you getting tired, Luna?”

“How could I get tired at a time like this?!”

“I don’t know… It’s been such a long day.” I stared down at the table, just trying to recount our step. “We left Stringhalt yesterday night, stayed up far too late. We talked about our family all day, Discord fell out a tree. And just an hour ago there was that ridiculous ceremony…”

“It will be midnight in just a few short minutes.” An old pony who might once have been a brilliant blue hovered a platter towards our table, decked with a little cups, saucers, and a simple tea kettle. He wore that same kind of heavy cloak the jester priest wore, but this one was perhaps a bit older, with his middle tied with a bit of rope. “And yes, I am sorry your first experience with the Shrine of Loyalty was so… hectic.” He set the platter on the table, using a very pale aura to lift and pour the tea kettle. Oh tea, how I missed you! I politely wait for my cup to be poured and take a light sip of the delightfully nasty drink. It has been too long, my beloved status symbol. Far, far too long!

He finished pouring the third cup, and stared quietly at Discord’s absent seat. He carefully ducked to look under the table.

“Is there something the matter with your companion?” The old pony asked.

“Discord’s just tired. He was feeling ill earlier, and I’m not surprised the stress has gotten to him…”

Discord grunted, probably trying to acknowledge that he’s awake and can hear us, but I have my doubts to that. The older pony glanced down at him again, then took a seat across the table, pouring himself a fourth cup.

“In any case. I am Curling Quill, the Head Illuminator here at the shrine. And, well… Hm…” He took a careful drink, staring into his cup. “And I had a very well written speech for when the Elements would finally arrive here, but it’s gotten all muddy, what with this whole…” He waved and irritated hoof. “Cult business Bolster has dredged up. Yes… Again, I am sorry we haven’t met on the best of terms, I do apologize, yes… But everybody’s gone back to their homes, rather quickly, once you vanished. I doubt we’ll see most of them back, yes…” He poured himself more tea and stared at it silently. I poured myself a cup, waiting quietly for his continuation. … Um… If he will continue… He began staring into his cup, not even drinking it, quiet as the grave.

“Curling Quill?”

“Oh, yes, sorry,” he mumbled. “Where was I?”

“You had a speech…?”

“Yes, yes, totally useless now, what with the mess.”

“Well, what was it about?”

“Lots of things, so, so very many things,” he croaked, voice cracking with age. “Your Elements. The journeys before you and the past behind, the hope you present, so on and so forth.” He took another drink. “All a jumbled mess now, of course.”

“Well, we’d still love to hear it!” I cry, almost laughing, “I mean…” I stare down at the Element, still settled so comfortably over my heart. “It’s really strange to think about, we’ve been gathering them with the thought that we’d help people… maybe? And there are just so many questions, it’s a little overwhelming, and…”

“Hey Mister Quill?” Luna spoke up.

“Yes?” he creaked, “Luna, was it?”

“Do you know what Elements we have? I’ve been wondering about mine for weeks now!”

He leaned forward slowly, and looked carefully at Luna, at her necklace, half hidden under her cloak.

“Well, I suppose…” he mumbled, “From what tomb did you take yours?”

“Golden Jubliee’s!”

“Ah.” He nodded. “Yes, then you would be the Element of Laughter.”

Luna squeals, clapping her hooves.

“Yay! I guessed that!”

“And I guess mine would be Loyalty…” I said.

“Yes, you are Loyalty.”

“It’s funny,” I shift the Element a little. “I don’t feel particularly Loyal… I mean, I feel like I understood it better than that priest, but that was just a tirade I went on.”

“You were Loyal enough to be accepted,” Curling Quill replied, “And that is proof for anyone who would contest your position.”

“Alright…”

“As for the boy…” Again, Curling Quill slowly poked his head under the table. “From where did he get his Element…?”

“Well,” I paused, half wondering if Discord will speak up. “Discord stole his from the Stallion.”

Very, very slowly, Quill’s eyes widened, shoving aside folds and bags of skin.

“Really? It was this boy?”

“Is there a problem?”

“No, no. Well…  Yes, he stole an Element. But it nonetheless accepted him, so I suppose it’s… ordained…” He cast a shifty glance downward. “Though I had hoped that the other Elements would be coming into their own, but we shall see, we shall see… The other three should be encountering the Gravekeeper, they’ll know where to go, yes…” And with that, he fell quiet once more, staring down at him cup.

“Um…” I stared at the old stallion. “Sorry? What was all that?”

“Yes, the boy.” Quill nodded to himself. “He is Kindness.”

I spit into my drink, splattering the tepid fluid across my snout.

“Kindness?!”

“Yes…” He slowly blinked as I tried to wipe my snout on my cloak. “Something the matter?”

Yes! Discord? as Kindness?! That’s laughable! That is a mistake! But heck if I was going to say that with Discord sleeping exausted at my feet.

“I, uh,” I stammered. “That doesn’t really seem to suit the Shadow Stallion’s, uh… attitude?”

“Of course not,” Curling Quill sighed and sluggishly shook his head. “He has succumbed to his nightmares, hasn’t he?”

“I wouldn’t know?” What in Equestria is that even supposed to mean?

“Hm…” Curling Quill looked at me, noticing my confused expression. Finally. “How much do you three know?”

“When Celestia was little,” Luna chirped, still very excited. “She had a painted picture book about the alicorns that had the Elements and learned about friendship! I never saw it but she told me all about it and it sounded like a wonderful story! Is it true?”

“Yes… in a way. By chance, did a copy of The Way of Elements, The Way of the Gods made it into your library?”

“I don’t know if that was the title...” I replied, “I’d be astonished if it was!”

“I can go fetch our copy, if you would like.” He started to slowly get to his feet, but I threw out a hoof, waving at him to stay.

“I think what’s important is that we don’t know anything!” I cried, “There’s another group like us looking for the Elements? Who’s the Gravekeeper? And nightmares? You keep saying things assuming we know what they mean!”

“Hm… well yes, they were going to be mentioned in that one mess of a speech… Though not the Gravekeeper, of course. And nightmares are only a passing section…”

“Well, can we please have an explanation?”

“To what?”

“Anything!”

He took another sip of his tea, leaving me to simmer. I don’t want to get angry, not at someone who has all the answers to questions I never asked, but really, really feel I should know. He’s just so… SLOW!

“Well,” he mumbled, “If you’d like a quick answer, the Gravekeeper manages the Tomb of Magic. Still waiting for its recipient, I believe.”

“That… I’m sorry, that explanation only raises more questions. And I don’t even know if they’re relevant questions.”

“So um,” Luna piped up. She watched me, probably wondering why I was getting so worked up. Well, wouldn’t I like to know… “Are all the Elements are kept in tombs?”

“Yes. Well, all but Kindness, of course.”

“So all the poor alicorns died?” Luna asked.

“No, no, no,” he shook his hoof back and forth, waving the idea away. “Ascension comes with immortality, they could never actually die, even if they wanted to. Though… I suppose that doesn’t mean they don’t succumb to old age, in a sense of the word.”

“So then why are you calling these places tombs?” I ask, finally glad to be on an informative tract.

“Because they contain the essentially dead,” he simply replied.

“What,” I laughed, a crazy idea coming to mind, “Are these ascended beings trapped in the sarcophagus under the statues?”

“No, no, no. They are the statues.”

Stunned silence. A moment to figure out what I had just heard.

What?” I squeaked.

“Pardon, but I thought you understood that.”

“I…” I stared at the stallion across from me. They are the statues? How does that even work? I remember looking over the careful, crazy detail on Golden Jubilee, how even the eyelashes were intact, the inlaid cutie mark. It was all stonemasonry, from very strong stone. Right? “Can you just give us the speech?” I finally asked.

“Yes… but no. It’s ruined, no point in saying it now.”

“There is a point! I am so, so very confused!”

“Hm…” He took a drink, “Yes, let me fetch it.” Then he rocked to his feet and tottered off, into the stacks. He returned in a surprisingly short amount of time, carrying a poorly bound stack of parchment. He carefully set it on the table and flipped it open.

“From the beginning then, yes… I’m going to have to modify some things, it was meant to be presented to a crowd… Ah, but no matter, no matter, let’s see if I can get this all to make sense. Ahem. When Starswirl the Bearded first looked upon the Elements…”

“Is this... really necessary?”

He glanced at his notes, flipped through them a bit, then up at me, frowning.

“Do you want to go back to questioning me?”

“From the beginning, then.”

He cleared his throat.

When Starswirl the Bearded first looked upon the Elements, he knew not their purpose or power. They had been forged in the flames of war, summoned from the greatest acts of Harmony ever known. All three of the tribes coming together had sparked events of such Generosity and Kindness. The union had hewn through the cruelty of war with Honesty and Laughter. And of course, formed unbreakable bonds of Loyalty, ones that were never to be broken. So did Starswirl observe the Elements, created without hoof, but with heart.

In his life, he would never know the Element’s full potential. His final act of supreme magic, defeating the forces of Tartarus, combined all the Elements, from himself, and from the harmonious army of ponies beneath his hooves. Those who looked upon the mighty blast would see the formation of Magic, and would offer a hint of the Element’s purpose. For but a moment, Starswirl ascended with a pair of ghostlike wings.

He passed his research on to his heir, Clover the Clever, still thinking them merely a superweapon of pony kind. After Clover assisted with the formation of our proud nation, he began looking into its defense, and its leadership. For the country was founded on the principles of harmony, but its intent was not being carried out by the old lords of the fractured Tribes. That is when he found the First Gods. Two of the Earth Ponies, Two of the Pegasi, and Two of the Unicorns. Each an Element of Harmony, each transformed into the perfect form of the Alicorn. These six stallions ruled in an unprecedented peace, making Equestria The Land of Harmony.

But now, their time has passed. Age and nightmare has taken them from the light of Harmony, and we must now accept our new Gods, the Second Gods of Harmony.

“And then I would talk about your Loyalty, which you have displayed, so let me flip a bit further…”

“Gods?” I squeaked.

“Cool!” Luna squealed. “We’re going to rule Equestria!” Curling Quill nodded at my sister, face folding into a very wrinkly smile.

“I assume once all six of the Elements harmonize, the transformation will begin, and then your place will be clear, yes… The Shadow Stallion will no longer be our god, and you six will replace him.”

“But… surely… the qualifications for this are just… these…?” I yanked forward the orange gem, feeling the golden band unravel around my neck.

“Well, duh!” Luna nodded furiously. “That means we’re good and moral ponies!”

“That is the idea… They decide you worthy to become alicorns, a moral basis of ascension. Of course, we will train you, give you the ability to bear the mantle of a god.” He chuckled. “If anything you three have a head start on the last six. You’re young, able to learn what we have to teach, yes… They were fully grown when they accepted their duties, already full of dangerous ideas…”

“So the last six…”

“The First Gods.”

“They all succumbed to nightmares?”

“That’s skipping ahead a bit, but…” He flipped through his speech, passing by dozens of pages. “Yes, one by one, they all fell to their own nightmares. And with no one to entomb Kindness, his corruption becomes the land’s corruption… Once you all get together, your first duty will be seeing to the Shadow Stallion’s final rest. You will have to entomb him in stone, and lament his fall from grace.”

Lament his fall from grace? I stare at the window, the thick clouds, blocking out what might have been a very bright night. The enslavement of the Pegasi, the neglect and fear he wreaks in Equestria, across the countryside. I’m not lamenting that, when we ‘put him to rest’ I am chucking that statue into the woods, or breaking it into a million pieces, if I can.

“But what about Magic?” Luna asked. I looked over to her, confused.

“What about Magic?” I asked her.

“Curling Quill said no one was left to entomb Kindness, but then he said Magic’s tomb was empty. Does that mean Magic is still wandering around?”

“Hm, yes, I did…” he glanced over at his empty cup, then down at his speech. Carefully, he began collecting and closing the pages. “We seem to be out of tea. But yes, your question first. No, first, an explaination… Magic is a special Element. It’s not a Harmonious attribute, not a guidepost for good moral behavior… But it is very important. It is the Keystone, the Glue, the pivot point that binds all the other Elements together.” He lifted his speech and tapped the pages together, trying to get them orderly. “It is a very powerful Element, but its existence is tied to the existence of the others. When Harmony dissolves, so does Magic dissolve.” He went to take a drink, then realized his cup was empty. “It was about twenty years past that Magic fled, yes. Right after the entombment of Generosity. He was no longer able to bear his burdens as a god, and the sky has been dark ever since. So I suppose, when the First God of Magic returns, you will have to entomb him as well.” He nodded, as if that was that. “Now, I should go make some more tea.”

Things were silent as he collected the cups and clattered away. Then, slowly, Discord poked his head up over the table, rubbing his baggy eyes.

“This is messed up,” he croaked.

“So you were awake for that?” I asked.

“It’s important for me too. I couldn’t sleep through that. I mean, for one, just… they’re picking leaders because of a bauble?”

“Not just a bauble!” Quill returned, carrying another hot pot of tea. “I thought I explained… I will again anyway, yes… The Elements were formed from the purest, most sacred moments of pony good will. The Will of the Elements is the Will of Ponykind, and the light it shines nurtures true Gods.” He nodded at Discord, who looked far too tired to return any pleasant looks. “Well, look at it this way, young stallion. There is no lords squabbling over this power. Proper training can assure the leader is well-built, and their leadership can last decades, or centuries, gaining far more wisdom than any single lifetime will allow.”

“We just saw people squabbling over the Element downstairs,” discord replied flatly.

“Yes, yes,” again, he waved the retort away. “But that is a small blip on the spans you will live. Really, this rule by magical means is not so strange. What history was taught to you, hm…? Are you not familiar with how Zebras rule their land?”

“No…” Discord mumbled.

“I had never heard of a Zebra until I was in Stringhalt,” I reply.

“Well, the Zebra have their own god, The Living King. His spirit is contained within a special mantle. Through training and ritual, the new heir takes this spirit within him, and is granted all the wisdom and strength of all his former lives. The mantle decides who will serve their country with the purest of hearts and intentions.” Curling Quill nodded quietly to himself for almost half a minute before starting up once more, almost shouting. “This is what was lacking in our barbaric prehistoric times! A good judge of character, ensuring that our King, our Gods would rule with ponykind in their hearts. It was only due to the Elements of Harmony that we finally managed to grow into our own, as a country.”

It sounded… reasonable to me. I liked it in theory. But only one look out the window seemed to refute this argument. Surprisingly, Discord seemed to agree, snorting quietly into his good arm.

“Well we don’t seem to be doing so hot now,” he mumbled.

“Again, must I repeat myself? This time, this rule we live under is but a small blip on the centuries of peace this system will grant us. Now… I saw as I was preparing tea, but it’s getting rather late, later than expected. Let me lead you to where you’ll be sleeping, and then you’ll be heading directly to Canterlot in the morning. For your training, yes…”


XXXIV : January the Nineteenth

The Steadfast Sky : January the Nineteenth

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

Authors Note, A Caveat: I must first apologize if things get sloppy or poorly composed in the course of this collection. So rarely do events happen so quickly, and even more rarely do we Illuminators get to observe such events firsthand. I did my best to take notes, and was able to capture a good deal of the Second God’s adventures. But in my haste to observe and capture the moments that unfolded afterwards, this collection turned into a treatise of personal observations, field notes rather than a constructed historical record.

Forgive me for my amateurish mistakes. Praise the Alicorns, may their wisdom grow ever more infinite.

~Observations, January the Nineteenth ~

On January the Eighteenth, Year Ninety Three of the Equestrian Age, at half past ten at night, the Elements made themselves known at the Shrine. Let it be written that they arrived in an atmosphere of heretics, one cultivated by our neglect. Our order had been blinded by the supposed love of the uninitiated, love solely stoked by our fire-tonged Priest, Bolster Brass. His love sought out true Loyalty, but his beliefs were cleanly sundered by the words of our Second Gods, arriving to strike him down and display for all the fact that his words as poison. Only the Alicorns know the truth of the Elements, so are they allowed to bear them, harbingers of true harmony. Bolster Brass was expunged from our order that very night, and his willingness to beg for forgiveness spared him true punishment.

Our Head Illuminator, Curling Quill, then confided in the three Second Gods, identifying them as Laughter, Kindness, and, of course, Loyalty. All are astoundingly young, like empty vessels to be filled with the wisdom we have to offer. They unaware of a great many things, as I have heard, including the true purpose of the Elements of Harmony.

I will now take a brief time to describe the Elements up close, as it is so rare we are allowed close contact with such noble creatures, especially in a time prior to their most glorious rise.

Kindness, birth name Discord, is a most unusual specimen I have yet to encounter, and it is bizarre that such a creature could have come into possession of a pony-centric artifact. He is a Draconequus, and there is little I know of their physiology and behavior. Certainly, there must be a record somewhere, and I will add them as a note if such records are found.

His behavior was not knowledge I could easily observe on my own, as he was very ill at his time of arrival. But I was given very helpful notes by the Element of Laughter. She has told me that Kindness is very playful. A ‘tricksy pony’ were the words she used, her vocabulary slightly limited with her age. She went on to say that Kindness likes to take care of himself, but very much cares for his friends in his own, often lighthearted way.

Loyalty, when asked, wondered aloud the question of why an independent creature such as Kindness could come to bear his Element. But she quickly accepted that things were acceptable because the Elements’ judgment is absolute. She is a very wise mare. I will describe her next, before moving on to the one I feel I know the most about, Second Laughter.

Loyalty’s birth name is Celestia Helios, once a Unicorn baroness born and raised in Canterbury, along with Kindness and Laughter. When presented with the truth of her nature, that she is to become a god, Loyalty withdrew to uncertainty and self-doubt, a noble and wise action. She retreated to the library in search of a book, and when Laughter went to fetch her, you could already tell quite clearly that she had grown and changed. I curse my personal lack in foresight, as she should have been provided with paper to document her glorious transformation. Her process of thought will have to be left to our own speculation.

~LOYALTY~

I heard my sister rocket out of bed barely as it began to get light. I wonder if she slept at all last night. I know I didn’t. How could I? God? Ruler of Equestria? How can I handle a country when I can barely even handle my own life? I slid off the pallet and felt the sweat cool. Tears dry.

I had no idea where my hooves were taking me. Each hoof might as well have been in space, I couldn’t feel them moving, I just saw the world slide by, blurring. I wound up wandering back to the library , a nebulous idea of that book rattling around my head. There was a book I needed to see.

I looked at the rows of carefully bound and placed books. Dozens with dark blue covers. Equestria one, Equestria two… Manuals on recipes, gilded accounts of an old war, tiny leaflet journals about this or that plant, a rudimentary guide to magic. Not sorted, merely collected, stuffed onto shelves and left to the dust.

At one point, Discord stopped by, exhausted, asked me about Kindness. I gave him the same answer I had been hearing from the librarians, scribes, whatever. The Elements say so, so there’s no questioning it. They said he was kind, so he is. Though I couldn’t stop myself from slipping and saying I think him being Kindness is crap. He didn’t need to hear that. Not with how sick he is. And not with how sick I made him look. I should have gone after him, but caught up in my own thoughts…

I don’t know, was I stupid? Being a hero was a responsibility. Being a hero was about taking care of others. It wasn’t about just doing and going where you wanted. What about this made it different. What about it, Celestia? You have been chosen to do this. This is what you are. This is what has been asked… No, there was never any asking, just assumption. Am I mad because it was just that, just handed to me? This is what you are now. What happened to choosing my own fate, my own place to be happy?

Isn’t that what a cutie mark is for? Your path of happiness…

But oh god… my cutie mark.

The sun. The sun the sun, the silly little dreamy sun, a lofty goal above the clouds. Return the light, be the light, be the sun. Isn’t that what I wanted for myself?

What girl when they’re little doesn’t dream of being a Princess? They want the fancy dresses, the nice food, the social atmosphere. Just getting what they want, all day long. But every princess becomes a queen, every child has to grow up and take some responsibility. And for a Princess, it’s ultimate responsibility. The leader of leaders, the caretaker of thousands or more.

I can’t even take care of my sister. I can’t even do that much. I can’t do this, I can’t.

What kind of system is this?

I returned to the stacks.

~¤~

It was the same book.

Not the exact book, not a direct copy. A full recreation, maybe taken from a single template. I hovered it over to a table, the same table we sat at last night, and carefully peel the cover open.

The first true page, a green field, painted on in watercolor, bright and vibrant as I remembered, emerald bound carefully between raised black lines, to separate it from the painted sky. Six figures danced among the clouds. Blue, Brown, Pink, Purple, Red, and Green. Outlined in gold, surrounded by the aura of their manes, six stallions with massive wings and horns, shining their light on all the happy ponies beneath them.

My eyes flickered over the words it accompanies. Peace. Harmony. Friendship between the tribes. Praise the alicorns, the chosen Elements of Harmony.

I turned a page.

Blue Magic, the stallion that will eventually break and abandon his country. He often listened to his tutor. However, once he disobeyed, tried a dangerous spell on a living being. It worked, but the creation offended the natural world. He is forgiven for his innocence, but punished for his disobedience. Be aware of others, but know not to harm. Praise the alicorns, their wisdom grows infinite from this lesson.

Pink Laughter, the stallion that will hide his face in a crumbling tomb. He once penned plays, but was not allowed to create as often as he liked when he inherited Equestria. He resorted to leaving his duties behind, putting strain on the other Elements as they attempted to keep up. When he returns, he apologizes, but is punished for his disobedience. There are priorities that one has, and while fun is important, one should put the needs of others first. Praise the alicorns, their wisdom grows infinite from this lesson.

Brown Kindness… The Shadow Stallion. I stared at him. His aura, his mane was like flowing blades of grass, thick and angular from his head, glittering from emerald dust. His eye, staring blankly sideways, was an inlaid blue gemstone. His cutiemark was a single swollen butterfly, painted a runny blue.

He tried to teach a speckled little dog a funny trick. But the dog is too old to listen, so Kindness tries to cast a spell over it. Kindness doesn’t know what he’s doing, and with Laughter goading him on, Kindness winds up hurting all three of them in a blast of magic. While it is noble to experiment with boundaries, it is dangerous and must be approached carefully. Praise the alicorns, their wisdom grows infinite from this lesson.

I can’t take my eyes off of Kindness casting his spell. He’s reared up on his hind legs, horn surrounded by a field of silver, painted and polished directly onto the page. Billowing clouds surround him, swirling lumps of gray and black…

I slap the book closed, a little gust of wind curling past my clenched jaw.

~Observations, January the Nineteenth ~

I spent the most time January the Nineteenth with Laughter, birth name Luna Helios and the younger Unicorn sister of Loyalty. She is, or has developed fully into the true epitome of her Element. She is cheerful and bubbly, taking her rise to godhood very well. This may come in some part from her childishness, but the fact that she is Laughter points to a deeply ingrained and long-term commitment to who she naturally is and will be.

As expected for a child who has not yet developed a cutie mark, her variety of magic is large and unstructured. While her sister has yet to discover the true abilities of the sun, Laughter has dabbled in shadow and sonic spells. She is unusually powerful for her age, but this is almost certainly due to the influence of the Element, as long term exposure has certainly had its effects on her structure by now. If the other three Elements were present, she would be ripe to ‘pop’ so to say.

In any case, she regaled to me the full extent of her adventures thus far, which I have attached at the bottom end of this document. Her retellings were childish and energetic, and the notes I’ve taken will probably require a good deal of extrapolation and fact-checking, from both the sources of her adventures and her fellow Elements. Both Loyalty and Kindness were unavailable at first to comment on these stories, Kindness for his illness, and Loyalty for her admirable engrossment self-reflection.

It is now that I turn my observations over to actual events. I have attached my original notes, the messy scrawls that they are, but have attempted to clean them up for a proper presentation and analysis here. I am eternally grateful to Dashing Pen, who made sure I knew how to speed write. While the observations are my own, the words spoken aloud are verbatim, and highly accurate.

~Events, January the Ninteenth, Eleven in the morning~

As stated, I had spent the morning listening to the stories of Laughter. Despite their childishness, they were endearing, and had an honest truth about them, even the parts she did not seem to understand. She told them in the primary chamber, supposedly for General Hurricane’s benefit, though her central location meant several Illuminators stopped to listen as well. I wish I was able to record the flow of her voice, but I was more concerned with keeping the facts straight at the time.

In any case, after a few hours of this, Clear Chime entered the chamber, not to listen, but to fetch one of the unicorn scribes, Glitter Dawn. Though I did not record the specific of their conversation, the gist was easy enough to remember. A fox had broken into the chicken coop, and wasn’t leaving. Clear Chime hoped that Glitter Dawn would be able to use her magic to extract the offending creature, but Glitter Dawn was equally disgusted and frightened by the presence of the beast.

At that moment, Laughter plainly demanded to be allowed to remove the creature. She explained that it was her place as a god to help those around her. Her logic was childish, but after claiming to know how to teleport via the shadows, none would stop her. Each person attending followed in her wake, wishing to witness her bragged abilities first-hand.

We easily reached the chicken coop, and all was silent within the structure. I was uncertain how many chickens we had, but a good many were clustered in the corner of the courtyard, clucking among themselves quietly. It seemed that only one or two may have been harmed, but it was difficult to tell. Two of the trailing Illuminators moved to one side of the barn to try and remove the side, the entrance we often use to access the eggs. But before it could be removed, Laughter snuck herself right into the smaller entrance built for the chickens. This, despite the protests of the Illuminators, many insisting that the fox could be rabid, or otherwise hurt her.

I remember clearly where I was. I saw her four little hooves turn themselves, body and head obscured by the structure. She said something cheerful, like ‘don’t worry mister fox!’ or something similar. Then, her hooves stopped bouncing in place, became firm on the ground. In a voice serious, quite unlike her normal demeanor, she said thusly:

“Discord?”

~KINDNESS~

I can’t move. I can’t even close my eyes. All the water kept leaking out, leaving them dry and sandy, unfocused. I think I’m dying. I stare at my paw, stiff and still beside me, and think… Well, at least it doesn’t hurt. I feel like all my insides are hollowed out, but it doesn’t hurt much.

I wonder if I’ll see Ruin in hell. But it’s stupid, why would I see him there?

I don’t want to die, I don’t want to. I don’t I don’t I don’t I don’t. I know what I need, what I’ve been needing for weeks. Back at the castle, I never let it go this far, didn’t have the willpower. But out here, I had a purpose. I had a reason to just… not eat. I couldn’t, not with how Luna reacted in Stringhalt. Her horror and disgust, just with being associated with death. For her to learn more…

I don’t want to lose my friends. It just seems so close now. I could lose my friends.

But I’d lose them if I died too…

Is this what Kindness is? Self-sacrifice? But to let myself die for that philosophy… it makes me feel nasty, dirty. It’s a perversion. This choice, both choices. Why do I have to be forced to make it?

I stared at my hand, forced it to move. If I have to choose between two perversions of kindness, I think I’ll go with the one where I live.

Just my body awkward, limping along to a slow beat, cloak trailing in the dirt. Just emotion, no thought, stumbling around. What is kindness, am I kind enough to hold this Element, what would everyone think, do these librarian know? Apple knew what a Draconequus was, does anybody else here know? Do they understand why thousands of unicorns are locked up in a pen with hundreds of Draconequus? Why even unicorns specificially, I don’t know the answer to that. It’s sloppier with unicorns. Lots sloppier, that black gunk everywhere. I think I’d feel sick if I had anything left to be sick with. I’m not going to hurt anybody. Not any pony, none at all. Does that make me better or worse? What am I? Am I Kindness or a Draconequus… they’re mutually exclusive, I know they are. I know.

I know I hurt so badly right now. Even if the pain is just emptiness, it just… hurts.

I don’t have answers to anything important. I no longer know what to think of myself. And I don’t know how I got here. Why I’m here, that’s easier. It’s a little wooden hut, raised off the ground with a little ramp up to an open doorway. Slightly taller than me, straw and feathers strewn around the bottom.

I scrambled up the ramp, wriggle my way in through the little doorway. I probably only fit because of how thin I’ve gotten, how starved. Three fat hens cluck inside the tiny house, eyeing me, suspicious. I know they are. I can see the body language… all these animals, they’re aware. They can’t speak, but they can communicate. They can understand. I wish they didn’t. I wish they didn’t give me those eyes…

I take a deep breathe of that fetid air, gulp back a mouthful of spit, and jump on one of the clucking birds. I pin it in place, not knowing where I get the strength to do so. I dig my jaws around its neck, knowing it’s kindest to let the creature die quick.

~Events, January the Nineteenth, Half Past Eleven in the morning~

I pulled out my paper, dropped down to the cobblestone, and prepared myself for observation. I suppose I didn’t know what else to think at that moment, what else I should be doing. It was beyond my understanding why Kindness would be in this situation, beyond my right to analyze. I only observed.

“What are you doing in here?” Laughter asked.

“What does it look like?”

“It’s dark.”

“You can see through it,” he growled.

“I don’t want to.”

Quietly, just within my hearing, “Of course not.”

Clear Chime stepped forward.

“Prince Discord? Are you alright?”

“No!” He swore at the Illuminator, then things were quiet to me. Later, after confiding with Clear Chime, the scribe quietly relayed to me that after his question, Kindness had begun to cry under his breath.

“You must hate me now,” Kindness said aloud.

“I don’t hate you,” came Laughter’s reply.

“I’m a… I eat meat.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Why do you think?”

“I… I don’t know.”

“You do.”

“No, I don’t!”

“Of course you do! What do you think I ate, all of the Draconequus ate in Canterbury?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t you?! It’s obvious isn’t it? What else would a carnivore eat?!” Laughter mumbled something, to which Kindness spat back: “Have you ever seen me eating grass?!”

“Well I saw you eating apples and carrots and stuff!”

“Probably why I survived this long! Haven’t touched meat since Canterbury…”

“Well, that’s good!”

“That’s why I’m half dead Luna!”

“Oh…”

My pen hovered over the page, waiting for the Elements to speak again.  They did not for a good while.

“Well?” Kindness snapped, voice raspy.

“Well what?”

“Well what are you going to do about this?”

“I don’t know.”

I could hear him hiss words, but, behind on my scrawling, I was sadly unable to record his words.

“No!” Laughter shouted, clearly able to hear Kindness.

“Then what do you want to do with me?!”

“I don’t want to do anything! I don’t… I don’t know! I don’t know! Stop looking at me!” Laughter forced her way through the coop door, screaming for her sister Loyalty as she charged past our group.

My notes grew a little hysteric at that point as well, and their confusion can mostly be disregarded. I considered this argument a corruption of the Elements, which is altogether untrue and heretical in nature, Alicorns forgive me.

~LAUGHTER~

I’m usually very sure of what I think. I don’t like not knowing what I think. It’s like I’m not thinking anymore. Seeing Discord hurt, a limp form with two little lights for eyes. Yet  he stood over a dead body, a ripped open skin… I had never seen something that looked so much like nothing, yet so clearly used to be something. It’s like my brain turned off then. What am I supposed to think about this?

I don’t know anything. That’s all I can think with my brain off. I don’t know any single thing.

I need my big sis.

~Events, January the Nineteenth, Quarter til Noon~

While my notes are mostly unhelpful and ultimately become discarded, I remember clearly what we Illuminators did next. Glitter Dawn successfully removed the side of the coop and exposed the Prince Kindness all to see.

I remember very distinctly his appearance as we opened the coop. Even under his cloak, we could all see clearly his thin, scraggly form, and rabidly fearful would be an accurate description of his eyes. The poor Prince had been badly damaged by his hunger. He flinched in the light, snout and paws painted red with an empty carcass at his feet.

For a moment, none of us knew what to say either. My hysterics, heretical as they were, explain clearly what I’m sure the lot of us were thinking. He is our new god of Kindness, and this, for most of us, was our first encounter with him. In a moment of such weakness, in the lowest point of his life. Glitter Dawn shakily joked that the first gods had their problems as well, and everybody followed her in a laugh. Another of the scribes, Gilded Brush, urged that the Prince remove himself from the coop, remarking its filth. Kindness did, and I was relieved to see him hang his head in shame.

It was a mistake, is all. He has the wisdom to see his sins, and will grow more the wiser from this happenstance. He mumbled apologies at this time, expressing sorrow for the chicken. Explaining how close to death he was. He even attempted to describe the feeling, curled tightly around himself, clutching his cloak tightly around his stomach. While I wish I could recreate the sound of his voice, the pain of his description, I cannot. I offered Kindness my pen and paper, to record him feelings on the matter. But he returned to me a sour look, and mumbled that he would only soil the paper.

One of the Illuminators returned with a soaked washcloth and offered it to Kindness. He took it with his thanks and began to cleanse himself.

Before Kindness had a chance to even set aside the damp cloth, Loyalty bore herself into the courtyard, Laughter directly at her heels. And from the stiff way Loyalty held her body, she clearly meant business with Kindness.

~LOYALTY~

The sun the sun the sun. Did I really think that it was all just about the real sun? That all I ever wanted was a clear sky? How did I think I was going to accomplish that? What did I think that entailed? Fairy tale wishes and a bit of good luck?

I wanted this. I wanted this, I did. I’ve always wanted to be in control, I just never thought I had the ability to. I always wanted free the sun… no, not just free it. I wanted to be that sun. I wanted to be free to shine, the brightest thing in Equestria. The giver of life and protector of those under my warm rays. I love them, I love everybody. Even the mean ones, the stupid ones. Spit Shine and Pith, just lost little foals under my warm and loving rays. I can take care of them. It’s what I want. I want to take care of everybody.

I get it now. I don’t know if it’s strange to not get a cutie mark for this long, but I get it now. I know why it appeared when I saw that sun. I know why.

And I will live for my people. I can feel my jaw clench tighter. How dare that selfish, selfish beast of a Stallion hurt Equestria for this, for nothing. He was chosen for his Kindness, but clearly he didn’t have the heart to bear it. He was a false god, and that’s why he fell to his nightmares. That’s why he’s hurting people. I’m better. I’m stronger. I am Loyalty, and my loyalty to all living creatures is who I am, plain as the cutie mark I bear. Plain as day should be, and was above the heavy clouds of oppression.

I feel the Element beat on my chest, or maybe my heart thumping into the Element. Does it matter which? We are clearly one in the same. That’s who we are, that’s who I am. The Sun. I am the Loyal Sun.

I shake the tension from my shoulders and hold my head high. I folded my legs tight and snapped into the proper pose, the pose I had let myself fall out of all these weeks sleeping on dirt and filth. Celestia, you are a Princess. Start holding yourself like one.

And just then, Luna dove between my legs, shivering like a leaf.

~Events, January the Ninteenth, Noon~

Again, on instinct, I dropped to the pavement to record the ensuing conversation, eliciting some strange looks from Loyalty. She scanned the attending Illuminators, and her posture shifted slightly, tightened even further.

As with Laughter, her first word was Kindness’ birth name.

Discord.”

“Morning, Celestia…”

“Do you mind explaining yourself?”

“I was dying.”

The conversation devolved, but Alicorns forgive my short sited mistake, at that time I had run out of ink. It was but a few moments I missed searching for my spare well, but in that time the conversation quickly devolved into a battle of words.

“And you know what?” Kindness spat at Loyalty, “You’re just being confrontational! What is your actual problem here?!”

“C…Confrontational?”

“You’re just looking for something to be wrong!”

“That’s because something is wrong! You killed a living creature! How many deaths have you been hiding from us?! Is… is that why you even came into our house in the first place? Were you looking to snack on Luna when you invaded her room?”

“Never! I would never even think of doing that!”

“I wish I could believe you…”

“Hasn’t this past couple months proven it to you enough that, that you, that the both of you mean the whole world to me? We’ve all thrown away our old lives for this friendship…”

“A friendship you abused by lying to us constantly—!”

“Okay stop.” Laughter stepped between the two, voice level and controlled.

“This was my problem to handle by myself!”

“And we see how that turned out!”

“Stop!” Laughter cried, “Stop it!”

“Luna, please!”

“Discord won the argument. He’s right.”

“There is no winning or losing an argument, Luna,” Loyalty stated, “That’s not how things work!”

“Well I finally know how I feel. And I still trust Discord. I didn’t like seeing him hurting. And as friends, we’ve got to help him find a way to handle his problem.”

Frankly, I was ecstatic to witness a fight among gods, and the nature of this battle was biblical to behold. Yet, at this point Curling Quill made his own entrance into the courtyard. Preoccupied with the grand events unfolding before my eyes, I missed initially Curling Quills comments. But it was then that Curling Quill informed the watching Illuminators of how to look at the scene unfolding in front of us, very proud that he was wise enough to interpret the events.

Curling Quill explained Kindness’ moral quandary as a boon. His desire for meat clearly connects him to the savagery of the animal world. And with this boon, he can more clearly understand the worldly vision of kindness, encompassing a great number of people, not just ponies. His wisdom is invaluable, and clearly he is to preside over the Earth and Worldly Matters, as his predecessor did before him. This is juxtaposed with Loyalty, who bears the cutie mark of the sun, and clearly presides over the Sky and Heavenly Matters. It is no wonder then that the two would fight so, as Heaven and Earth are never meant to touch. It is practically expected of them to be at odds.

Almost as an afterthought, upon looking at the three Elements, he also claimed that Laughter’s interference pointed her to be the presider over the domain of the Mind and Emotion. The role previously held by First Generosity, as I feel I must point out.

While the explanation properly assuaged the fears of all the Illuminators around me, I must continue to describe my observations of the Elements. For their reaction was not relief, nor did they continue with their argument. Forgive me for admitting weakness in our Elements, but at that time they exchanged wordless looks of a painful confusion, praise them. They had the wisdom to question even the most trustworthy of sources, though I do hope their wisdom sees them to the truth behind Curling Quill’s words.

Curling Quill offered our Prince the spoils of our fishing trips, as we must often catch these fish in order to make ink. Kindness quietly accepts before leaving with the other two Elements. As I was to eventually learn, they retreated to their room.

I do hope that these records find some use. Praise be to the Alicorns, and may the Second Gods find peace in this troubled time.

~Conclude Events, January the Nineteenth, Three in the Afternoon~

Curling Quill, A Final Note: This collection of facts and observations is very useful, and your initiative to take them far exceeds any of the other Illuminators’ present. We will use it as reference when we construct the official record.


XXXV : Luna

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 35

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfiction.tumblr.com/

~Luna~

“How did I not notice how bad Discord was feeling? I mean in the city… Well, I guess I wasn’t able to judge him there. He seemed happy until I freaked out at him.

“Lately, I’ve just been feeling like I’m wobbling on two feet, ever since that orphanage school for unicorns. Losing my friends made me a little wobbly, losing the idea of my parents made me super wobbly. Celestia was able to cheer me up then, but… A part of me was just so scared, heart beating all crazy, telling me I shouldn’t look at Discord. But why? Why wouldn’t I want to look at my friend? I sided with him too, I feel bad for him. But why am I still all wobbly?

“And I think Discord and Celestia are getting all tipsy turvy too, but for different reasons. They started acting funny once they learned about this big god thing… But I don’t know why! This is a really good thing that’s happened! We’re important and special, and we’re going to save Equestria too! Why are my friends acting like everything’s all broken?

“Is that why I feel like everything’s all broken?

”I really don’t like it when I don’t know how I’m feeling. And that feeling,” I nodded into my hooves, “Is really awful.”

The purple Illuminator glanced up from her notes, pen gripped tightly in her teeth. With a flick of her head, she shifted the blackened stick into her back teeth.

“Um… Well…” she stammered, “I wouldn’t know, but wouldn’t that feeling be ‘sad?’”

“Nooooo! I know what ‘sad’ feels like! This feeling is like… like when I was falling off the walls. Or when I was staring up at the infinite sky above the clouds. But the more I get the feeling, the more it hurts.”

“Pardon… falling off the walls?”

“When we ran away from Canterbury, we had to go on top of its walls. Then we fell off.”

The Illuminator spat a black splatter across the parchment.

“What?” I said, “I told you that, didn’t I? This morning?”

“The details were… well… By the Elements!” she exclaimed, “However did you survive?!”

“Discord and Celestia made a rubber bubble ball,” I said with a wave of my hoof. The Illuminator scratched more notes around the spit splatter. “But before then it was… really… really terrifying. But that doesn’t sound like the right word either!” I rolled onto my back, kicking my legs into the air. “It just, like, a really, really big feeling! It makes my entire body feel like a big lump!” I flipped and rolled back around, finding a cool spot on the black cobble to pout into my forelegs. “And I feel like a huge lump right now too. A big useless lump that can’t help her friends laugh. Even though that’s supposed to be my strongest trait!”

“Well, you see…” She finished scrawling her notes, then flipped the pen back again. “Genuine reflection on one’s own Element and its meaning is not a bad thing. I’ve often debated with my fellow Illuminators what the true purpose of Laughter is. If it means to bear joy, grant joy, or remind all that positivity and optimism are important to… Um…” I flipped this way, that way, this way, but my body flipping around wasn’t helping my thoughts turn around at all. “Sorry, my Princess. I’m probably no help at all.”

“I don’t think philosophy is gonna help me here…” I mumbled.

“Philosophy has a great number of positive uses! … But yes, perhaps another time. So… Um… Would… uh… consulting with your fellow Elements help?”

“I tried, but they’re both doing worse than me!” And she was right back to scratching notes. Weird Illuminator, but at least she was paying attention. “I don’t even feel like I have anything to complain about! Discord was starving himself, and my sister is having this big huge deal about… being a god and stuff. I don’t think she can just be my sister right now. I even reached for a hug, and she just wandered past!”

“Hm…” She stopped scratching notes for a moment. “The Sky rejecting The Mind…? What could this mean?”

“No, it was my sister being too caught up to hug me. It doesn’t have to mean something!”

“I’m sorry Princess, forgive me!” She bowed into her notes over and over, making the pages scatter. “It’s my training to recognize these kinds of patterns! But, in any case, I think I may be able to help you!”

“What?” I stared at her, “Help me? I was just talking here.”

“Well, if I may, as your humble servant, I mean! You seem to be having a great amount of trouble with the uncertainties in your life, Princess.”

“I know! I’m usually so sure about everything!”

She shook her head “…But you will never stop being uncertain about some topics, even if you are able to grow to be hundreds upon hundreds of years old. Learning how to deal with and handle unknown factors is not only a key skill in becoming an adult, but in becoming a ruler of all ponykind.”

“But how do I deal with unknown stuff?”

“By acknowledging your limits. Admitting that there are things you don’t know.”

I sat straight up and stared right at the Illuminator’s weird, ink-splattered face.

“That doesn’t sound like a way to deal with anything,” I told her.

“You’d be surprised what the right mindset can do to a situation, my Princess.”

“Hey!” Another Illuminator nudged his nose through the door, cloak fluttering as he bounced on all four hooves, “Oh, Princess, good to see you!” He hastily bowed, then turned to my Illuminator. “Bookends, we’re about to start the procession, do you want to join?”

“The pro…Oh! Yes! Yes, I would love to!”

I eyed the new Illuminator as the old one nudged all of her notes together, trying to pile it with the tip of her nose.

“A procession?” I asked.

“Would you like to grace us with your presence, my Princess?!”

“Um… I guess. But what’s a procession?”

“I’ll tell you along the way…!” He twirled in place, brown tail nearly blowing across his nose. “Oh joy, we have the approval of our Princess! Come now, let’s hurry!”

~Θ~

It was a cramped little room on the ground floor, little slitted windows barely letting any light in at all. The floor was sunken slightly into the ground, and looked slick with a thin layer of ice. A pump rose in the middle of it, alone in the room save some toppled buckets. And of course, Discord. He sat awkwardly to one side, out of place. He was using a thin, gray rag to sop water from a wooden bucket, pinching the fading welt on his bad arm, slapping the wet cloth across it. Rinse, repeat process down the rest of his arm.

I watched quietly, still feeling like a lump.

“Um…” I finally spoke up. Discord flinched at the sound of my voice, slapping the wet rag over his shoulder. “Hey Discord…”

He began to relax as he saw me, peeling off the little gray rag. But he stopped, looking me up and down, little curly frown on his face.

“What are you wearing?”

“Um…” I clink a little as I look down at the bangles up and down my legs, tiara slipping and bumping into my horn. “Costume jewelry?”

Why?”

“Well…”

“Princess? Are you going to lead us in?”

Nine Illuminators formed a line behind me. Four awkwardly bore banners over their shoulders, General Hurricane’s storm cloud and the Shadow Stallion’s alicorn. Two banners I didn’t recognize of the sun and moon, encircled by alicorns. Every nervous movement shook another puff of dust from the material, and the ponies in back tried not to sneeze, ducking their noses into the hoods of their cloaks.

“Luna?” Discord asked, leaning a little sideways. I shook my head and mouthed I was sorry.

With a regal flick of my mane making my hair slap my face, I held my head high and stiff, marching like a Princess into the tiny chamber. My metal shoes clinked and stabbed into my forelegs, obviously too big. The gauzy white cloth across my back dragged on the damp floor, tugging the material further and further from my shoulders. At least I didn’t have that far to go. I stopped right in front of Discord, peering down at him through my regally slitted eyes.

“Prince Discord of the Element of Kindness!” I shouted. “The Illuminators of the Shrine of Loyalty come before you today to give unto you an offering! They are humble in this delivery, long live the Elements, and praise their wisdom.”

Discord stared up at me, making little noises in the back of his throat, face curled up.

“Aren’t we the Elements?” he mumbled. My shoulders slacked.

“Oh yeah… I should’ve probably said praise our wisdom…” I glanced back at the procession, lost. “Should I start over?”

“No, no, it’s wonderful,” a flag bearer squeaked. Another flicked his hooves at me, urging me on. “Keep going!”

“Okay!” I turned back to Discord, clicking my heels. “They are making an offering to you… wait, I said that. Anyway, they hope this gift will help you in the future, and um… They offer it, humbled by your glorious presence. I think. Um, anyway!”

I watched my feet as I marched, knees almost smacking my snout as I turned in a circle. Gotta do the right walk to… Oh no, I went too far! I march back a couple steps… then look up at the Illuminator organizer. He smoothly bows. A moment passes, and he flicks his head to the left.

“Princess… I need to step forward…”

“Oh right!” I scootch over, and remember to march halfway through. Where should I be standing now anyway…? I guess it didn’t matter. The Illuminator organizer bowed, and politely stepped over the train of my dress. I tried to bite into the material, tug more of it out of the way as he started talking.

“Prince, Our Element of Kindness,” the Illuminator declared. “We have seen the struggles you have been forced to endure, and after today’s incident, we have decided to present unto you the fruits of our labor.” The Illuminator nodded another stepped forward, stumbling on my still trailing train. A silk bundle hung from his mouth, which he placed in front of Discord before scurrying back. Discord stared at the gift, then carefully reached out, peeling the top of the boxy bundle open. “We use this fish to create our ink!” The Illuminator boomed, bobbing for nods, “We catch it every day, their lives given to create the words of history! We offer you this noble fish, so when you consume it, you may gain strength for the great journey ahead of you! So that you may forge the road to your own history!”

Discord’s face twisted up even tighter, eyes finally falling on the black and silver mess inside the gift. He tugged the bundle closed, mumbling thanks.

“Well?” the Illuminator asked.

“Well what?”

“Aren’t… aren’t you going to try it? We are woefully uncertain about the preparation of this flesh… for consumption, I mean! We have done our best, and now desire to know if it is to your taste!”

For a long time, Discord stared at the bundle in front of him, silent. The Illuminators shifted on their hooves, trying to peer over each other’s shoulders, get a better look at their Prince.

“It’s a long journey to Canterlot, isn’t it?” Discord mumbled, “Shouldn’t I ration this uh, gift, the best I can?”

“Ah! Well… Yes!” The head Illuminator nodded, and everybody else hesitantly followed suit. “Such wisdom from our Prince! Yes… but please. Just a bite? It would be a terrible burden to learn you were eventually unable to consume…!”

Stop.”

Discord looked away, looked at me. I shrugged, tried to smile. He rolled his shoulders, and peeled back the cloth again. He picked out a slab of the fish, a fat silver sliver with black veiny lines running all over it. He frowned down at it, then took the smallest of bites from the center. There was a small wave of clicked hooves, the Illuminators trying to glance around everyone else’s shoulders.

“It’s really um…” Discord stared at the fish, almost confused. “Salty? Is there salt on this?”

“Yes! For preservation! It is a very long walk to Canterlot, you see!”

“Right… well… thank you.”

“Is it to your taste, our Prince?”

“Uh, yeah, I’ll eat it.”

“Huzzah!” And another clatter of hooves as everyone shuffled back into place, mumbling and muttering to themselves. “Yes, well! Bear it with you, then! Yes, thank you, Prince of Kindness. May your wisdom continue to grow ever more infinite.”

And then the procession turned and left. Some of the ponies looked at me, expecting me to follow, but I refused. I stayed right where I was, shaking off all the costume jewelry, and once all the ponies had shuffled out, a unicorn Illuminator came back to hover the items away. In the end I was just wearing my dull Element, clasp twisting up in the back of my mane.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled, “that was stupid.”

Discord snorted.

“Nah… it’s funny, isn’t it?” he replied, picking up the little gray cloth again, “The attention they pile onto this mundane stuff…”

“It’s not mundane though, is it? It’s something you were trying to hide away since we met, and—“

“Can we just not talk about this please?

“Sorry…” I laughed quietly. “I probably shouldn’t have given them my blessing, I barely even knew what was going on anyway.”

Discord shrugged and began washing his other arm. Up close… I don’t know, how couldn’t I have noticed how thin he had gotten? He was always pretty small, I guess. Shorter than me, but longer if you measured him snout to rump. But now, I could practically see the shape of his ribs under his fur, his mismatched arms more like mismatched sticks. And under the thin fur of his eyes, I could see vague little black shadows.

And he was doing his best to hide it… but he just looked so sad.

I thought… I don’t know, I’m Laughter right? Can I cheer up this situation, laugh it away?

“So um,” I piped up, “Discord.”

He dunked the rag into the soap bucket.

“Yeah?”

“So um…what… do you get…” Jokes? Jokes! That’s a good way to make people laugh, right? What’s a good joke? I stammer for another few seconds while I wrack my brain. “When you have half a tuba?”

Discord stared up at me, poking at the space under his claws.

“What…?” he asked.

“A oneba!”

“I don’t get it.”

“Oh.”

Discord looked up at me for a moment more, then curled his wings up, twisting around to grab the bird-looking one, patting it down with the rag.

“But I got another one!” I exclaimed. “Um… What do you get…” Nothing else is coming to me, nothing at all! “A um…” Noooo I’m a terrible Bearer of Laughter, or Element of Laughter or whatever! Come on Luna, think of something! “A fox, in a house!”

“What? I don’t know…?”

“A fox out the window!” My joy at completing the joke lasts maybe three seconds. “Um, wait, is that how it goes?” Discord kept just staring at me, flicking the water from his dripping wing, not laughing at all. “So what do you get—“

“Why are you doing this?” Discord interrupted.

“Well I’m the Bearer of Laughter, right? You don’t look so happy, so I’m going to make you laugh!”

“By making jokes?”

“Uhuh!” I nodded furiously!

“But you were Laughter before, and you never told jokes.”

“Oh yeah…”

And he turned away from me again, dunking the rag and using the water to pat down his bat wing. It sort of struck me then, looking at the light frost on his bird wing. Doesn’t the cold water hurt?

“You’re pretty fun just being you,” Discord spoke up. “You don’t have to force it.”

“But how can I cheer you up?” I asked.

“I uh…” Discord’s face fell as he fiddled with the fur on his tail.

“No, don’t make that face!” I cried, “That’s the saddest face!”

“I think I can make a sadder face,” he snorted.

“No you can’t!”

Discord smirked at his tail fluff, rubbing it with the rag.

“I could be crying.”

“No! Please don’t cry!”

“Maybe I will. What are you going to do about it?”

“I’ll tell more jokes!”

“Yep, I feel like crying now.”

“No!” I dropped my head on his upright shoulder and glared directly at him, daring him to cry. I don’t think he could now though, he had a smile on! An actual smile that wasn’t sarcastic or tired or nothing! Yes, victory one for Laughter! Or is it victory… three? Three hundred? How far back am I counting? When did I start being Laughter? Was I Laughter before I got the Element of Laughter?

But then Discord’s face became less and less smiley, tired all over again. I began wracking my brain for another really bad joke, because darnit, Discord is going to be happy! No more sad Discord hurting over all of his problems!

“Hey um, Luna…”

“Uh-huh?”

“I think Laughter fits you pretty well. You think so too?”

“Hm...” The question’s been kind’ve rolling around my head... But I don’t want to take too long answering this! “Yeah, I think so!” I nodded again, bonking my chin into his tan shoulder.

“Do you uh… think Kindness fits me?”

Automatically, I gave him an “Of course!” Yet, he frowned, tried to shrug me off his shoulder, slapping the rag around his scaled leg.

“That was quick,” he snapped, “Didn’t even stop to think about the question.”

“I didn’t really have to, did I?”

“No…” he snorted, shoving the rag up and down his leg. “Well it’s driving me crazy. This isn’t something that can be answered with a simple yes! Do I really deserve this, after what I did today…?”

Yes!

“You’re just saying that!”

“Why are you so angry about that?”

“Because it’s not true!

“… But it is true! The Element—”

“I don’t feel like it is! Not after losing myself like that!”

With a strangled yelp, he toppled his washbucket with a smack of his hoof. For a moment, we both just watched the water spread, draining out little sun-lit cracks in the wall. He snorted, rolled his shoulders, and curled around his scaled foot. I stared at the upturned bucket, then back at Discord.

“So am I allowed to ask about what happened now?” I asked.

“No.”

“Please?” There was a small flash from my element, and for a second we both stared at it. It definitely seemed a bit more glittery than it did earlier. Discord turned back to his foot, worked the rag carefully between his toes, breathing through his nose.

“Everything seems so much simpler for ponies,” he finally said, yanking the cloth away. “You can just eat fruits and veggies, nobody’s scared of your appearance or wants to kill you. Everyone’s friendly and loves each other, and you don’t have to hurt anything to live.”

“I think uprooting a plant definitely counts as hurting it.”

“You know what I mean… Never have to hurt anything…” The corners of his mouth curled. “Sentient.”

He dropped the waterlogged rag, curling up around both legs.

“I thought I was kind, actually,” he said simply, “Trying my best, at least. Even before I knew what my element was. I’m definitely better than most Draconequus. But I’m not as good as a pony. I’m not as kind as a pony, and I know I never will be.”

And I didn’t know what to say to that. He had already snapped at me when I immediately refuted him. And I just… I couldn’t relate to the situation he was in. Discord to me was a pony, why can’t he just see himself as one too? But before I could ask…

“Do you hate me, Luna?”

“No.”

“You should.”

“That’s stupid. You’re my best friend.”

He heaved a sob, then bit it back, still, tight, and quiet on cold, icy floor.

I didn’t know what to think about Discord’s really big lie, or him not thinking of himself as a pony or very kind. I just felt what I had been feeling the entire conversation.

I stepped a little bit forward and gave him a friendly nuzzle on his prickly, sad face.

“You know it really hurts to see you hurt, Discord.”

His arms snapped up and wrapped around me. I could feel my heart jump, panicked. I guess my reaction to the meat eating thing, too late thinking he might bite me. But he just held me, and after I stopped panicking, I did the same, snout laying sideways on his shoulder, his head atop mine. I could feel the hot metal of his element under my chin, the golden band a comfortable heat on my skin.

“You’re really comfy, Discord!”

“Um...”

“Hm?”

I took a step back, our necklaces clicking together, glowing softly. I was smiling, but Discord just stared at me, eyes wide, quiet. Glanced down, back up at me...

“What?”

“Just got this really weird feeling,” he scooted back, trying to get up on his elbows, looking down over himself. “I think you broke something when you squished me. Or… life,” He slapped himself in the forehead and let out a nervous laugh, “I have got a real awful stomachache.”

“From…?”

“Yeah… Bleh. Bleh.” He shook his head, shuffling a little bit further back, flipping onto his feet. “Uh, Luna.” He turned to me. “You can go back now. I… um, I kinda need to finish washing up.”

“Well I don’t want to head back without you.”

“You peeping on me?” And then he smirked. Finally! Finally a smile! I stuck out my tongue at him. Laughter success number… five hundred! I’m sticking with that number! “But jeez… Wish I could just eat grass and be done with it, you know? This whole thing is just… dumb.

“Grass is kind’ve bland,” I admit, “You’re not missing much.”

Discord forced exactly two laughs and took a deep breath.

“Alright then.”


XXXVI : Discord

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 36

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfiction.tumblr.com/

~Discord~

I ran my thumb up and down the taut skin of my ribcage, head finally clear. It was early morning, hours before it would become light, and I was having the most lucid thoughts since leaving Stringhalt.

That feeling is gone. Well, a lot of feelings are gone. The feeling of emptiness, of a void hand scratching in my throat. Replaced by that feeling of a thick, impatient lump in my stomach. Replaced by nothing. The feeling that I got when Luna hugged me is gone, like a hot spot in my guts. Made me feel jittery, kinda feverish, I couldn’t breathe right. That was with me for hours and hours, keeping me awake, keeping me thinking. It was an Element thing, I was sure. Something about the Elements. Something released with my secrets, maybe. A physical feeling of forgiveness, counteracting that tight, curly feeling of secrecy.

Now I just feel… normal, I guess. Alive. No longer afraid of dying, body relieved… There was a moment, I remember clearly, when my body wouldn’t stop shaking with that relief. That feeling left real quick. Gone by the time I was caught in the coop.

Now it’s just normal.

Normal, but not better. Not yet. I run my thumb down my ribcage, back up. Feeling the taut skin, the little hills and ridges that sprouted from weeks of restraint.

Man.

That kind’ve stupid of me, wasn’t it?

Was it selfish of me to think of this as my problem, to bear my own pain with pride? Should I have just told my friends what was going on, right from the start? Celestia blew up at me, of course. But after her scene, she hasn’t said a word. She’s letting it be. And my entire conversation with Luna…  Well, I guess I’ve spun that round and round my head enough. Never letting me think I was unfit to bear Kindness. Always asserting that she cared. That she was my friend. Even after all this. She’s my friend. She’ll always be my friend. She’ll always be there…

I stop thumbing my ribs, flop onto my stomach. Shove my snout into the cot, horns resting on my little arms. Feeling a strange little thrill as my thoughts spin.

Understanding. Comfort. And Kindness. Especially Kindness…  Ponies. They always have me beat.

But there’s hope.

I can learn.

~ᴔ~

There was… something I was unable to do for a long, long time. Something I always held myself back from, just on instinct. What if I spent myself, left myself weak? Left myself unable to defend my friends when I needed to? What would happen if I went too far when I cast my spells? Can a pony die from casting too many spells when hungry?

It was appealing to test my limits, to experiment. I wanted to experiment. But I always held myself back.

Now, with the fear of spending myself lifted, consequences for casting gone…

I dropped the illusion of a spider onto Celestia’s ear.

She kept walking, chin held high and legs tight, same as she had been walking the past hour. Completely and totally oblivious to everything around her. Including the spider.

I made extra sure the little guy was solid. I made him move a leg. Flakes, sparks popped from its joints, sprinkling onto her skin. She flicked her ear, a mindless reaction, not really the one I was hoping for. With a twitch of my finger I sent the spider crawling down towards her mane, popping and flashing as it moved. I make a mental note: figure out how to make movement natural. Later. It got all the way to the back of Celestia’s head before the flashes had caught Luna’s eye. She stared at the little popping dot. Looked at me, back at the spider, then giggled into her hoof.

“Yes?” Celestia flicked around to look at us. “What is it?”

I grinned. “Nothin’.”

Luna pretended she was coughing, burying her snout into her hood.

Celestia turned back, and the spider progressed maybe an inch more before she slapped her ear. A black, dusty smear dragged across her scalp behind her hoof, practically disintegrating by the time she got a look on it. Celestia watched the remnants of the plaster spider as it crumbled, vanishing into nothing.

She gave her empty hoof a haughty snort.

“Really, Discord? Don’t you have anything important to say?”

“Hm? Not really...” I grinned up at the sky. The gray cover was darker than normal, nearly black. We had been walking in an early-morning shroud for nearly two hours, and only now did the slightest thing change. Little floating specs of white, barely visible. “I think it’s starting to snow?”

“For goodness’ sake!” She shouted, snapping her neck upwards. “I knew it looked like rain when we left!”

“Wait, snow?” Luna followed me and Celestia, turning to stare at the dark gray ceiling herself. “How does snow just happen like this?”

I shrugged. “Pegasi let a rainstorm get away and it went cold?”

“Huh,” Luna said, “So that’s how it works…?”

“Negligence!” Celestia barked, “The farmer’s crops will go cold! Our subjects might go hungry because of this, this oversight!”

“What?” I said, “Our… subjects, Celestia?”

“Yes! Our…” She looked back at my raised eyebrows. “Well, this is an, an unmitigated disaster. Nonetheless.”

“I see.” I turned to her sister, “Luna! Your sister’s talking funny.Talk some sense into that poor mare!”

She giggled. “Yeah, she is sounding funny. Should I tell her a good joke?”

“I’m right here, you know!” Celestia shouted, “And I can hear you mumbling about me!”

“Then tell me!” I shot back, “Why are you talking like that?” She flicked her mane, remaining quiet. “And why are you stretching out your legs like that? You look like you have to whizz really badly.”

“C-crass talk! In front of a lady!” Her face twisted, like she was trying very hard to not swallow a lemon. “Clean your mouth!”

“W-what? What does that even…? Oh jeez!” I laughed, she grew tighter, and I laughed again, jabbing my snout into my elbow. “T-the look on your face…!”

Celestia snorted, a puff of steam causing little snowflakes to go swirling. She marched off, snapping her knees so high I wouldn’t be surprised if one hit her in the jaw. Luna wasn’t far behind her, ears flat, sparkling with some level of concern, yet still trying to suppress a fit of giggles.

“What’s the matter, big sister?”

“Nothing. I feel fine.”

“No you don’t.”

“I am fine. Better than before, even! I am reminded that I should be acting like a proper lady, like I…” She glared down at her sister. “And you for that matter should be behaving ladylike as well! Straighten that spine, hold your head straight! Remember your lessons, for goodness sake! Horsefeathers, a few weeks on the road, and we’ve become… we’ve become… aniiimmm…” She sputtered, whipping her mane around again. “Wild horses! Woodponies, yes!”

“Celestia…” Luna pouted.

“Chin up!”

An octave lower, “Celestia…

“What?”

Snickering quietly, I snuck forward, on Celestia’s other side.

Cel-estia!

“Stop it,” she snorted.

“Celll-EST-tia!”

“What?! What, what do you want from me?!” She staggered forward. “Leave me alone!”

“Jeez,” I said, “And I thought you were high-strung before…”

“Big sis, please! What’s wrong?”

Celestia mumbled to herself, straightening her cloak, squaring her shoulders, generally acting nervous as she continued walking.

“It’s um…” she sighed. “Give me a moment… I…”

“Yes?”

“Hmmmmm?”

“Hmmmmmmmm?”

“Stop! Quiet! You two…” Her shoulders drooped. “How can you both just be so cheerful? With everything that just happened?”

My smirk remained right where it was, maybe even grew a little bit.

“I’m not dead,” I said, “Is that a good thing?”

“I, well, I didn’t mean to imply…” Celestia stammered. “It’s very, very good to have you, well, alive, Discord. It’s important. But… The fate of Equestria, you two. It’s in our hooves. And not just now, with this!” she waved at the sky, “This isn’t just about the Shadow Stallion! For the rest of our immortal lives, Equestria will depend on us. Just… just stop and think.” She stopped, giving us said time to think, I guess. “Isn’t that just so… so overwhelming?”

And then things got quiet. Really quiet, with the snow muffling all the noise except crunch of our hooves. I mean, I had nothing to say to that. Not many thoughts to spare either. I remember hearing what Curling Quill was saying about the Elements, remembering thinking it was crazy… But it’s not like I was mentally all together that night. I had been so concerned with making sure my life continued, I hadn’t really thought much about what happens when that’s no longer an issue.

But’s so strange to think about. I boggled for a moment, trying to summon a picture of myself… but older. Would I be… stronger? Bigger and tougher? I’d tower over most ponies fully grown. What’s life like when you’re not staring at knees all the time?

“I barely think of what life’s going to be like as an adult,” I admitted, “Let alone an adult with crazy amounts of responsibility.”

“So you never thought about it,” Celestia said flatly.

“Nope, sorry.”

“You know, big sis,” Luna piped up, “I don’t really feel any different.”

“Not at…?!”

“Because,” Luna interrupted, firm and direct, “I never really thought about what will happen. I guess before all this, I’d just be a Baroness. It’s like a Princess, except a little less Princess-y? I dunno.” She shrugged. “I was getting taught to be a Baroness. Now I’ll be taught how to be a Princess. Both are pretty cool, but I’m not scared of it. We have teachers waiting to tell us everything we need.”

“I see.”

And then, Luna looked right up at her sister and pouted.

“’I see’?” she snapped, “That’s all you’re going to say?”

“P-pardon?”

“Doesn’t that make sense? Doesn’t that help stuff? Help you?”

“Yeah! Jeez, Celestia!” I exclaimed, “I thought you would be all over this Princess stuff. What with your, ‘shine on all the people’ cutie mark.”

“I’m sorry to give off that impression…” Celestia replied, still staring down at her sister, “You are right, both of you. I don’t doubt Canterlot’s abilities to teach us. And I am excited. Princess Celestia…”

“You like goals, don’t you?” I said, “And this one’s long term, set in stone...”

“Yes… But…” Celestia fiddled with a pebble, kicking it up over the slowly collecting piles of snow. “Is it the right goal?”

YES!” I shouted.

“Of course it is!” Luna cried over me.

“This is how we’re going to save Equestria!”

“What he said!”

“Why are you dragging your feet like this?!”

“Okay!” Finally, her voice dropped down to its normal level. Her walk normalized into a natural gait, tight posture gone. “I get it, stop yelling at me!” Once again we fell to silence. A more awkward silence.

“I’m sorry for shouting…” Luna said softly.

“I never did find out what a Nightmare was!” Celestia squeaked, ignoring her sister. “All those books in the library, all the Illuminators… Not one could, or would answer me! I just know that something did happen to those alicorns, to each and every one of them. It was Loyalty first, you know. He ‘succumbed’ first.” She stared down at her element, almost repulsed by it. “Then it was Honesty. Then Laughter, then Generosity… Magic left, and Kindness was last, his Nightmares realized on the land itself…” She shuttered, shaking her head at the ground. “It scares me! Why won’t anybody tell me how it happens? Shouldn’t this be something we should be concerned about? Is it inevitable? Are they afraid, that if they tell us, we’ll throw away the Elements?”

“Maybe we’ll learn at Canterlot,” Luna said.

“Yeah,” Celestia snorted, “After we’ve gained our ‘infinite wisdom.’”

“Oh, Wow!” And despite myself, I laughed. “I thought you more than anyone else would buy into that!”

“Just because I want to be a Princess doesn’t mean I wasn’t weirded out by how they acted.”

“Heck yes, me too.”

“Me three!” Luna squeaked.

“Did I tell you, about the little ceremony they put me and Luna through?”

She grinned. “I heard about it. But…”And she frowned again. “Discord?”

“Yes…?”

“I’m still mad at you for lying to us,” she snapped, head held high again, “But I’m sorry you had to go through all that.” She took a breath. “And don’t let anypony tell you otherwise, you deserve to bear Kindness, or be Kindness. Okay?”

“… I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

“Oh… hush, you.”

“No, I’m serious!” I leaned in close to Celestia, leering up at her. “Is this some sort of bribe? Should I be expecting a qualifying ‘but’ to come up now?”

“I said hush!” She smirked. “No qualifiers. Today.”

I sniffled loudly in her ear, swiping an arm over my all-too-dry eyes.

“I-I think I’m going to cry!” I snorted. Celestia grinned, and flicked a puff of snow into my snout.

“You’re just making fun of me.”

“Well, if you said nice things more often…”

“But—”

“No!” I cried, “The qualifiers, why!”

“It’s a change of topic, not a qualifier! Calm down! But…” Celestia paused, staring down at me. Her posture corrected itself, became slightly stiffer. “There is something I want all of us to try. Before we head to Canterlot, I want to test something.”

“Alright, what?”

~ᴔ~

It wasn’t long before we stopped. The snow was falling a little bit heavier by then, in big feathery blobs. I tried to dry off a spot to sit down, shaking off and patting down long shoots grass. Kicking aside the ankle-deep coat of snow. But everything was frosted over, leaves damp and icy under the wet blanket. Every time I tried to touch it, my hand and fur would come away with a little clinging coat of ice.

“I don’t know what’s worse,” I admitted, trying to pry off the little bits running nearly up above my knees. “This or rain.”

“I like this!” Luna squeaked, deliberately kicking up white waves with every step. “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to play in snow before! Last time it happened, it was night. And it all melted by morning.”

“Hm… I think I remember that. Last year, right?” Luna looked up at me and nodded. “That night was horrible in the castle. It’s cold enough in that underground icebox, more freezing was not what it needed.” I chuckled and looked up at the sky, tearing at a little chunk clinging to the hair of my furry elbow. “You’d think the Pegasi would have caught up to this thing by now.”

“Negligence!” Celestia called from across the glade, “I’m telling you!”

“Don’t start rambling in fancy again, Celestia!”

Celestia grumbled something, I couldn’t hear it. Seemed like her good mood was all but dried up. She wasn’t prancing around like she had something to prove anymore, but when we asked what she wanted to do, all she gave back was a ‘find an open space…’ And then her expression wouldn’t stop falling. Now, she looked up at the trees, pacing back and forth on the edge of the clearing, frown staying right where it was.

“So can I ask you what you’re looking for now?”

“In a moment!”

“I’m going to have lunch, okay?”

She stopped for a second, one foot hovering in the air.

“Yes. Yes, go ahead.”

Still not comfortable with it, I see… I shrug off the little cloth sack, letting it drop off my back, over my bat wing. It’s not that heavy, but I stretched out my wings anyway. Not used to carrying something around, no matter the weight… And heck if I was going to force either of the girls to carry this with them. Their packs already got loaded down by the Illuminators, and, I guess, even with the truth out, I still see it as my issue.

Anyway.

I carefully peeled open the pack, and, as expected, it was full of little veiny slabs wrapped in stained paper. I picked up the top one, the one that already had a little bite in it. The oversalted taste wasn’t anything to die for, and the texture was a confusing mix of chewy and powdery, but it’s better this than nothing, right? I ripped off a chunk and forced myself through it, watching Luna plow her way around the field, using magic to create two thick waves of snow and dead leaves.

After a short while, Celestia’s horn lit up, and a crooked little branch along with it. It shook as she backed away, thick wet clumps of white slipping easily off the green foliage. With a shake of her head, a snap, and squeak as she stumbled back, the branch tumbled to the ground. She flipped it around, stripped it of a few small twigs, then jammed it into one of the muddy trails Luna had left behind her.

“Okay,” Celestia huffed, composing herself, “You see this stick?”

“Yeah?”

“Uh-huh!”

“We are going to try and Harmony Blast it.”

“So that’s a thing we can do now?”

“Of course it is!” Luna cheered, trotting up to her sister. “This sounds like fun!”

“I, well, I did say try, Discord.” Celestia nodded me over, and I quickly packed away the remaining fish. I guess I was taking too long trying to get the package back around my shoulders (fiddly little knots…) because, while she was waiting, she pulled out an apple to mindlessly munch on. “That was another thing I couldn’t find out from the library,” she said, being careful to not talk through a mouthful of fruit. “All the Elements work in tandem, and it’s well-recorded what they can do together. With unified souls, the six who bear the elements can accomplish miraculous things no single pony can do on their own.” She stopped, frowning. “A lot of the stories were pretty hard to swallow, actually. Summoning huge rainstorms in deserts, tearing holes through mountains... There was even one story where they brought a dead pony back to life. And it was written that, you know…” She waved her hoof. “The Bearers transform into alicorns because of the Elements, their own personal magic becomes amplified, so on so forth... ”

She took a few more bits of the apple, staring at her little stick dummy.

“But!” Celestia snapped her hooves together, posture re-tightening, descending further into what I’m going to label the ‘explainy voice.’ “All the First Gods got their Elements at the same time, and the only time they were used was when they were all together. And, while it’s shown that other alicorns could use each other’s Elements… That’s how they… you know. Put each other to rest.” She shoved the apple into her mouth, trying to bite off an oversized chunk. “But the books didn’t say anything about using a few Elements at a time, what that would do.”

“So what are we waiting for?!” Luna popped in front of her sister. “Let’s try things! Whatever we can think of! Like what would happen if we all used our sky… beamy…” She stared into space. “Flashlights! All at once!”

“We do need to come up with better names for these things,” Celestia said through a bite of apple. “Don’t want to wind up with another name like ‘Adventure Trio…’”

“C’mon,” Luna laughed, “Adventure Trio wasn’t that bad!”

“Yes, but, Flashlights?” Celestia said, “That barely even fits, there’s not one flash involved.”

“The lights appear in a flash!” Luna retorted, “Remember how quick it smacked Discord in the face that first time?”

“No…”

“I do!” I interjected, “You wanted to destroy the Element after it blinded me!

“Oh. Right.” She threw away the apple core. “Well, that’s hardly relevant now.”

“I guess not…” I continue to grin. “Anyway, those books couldn’t tell you their names?”

“I’ve told you already, they were pretty much all history. I had to glean what I know from stuff like ‘Generosity funds Redheart Healers, praise his wise soul, may he become smarter evermore, hail to the alicorns’.” She sighed. “I guess we can call the skybeamy thing ‘Flashlight’ for now. Until we think of something better.” Celestia stepped forward, nodding me to my feet, Element glowing gently as her horn lit up. “So let’s try this.”

So we tried. I tapped my Element, focus coming to me easily. Focus coming to all of us easily. I stared at the branch, broad leaves already coated in a new speckled film of snow. Briefly, our Elements glittered…

And three solid beams shot forward, blue, yellow, and white. To my surprise, maybe everybody’s surprise, the beams joined together, snapped into place in a single flat beam. A faded rainbow the colors of our auras arced from the connection, singing in a resonating bell tone, spilling over the stick figure, encasing it in a splashing pool of light.

Celestia’s aura vanished, and the rainbow popped apart. She stared at the spot where the rainbow struck. The snow pushed away, revealing a wide circle of mud and wet leaves.

“Goodness! Oh my goodness…” She squeaked. “That, that certainly was a result.”

“Who knew a Harmony Blast could be so easily done?!” Luna cheered, hopping in place. “Let’s do it again!”

“I, I’m not sure what that did,” Celestia stammered, “I don’t even think it damaged the branch…”

“It looks a little greener,” I offered, staring along with my friend.

“No. No, we just knocked more snow off it, that’s all,” she replied.

“Or melted it.” I took a step forward, without even realizing it. I had to see… I wound up next to the spot, the cleared brown muck around the twig dummy. I placed a hand down on it.

“It’s wet,” I stated, “And warm.” I lifted my hand, bringing with me a small chunk of leaves. Underneath the area, little green sprouts were worming their way around the mud, two or three beetles scrambling for deeper cover. Were these always hiding under the leaves, away from the snow?

“Well um. Good work!” Celestia called. “So… what else could we try?”

“Remember?” Luna piped up, “When we were in that broom closet? We resonated a little bit! What happens when we do that?”

“Should we form a circle, maybe?” I offered. “Around our test stick?”

“Yes…”

Luna was by my side in a flash of her Element, already glowing in her eagerness. Celestia was a little slower, preoccupied with her element, gently picking it up in her aura to get a closer look.

“Problem?” I asked.

“Just… feels strange to finally have one of these. Strange how natural it feels to wear and use.” She laughed lightly. “You know, I was never one to wear necklaces or shawls…”

“And you think I was?”

Celestia stared at me.

“Strange.”

“Yep.”

“Anyway. Resonation.”

“Double yep.”

Celestia found her place across from me, and I closed my eyes, focused slowly on my Element. You would think, since it took less magic, this ‘Resonation’ would be easier. Just enough to make the little gemstone ring out. But after the ease of the rainbow, the Resonation took more than a minute of slow adjustment and build into that single, bell-like tone. And, after a minute of standing in the bright glow, it vanished the moment one of us broke concentration. And by one of us, I mean me.

“Aw.” Luna said, blinking away the bright from her eyes as her own Element faded, “I thought we would do something way more spectacular than that.”

“The snow hasn’t even moved,” I noted, fiddling with the leaves. Still warm, still wet, still with little sprouts hiding in the fallen foliage.

“Maybe there’s something more to it,” Celestia said, “Something we’re missing. Like a next step.”

“Or the other Elements,” I pointed out.

“I hope not…”

“So big sis! What now?”

“I don’t know…” Celestia walked around the circle, staring at the ground. “There’s so little we actually got out of that. The results are a little… I don’t know what we did, in either case.”

I think most other times I would have just let this be. We knew we’d learn how to use these things later, we knew it might take more than three elements to do anything. It’s interesting what we were able to do, but that’s all it was. Interesting. Best to just put this aside for now, just learn what’s what at Canterlot.

But that little look on Celestia’s face…

“Alright, Celestia. What’s up?” I laughed, an idea suddenly popping to mind. “Were you hoping we’d play unicorn scientists again?”

“Holy crap!” Luna shouted, “Why didn’t I think of that?! I haven’t been announcing the test numbers or anything!”

Celestia bit the corner of her mouth, fiddled with it. Sighed out her nose, snowflakes swirling in the steam.

“No, that’s not it,” she said.

“Aw…” Luna huffed. “Can we still play Unicorn scientists anyway? After you tell us what’s still bugging you?”

I rolled my eyes, “We keep finding problems, but then you keep digging up more. And you complained to me about lying!”

“I didn’t lie!” Celestia snapped, “I wanted to know what the Elements could do!”

“For what reason?”

She took a quick breath.

“I don’t think I want to go to Canterlot anymore.”

“Why not?”

She looked up, stared at me.

“You’re not going to… I don’t know, snap at me? Pick on me for it?”

“Just tell us why not.”

“Oh. Well… Discord…” She continued to look at me, once more correcting her posture. “Since you showed us what was really going on in Canterbury, I can’t stop thinking about it. About all those ponies locked up… about what happens to them… About what’s been happening to the Pegasi, and things as small as the neglect we saw in Rearing Town.”

I stayed silent, feeling guilty, and a little bit attacked. I almost expected this to be her proclamation of denouncement, telling me I need help, that I should fess up to everything I know or something. We had been getting along so well too…

“We cannot let that keep happening,” she continued, oblivious to my thoughts. “We’re the new gods. We have to protect them. All of them.” She shook her head. “Everybody wants us to sit on our hooves for however long. Wait around for the other three Elements, whoever they are. Spend that time learning in Canterlot. But we can’t do that. Discord, Luna,” she pleaded, “We have the Elements! If we just find a way to use them, then we could free Canterbury now. We could stop all of this pain and suffering now.”

“Please. Hear me out” Celestia took a deep breath, looking between the both of us. She was firm, holding her tight posture, but not in her hoity-toity way. Serious. Very serious. “Let’s go back to Canterbury. Let’s go back, and stop the Shadow Stallion once and for all.”


XXXVII : Celestia

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 37

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfiction.tumblr.com/

~Celestia~

I feel…

More than a little bit cluttered right now. Ever since I asked my friends to change our course, head to Canterbury… It’s no mystery what they would answer. What reasons did I give, other than a plea to duty?

And… well…

The things Discord and Luna can do… It’s dazzling for their age. Multipurpose. The realms of magic open to them… Luna, especially. She can do so much, has so much potential with two entire two fields of magic. And she doesn’t even care. She doesn’t even notice her own powers, barely uses them. Shrugged them off once, said she wouldn’t mind if her cutie mark made them vanish tomorrow.

Discord, he knows his own limits, is constantly experimenting and expanding. He can push past whatever stops him, easily. Just… handle himself alone… Both Luna and Discord could just go off alone and be perfectly fine. That’s what they did. In Stringhalt, both escaped their bonds and fled without any help. Without my help…

And myself…

I’m just a young filly who can make little lights… Nothing more. Never anything more.

So I understand. Why even listen to my request to go to Canterbury? I’m not thinking of our little group’s wellbeing, nor do I have proof we are able to handle it. It was more than enough to entertain my concerns. I feel like they knew how I was feeling, explained it to them well enough. But in the end…. They were right. Of course they were right.

But…

I’m the only one putting the country first. Even without the ability… I have to put this country first. I have to. That’s who I believe… That is who I am. As the cutie mark on my flank so boldly declares… I am Equestria’s sun. I exist to protect it. I’ve never felt anything else so strongly.

And I never thought my denial of purpose would hurt so much.

~¤~

I once had a storybook. Colors radiating, outlines thick. Brush strokes soft, gold and silver leaf pressed tightly to the page, never to fade. It glorified the alicorns. Ponies danced in their light, dazzled by the ocean of colors, blinded by the metallic glare. The Ponies were frozen in that happy dance, incapable of seeing or conceiving of anything but bliss and peace in their future. They only knew everlasting peace beneath the wings of their idols.

I wish I could show that storybook to Luna. Make her see the alicorns behind their glittering masks. Make her see through the paintings I worshiped in my youth. The First Gods. The False Gods. The Corrupters of Equestria

There are too many shadows in the folds of the paper, too many secrets hiding behind glory. In the dark, the pictures are bright, they’re clear. They catch the eye. That’s all that matters, that all they say matters. But they’re wrong. It needs the sun to read properly.

Loyalty. The gruff hero. Always charging forward for his friends, mane painted to look like a cloudy blue sky. He’s robed in blood red, skin glittering emerald, decorative sword by his side. A General of armies with no war to fight, he seeks conflict in his own life.

Laughter. An artist, the tickled pink playwright. Mane bubbling and steaming like a base of a waterfall. For some reason, his backgrounds were nearly always blank, leaving him lonely against an empty sky. Nothing prevents him from joking around. The more tragic the situation, the more he desires to laugh.

Honesty…

Generosity…

Their pages flutter by, glossed over. Friends of Friends, the connection between Magic and Kindness. The first to know his Element, and the last to receive.

Magic. The one most interested in books. The leader, and most of the time, Deus Ex Machina for the gods. He always had something elaborate going on in his backgrounds, books and bottles glossed in a glittering aura, frozen midair. His long blue and purple mane always was painted in sparkling swirls. Like window to the stars.

Kindness.

Turn the page, let me tell you a story about Kindness.

Once upon a time Kindness was a little brown earth pony with a blue butterfly on his flank. He raised sheepdogs. He had a pink Pegasus friend and another purple Earth Pony friend. He never knew his fate. 

Then the sky cracked open and he became an Alicorn, mane falling in sharp angles, like thick blades of grass.

He was assigned to manage the Earth and all of its magnificent creatures. It was what he was good at. He loved. He was loved. All was right on the ground because of his Kindness.

In  the stories the book sings about Kindness, he is proudly the simple buffoon. Lost. Confused. Dazzled by his duties. Stumbling around like an idiot. Barely any magic to speak of. Noble because he is merely an ignorant farmer pony.

In the most roundabout way, the book acknowledges only a single problem with Kindness’ idiocy. He and Magic didn’t get along.

Magic was logical. Cold and detached. Kindness was caring. Passionate and curious. Sometimes he would walk in on his friends, seeking way to help. He approached magic once, asked this very question. Is there anything I can help you with? Magic would reply that this task requires no help, Kindness. The picture shifts, Kindness dips his sharp, square little snout. Magic, I worry about you. I haven’t seen you at dinner in weeks. Are you still eating?

Of course not. Magic stomped his hoof, making the silver specks of paint in his mane spin. We no longer have to participate in such trifles.

Yes, but every pony should relax once in a while.

Not I. I’m glad to leave them behind.

Kindness trots forward, mane rustling as the pages turn. A lab of dark stone rises before him, bottles bobbing gently in the air.

Oh, it’s this again. Kindness dips his head, and with the swipe of a brush, his horn is sheathed in a warm, sparkling paint. Here, I can…

There’s a snap, the shattering of glass. A spider web fracture snaps across the page, red paint oozing from the cracks.

“Get out!” Magic shouts, rearing, wings flapping wide.

“I-I’m sorry! Please, it was an accident, Clover! Calm down!”

“Stupid! Stupid little Earth Pony…” Magic screams. “Do not trifle with magic! It is MY domain, not yours!”

Kindness snorts, squaring his shoulders. “I can cast magic as well as any other unicorn…!”

“But not as good as any other alicorn!” Magic hisses. His horn is lowered, dangerously close to Kindness’ face. “You mock our skills, you weak, stupid little simpleton! Even Paleheart knows double the spells that you do!”

“I just.” Kindness deflates, laughs nervously, I can see his fatty legs twitch as they retreat, backing out the door. He smells like dog fur. Like earthy fertilizer. “Doesn’t come up much. I’ll just keep, going, studying. Yes.”

The pages turn away from the shadows of black stone as Kindness backs away. His retreating body eventually emerges in a white hall, dazzling and bright, sun glaring from the open windows

“Oh don’t try to reason with that sourpuss!” Laughter chuckles, floating and bobbing in front of Kindness, wings a blur of pink. “He’s just mad because he never got to bone him some hot flank. Now he’s a total no-show in bed, can’t get it up at all. Got that from an insider source, if you know what I mean!”

“Jube… should you really be talking about our friends that way?”

“Who’s Laughter around here, huh? You or me?”

“Please. Not you too…”

And I get an overwhelming feeling, eyes straining from staring at the pages too long, pressing in, blurring my vision.

I wake up in my stall, forehead throbbing, mane sticky with sweat.

~¤~

I rub my forehead, trying not to smack Luna in the face with my elbow. I may have been reading too much of that story book…

I was awakened by… well I suppose they weren’t terrifying enough to be called nightmares. But my sleep was uneasy, I remember tossing and turning all night, hounded by books and pages and paper… My new obsession, part of it. Divining the truth of the past through the glorifying stories. Trying to find out about the Shadow Stallion, look for how the alicorns fell… Looking for a weakness I could show to Discord and Luna. Convince them.

But, as I stare in the shadows, head positioned uncomfortably as I’m jammed against the wall, hay scratching my flank…  Clover? Clover the Clever was the alicorn of Magic?

And I never have heard of the name Paleheart…

Where did I come up with those names?

Wildly, in the heat of my early-morning drowsiness, I thought maybe it was a vision. A memory locked in the Elements, something they wanted to show me. But with all the studying I’ve done, I know there’s no evidence of the Elements doing that. Scrying, yes, that’s possible while amplified by the Elements. But for the Elements to perform magic without a caster…? Not much on that

Maybe I was sleepcasting? A part of me wants to jump for joy at the slightest hint of another branch of magic. But wouldn’t that little lightshow have woken Discord or Luna up?

The longer I stay awake, the more I convince myself it was just a dream. A stress-induced dream… I just… I had a headache.

It’s hardly even morning when I awaken. I’m up before Discord, even Luna. With the snow still drifting outside, it was prudent to get a room for the night, lest we risk freezing… We were all packed tight into one little wooden stall, a fluffy hay bottom serving as our bed. The heat was stifling, squashed on Luna’s right side, with Discord pressed against the other wall. We would have had more space, but our wet cloaks hang from a hook behind us, soaking the hay beneath it. It still might take hours before they dry properly.

I nudged the swinging door open with a tap of my hind hoof… security clearly wasn’t an intent of this place… dragging my saddlebags behind me. Several stalls were lined up in the little stable, and I could see figures under the cracks in the doors. Plenty of ponies didn’t feel like sleeping outside in this cold. At least they kept the drafty little building warm.

I scooted myself out of the building entirely, onto a little covered patio whose edges were rimmed with frost, wind blowing gentle drifting fingers towards the door. Why in the world haven’t the Pegasi… or the Griffins that controlled them… caught this storm? Alicorn only knows what horrors are being perpetrated above the clouds… I sniffed, cold air already settling around my bare shoulders, creeping in through the frozen wooden planks. I could ignore it for this.

I Conjured a tiny little light and opened my bag. I pushed aside the bottle of rubbing alcohol, removed the overstuffed bag of oats, and pulled out the sheet. It was heavy, thicker than it should have been. When we were walking, it weighed down one side of my saddlebags with the burden of my petty theft. I carefully unwrapped the silky cloth, and the thick volume fell gently into my forelegs.

The Way of Elements, The Way of Gods.

I flip it open, wanting a distraction, a goal in this early hour. I’ve spent too much time staring at these pages, I know I have. But I can’t help returning. Even if they offer me no real answers. No way to convince Luna and Discord of the right path to take…

~¤~

Half a day past, I had made my case to the blank stares of my sister and her friend. Maybe we didn’t know how to take him down, or how to get into the city. Maybe we’d just go to Canterbury and have to turn right around. Maybe we’d get in, and find ourselves incapable of… of putting the Stallion to rest. Under my breath, in a terrified part of my mind, I wished I had the ability to do more to the cruel tyrant…

But I had tried to explain. We had to do this. There was no way my own body would carry me to Canterlot without trying. No way at all.

And I was infinitely grateful when they both silently considered the option, weighed it as they walked.

“If you think we have to try,” Luna had said slowly, “Then we have to try.” She looked between me and Discord, looking for backup. “What if we went to Canterlot, and learned later we could beat the Stallion all along? I think we’d feel really, really awful that we didn’t give it a shot.”

“Yes!” I stammered, “How hard can this be, really? He’s obviously…” the book flashed in my mind. Weak. Buffoonish. “He hasn’t been capable of finding us. His own followers betrayed him easily. Maybe… maybe he was powerful once, but no pony’s ever, ever thought they could take him down…”

Discord squeaked, just out of nowhere. An uncomfortable little sound. I stared at him.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “That’s just… uh…” He fell silent, then huffed a sigh. “That’s just not true. It’s not.”

“Why not?”

“I’ll um…” he laughed nervously, “Man, it’s still so hard to talk about my past… but… you’re wrong, Celestia.” We walked in silence for the moment, waiting for Discord to work up the nerve to speak, to contradict me. He cleared his throat. “So. More about my life in the castle. You know…” He stopped, laughed nervously again. I wished that he would just stop stalling. “Down there, it’s all about the strong ruling society. If you were weak… well, there’s no excuse for being weak. Not even if you’re just a kid. Those who are strong take what they want, and nobody’s there to really tell them otherwise.”

“But,” he turned solemn, “Even the biggest, toughest, muscle-bound meatheads don’t mess with Father. And let me tell you, the Shadow Stallion doesn’t control us through mind tricks or charms or whatever. In a society based on strength, he dominates by its rules. I’ve seen him maybe three times… once punishing a traitor. I’ll spare you the graphic details but it was only out of Father’s mercy that the Draconequus died. So you say we should go back and face the Shadow Stallion? Just try to stop him?” He shook his head. “No. Heck no. Be stupid to try.”

Another uncomfortable pause followed, silence heavy with the snow stealing all sound.

“If Discord says it’s too dangerous…” Luna said slowly. “Then maybe we shouldn’t do it…”

“But… but we have to try!” I cried, “I… How will we live with ourselves if we don’t?”

“Pfft,” Discord scoffed, “I think I’ll manage. I like not being dead, thank you.”

Luna looked up at the two of us. Torn. Definitely torn. She knew how I was feeling, she knew me. She would defend me… No, that was only wishful thinking. She looked right at me, and she shook her head.

And that was apparently that.

~¤~

I don’t know. Dying… death… just words. Something that happens to other ponies. Discord said he came close to dying, but I don’t believe that. I banged my head really hard once, and I was convinced that was dying… Maybe he came a little closer than a banged up brain, but never, not for one moment, did I ever think he could come close to leaving us.

The Shadow Stallion wouldn’t, he couldn’t kill us. If he truly had once bore the Element of Kindness, then there was no way he could bring himself to hurt us, to hurt children barely out of foalhood. Corrupted by a nightmare or no. He would not. Inconceivable.

And honestly…

There are some things worth dying for, aren’t there?

I just wish I could make Luna and Discord see that.

Not that it was a distinct possibility… but… Oh, Celestia, you’re just thinking in circles now. Going round and round your head for the magic words that will change their minds. Make them see that the mission isn’t as dangerous as they think it will be.  It’s making me go crazy. Everything is. Obsessing and fussing over so many things.

My magic being not up to par for what I desire to do.

The truth of the Shadow Stallion, and the rest of the Alicorns.

Trying to go and save this forsaken country!

All these things spinning around and around my head! If we could just go and defeat this damn tyrant, then that would be one problem solved! The rest we can take months, years to sort out and find answers for! But this issue, this issue needed to be addressed first and I would not let it just be set aside!

I’d…

I’d just…

~¤~

“I’d sooner go and confront the Stallion myself!”

Discord jerked awake, snorting as he fell off Luna’s back.

“Celestia…?”

“I’d do it! I’ll go and face him alone if I have to!”

“Face… what?”

Luna yawned, “You’re up early…”

“I’ve been up for hours! I can’t sleep! You two… I just, I can’t not go face the Shadow Stallion! I just can’t!”

“Celestia,” Discord stated bluntly, “It’s friggin’ suicide. Let it go.”

“No! I refuse!”

There was some grumbling, not from either Discord or Luna. Another pony bucked the side of our stall, made us all jump.

“Big sis!” Luna giggled loudly, “Shouting!”

“I still mean it!” I whispered furiously. “I’ll go to Canterbury all by myself. Chance or not. Hope or not. I won’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t at least try!”

Discord snorted.

“You got something to say to me, Discord?!”

He stared, stunned. “What the heck has gotten into you?”

I squared my shoulders. “Duty! The duty of a Princess!”

He laughed, poorly covering it up as a cough. I showed him I didn’t buy it, glaring a hole right through his funny looking head. He frowned back.

“Well then.” He yanked down his cloak, shook it free of droplets. “Canterbury’s, what? A week or two away? That’s a week or two that you can take to come to your senses, and head off to Canterlot. We’re in no rush, are we?” He stared at me, eyes level. “Is that a plan you can be happy with, Celestia?”

“Oh, I will be.”


XXXVIII : Luna

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 38

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfiction.tumblr.com/

~Luna~

You know, if there’s one thing I feel like I don’t do a whole lot, but I’ve been doing a lot of lately, it’s thinking hard. Stuff was really clear all the time. I knew how to make Celestia happy, I knew how to make Discord happy. I knew how to stop a fight and make everybody feel a whole lot better about everything. I was just okay with how things were. Happy a lot.

Then some stuff happened and everything became a little different.

You know, it all started with everybody making their brains all silly from fighting.

We were travelling, and the snow was still following us around. We found shelter one night, but then the next we had to sleep out in the cold. Now… sleeping outside was comfortable before. Grass, bugs… well, bugs weren’t nice, and grass was itchy. But it could be comfortable! Sleeping outside in the snow was terrifying. I couldn’t even get to sleep, it was too cold. I remember blowing on my hooves like crazy, trying to make them warm. When we got up the next morning, the snow beneath us had turned to ice, and was frozen to our tummies. Celestia wouldn’t stop mumbling about how primitive ponies used to sleep in the cold all the time, that it’s normal and it’s no big deal… but she was on edge. She was driving herself crazy, and it was driving Discord crazy, and that was driving me crazy.

Of course, Celestia’s crazies were deeper than a frustration about the snow… We were heading to Canterbury, she wanted to be certain that we were ready. At one point she grit her teeth and banged her knee against a tree, beating it until her coat was scraped up, covered in little pinpricks of blood. She lifted it up to us and demanded we test the Element’s healing abilities. With some futzing with the Resonation, and an accidental shower of snow falling from one of the broadleaved trees, we made the wound disappear. Celestia trotted on, and me and Discord spent an hour tossing back and forth silly names. Eventually, we settled on “The Bright Northern Lights that Illuminate all of Glorious Equestria, Hail Our Wisdom For Relying Random Outcomes, For We Are The Alicorn Gods.” Or “Aurora” for short.

I think that was the only laugh we had all day… The second time Celestia tried to pull a “here’s a problem, let’s find a solution…”

I don’t even know what she was thinking. We were just walking alone the road, trying to stick to the flattened  tracks of carts. Celestia was staring off the road, not really talking much. Discord and me kept trying to get her into the silly naming, but she never got into it. Always kinda distracted. She stopped suddenly, pointed her hoof off the road.

“Look,” she had said, “A fox.”

And so it was! It was just a fuzzy red furball, making two tiny little tracks through the woodland snow. It looked up at Celestia’s words, ears perking. It was then that I saw another little fuzzball in its mouth, a brown rabbit…

I stuck out my tongue, “Yeck, it’s got a dead thing.”

Discord chuckled uncomfortably behind me, and I watched him step around me, continue on. But Celestia... she stepped off the road, walked towards that fox. Carefully finding each step, she never took her eyes off the fox, approaching it slow as could be. And the fox watched her too, wary. He turned a little, rabbit flopping in his mouth.

Slowly, carefully, Celestia used her aura to scoop up a ball of snow. Discord called out about then, joking about her intentions. With a sort of desperate squeak, Celestia chucked that snowball. The fox darted away, annoyed… but then she grabbed its tail.

“Celestia!” Discord cried, “What are you doing?”

“Annoying it!” she shouted back, “We need to try and Harmony Blast it!”

~Θ~

Celestia and Discord argued the most I’d ever heard them fight when that happened. The angriest I’d ever heard them, even angrier than when Discord was found in that chicken coop. It was a stupid risk and a danger, Discord screamed. We learned that the Harmony Blast can calm things down, Celestia screamed. I had to resort to standing between then, forcing them apart with hoof and spell.

Discord wouldn’t really talk to me after that… Couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t immediately denounce my sister. Couldn’t believe that I still wanted to go to Canterbury. He was starting to get more desperate about the issue, pressing it more when he realized Celestia wasn’t changing her mind.

Then, as the sun was setting, and we were all sick of not being able to feel our feet…

Celestia stopped again, making Discord tighten up a little, shoulder stiff. She poked at a muddy patch of snow, and her horn flared to life. She lifted a leaf down, and scooped a big, squirmy worm into the little cup. It rolled and curled around, tightening into knots. Celestia held it in front of me.

“Let’s try and turn it into stone.”

“No!”

She blinked.

“It’s just a cute little bug!” I cried, “It’s not hurting anybody!”

“First of all, it’s not a bug,” Celestia huffed, “And in any case, we have to test this on something! And there are millions of these things around! One won’t be missed!”

Quietly, under his breath, Discord spoke. “Just like there’s millions of ponies in Equestria?”

Celestia heaved a sigh. “Oh, you would say that! You’re just trying to get under my skin!”

“Just saying. I’m with Luna on this one,” Discord said, “Just leave the little bug be…”

“It’s not a… Nevermind!” She shook her head, almost dropping the worm. “Anyway, what happens when we get to the Shadow Stallion? We need to know how to turn things to stone!”

Discord rolled his eyes, and for a second, I thought he was just going to leave. I watched my sister, hoping, praying she’d just let Discord keep walking. Really not the best thing to hope for…

But then, Discord turned back to me. Waved at me. “C’mon Luna,” he said, “Your sister’s gone freaking bonkers. Let’s get her to Canterlot, maybe they can cure her of the crazies.”

“No! Luna!” Celestia finally dropped that worm. But it was only to skitter in front of me, head low and eyes wide. “We need to go to Canterbury! How could you live with yourself if you just went and hid from this?!”

“We wouldn’t be hiding! We’d be learning!” Discord moaned. “We’ll figure out how to do this stuff properly!”

“But we can figure it out right here and now!” Celestia cried.

“On an innocent creature…!”

“It is!” Celestia squealed, shoulders heaving, “A LITTLE BUG. You’re just being contrary! That’s all you ever DO!”

“No! Me an Luna are the only ones with any SENSE around here!”

“Luna and I are the only ones who know what DUTY MEANS!”

“Hey!” I shouted, somehow not the loudest of my friends. “Why are you guys tossing my name around like that?”

“Because!” Celestia heaved, “You are on MY side! We’re going to Canterbury!”

“You’re just using your sisterly bond to bully poor Luna!” Discord shouted back. He darted around Celestia, and flung his foreleg around my shoulder. “Luna knows the logical thing to do is head to Canterlot! She’s just scared of the YELLING!

“Hey,” I snapped, “You’re yelling too, you know!”

Discord snorted, “Only so I can be heard!”

“That’s stupid,” I told him. “Now stop fighting! The Elements of Harmony do not fight!”

Celestia laughed, a crazy laugh that was so unlike her… “That’s a lie,” she spat, “Those First Gods fought like griffins over a gold coin!”

“Well the Second Gods shouldn’t fight,” I returned.

“Luna,” Discord pleased, “If you want the fighting to stop, just say Canterlot. It’s two against one!”

“Celestia will go to Canterbury alone if we leave—”

“That I will!”

“And we can’t split up,” I said with finality. That was something I definitely would not allow.

And yet… “Why not?!” Discord cried.

I stared at him, “Because Celestia will definitely get hurt?”

“Well… Well we’re all going to get hurt because of this!”

“Well not nesc—“

“Luna, please!” Discord stared me right in the eyes, desperate. “Have some sense!”

“Going to Canterbury makes some sense!”

“Ha!” Celestia laughed, “See?!”

“No it doesn’t!” Discord spat, “Not at all!”

“Look! Both makes sense! Both have reasons! BLEH!” I could feel myself whining, voice catching in the back of my throat. “Can we all just stop yelling at each other? Please?! That’s all I want right now!”

“No!” Discord shouted, “We have to decide now!”

“You gave us until the time we reached Canterbury!” Celestia pointed out.

“Well I changed my mind!” Discord shook his head. “It’s crazy! And I don’t know how long my stock of fish will last…!”

Celestia recoiled, lips squeezed tight.

Discord’s face fell. “Don’t look at me like that, Celestia!”

“I-I’m not!” Celestia stammered, “What look?!”

“You’re still—!”

Stop!” I could feel my voice boom with a noisy blast, Element flaring along with a burst from my horn. Celestia and Discord both stumbled back, unable to keep their footing. “Stop it! You!” I jabbed a hoof at Discord “Over there! Celestia!” My hoof snapped around to my sister. She looked shocked. Hurt. “Over there!” I shouted.

Celestia stared down at me. “… Why I never! I am the older sister here…!

“It won’t make us any more harmonious to be separated…” Discord mumbled.

“It won’t solve anything to keep yelling at eachother!” I squealed, really, really whining. “Both of you just… go and freaking calm down!”

“But what—?!”

“I don’t know! I don’t know I don’t know stop fighting!” Then I did something very, very childish. I don’t even know why I did it, looking back. I just threw myself to the ground, kicking my legs and pounding my head into the cold snow, screaming. Horn sometimes flaring with crazy spells, blasting the words from my mouth. “STOP FIGHTING. SHUT UP! STOP IT!”

It was a long, long time until I could get myself calmed down enough to sobbing hot tears. Longer still to just lie there, pouting, and feeling ashamed of myself. I’m kind’ve a little kid but… but to throw a fit like that… I was kind’ve proud about how grown up I could be. About solving all the fights. About being a problem solver…

When I finally sat up, I saw Discord was staring at me. Stunned, unable to really say anything to me.

And my sister was just gone.

~Θ~

The past few days we had been sleeping really really tight knit, since the snow and cold never left. But Discord’s up his tree… And when I went to snuggle up with Celestia, she backed away, said she needed some alone time. At least she didn’t run away…

But I think… besides those two nights I stayed alone in Stringhalt, this is the only night I’ve ever slept completely alone. Even when we lived in Canterbury… I thought it was silly that my sister tried to keep me so close…  dragging me down into the sitting room to sleep together. But now, I really miss her.

And it’s still really, really cold.

They’re not just mad at each other… they’re mad at me. They’ve never been mad at me! I’m the peacemaker! Aren’t I? I bury my nose into my forelegs, cold Element resting on my nose, and stare up at the sky. Even as peacemaker… It’s always either or. It’s either Discord or Celestia. My friend’s stance or my sister’s stance…

What about my opinions? Can’t I add more than ‘stop fighting’ to every conversation?

I dunno… Why are we fighting? Isn’t this a time we have to be the most harmonious? All friends fight occasionally but… it’s weird to think that saviors, heroes, and eventual gods like us can still snip at each other. Aren’t we chosen because we’re above those little arguments? I stare up at the sky, trying to see the flakes as they fall, quietly muting the dark night. But even the snow’s left me… guess the Pegasi had caught up to that storm…

And, as I stare up at the clouds, I wonder if that’s exactly what I’m seeing. There’s a big white lantern up there, above the clouds. I tense up… I remember the looks of the griffin lanterns! They looked um… Orange. And a whole lot smaller than that. I wonder if they had some sort of big, massive lantern they haul around for cleanup.

Or maybe I’m just completely wrong.

I keep quiet, just in case. If it is a giant griffin mega-lantern, shouting for my friends is probably not the best idea. If I can see it, they can see it, and they’ll know how to act.

But as the lantern got brighter and brighter… there was no response from my friends. Not even a shiffling of snow or a whisper of branches. And that was weirder than the light even being there. Discord should at least be reacting to being taken, or something. Were they both asleep? I stared at the lamp, watching it for sudden movements. But it didn’t move at all… just started to became less and less like a blob of light, and more like a big hoofprint. Getting brighter and brighter, outlining little puffy lines…

And a little black speck darted in front of the crescent-shapes spotlight.

“Guys!” I shouted. Quietly. “Celestia! Discord!”

There was a shuffling, a sleepy groan from my sister. “What, Luna…”

“It’s… it’s… the clouds!”

Layer by layer, streak by streak, dozens, maybe hundreds of itty bitty mites weaved in and out of the clouds. The clouds, the permanent, never-go-away, dreary ceiling layer that I had only seen over once in my life, but never leave. Slowly, not so slowly, it vanished, and the real sky opened up.

Right in the center was that big silver print, bright and shiny like a light over a flick of silver, almost bright enough to see the glade without my spells. I could see little dark marks all over its surface, speckling, but never dimming its calm and gentle glow. All around it, instead of an infinite sea of impossible blue, it was all black… But more than black! A giant speckled streak splattered behind the hoof print sliver, glittering and glowing with the same calm stillness. These little dots were dimmer, but each speck an individual, radiating outwards, filling the sky with an ocean of sparkles.

“The moon!” Celestia cried.

“That’s the moon…?” I asked.

“And the rest are stars,” she replied.

“Wo~ow…” I laughed out loud, “Look! The moon! It’s smiling on its side!”

But, almost as soon as it the sky was revealed to us, little specks flew this way and that, silent little bodies leaving behind them a network of cloudy strings, eventually forming back into a single spun web… Then it was all back to normal. The normal, dreary, cloudy sky was put back in its place. I could already feel it getting warmer.

“The snowstorm must have invaded the permanent cloud layer…” Celestia mumbled.

“Maybe…” Discord spoke up, the first I had heard from him since the argument.

In my mind, the image of that little moon, a little sliver of a hoof nail in the sky. It was nothing like the daytime sun, that big bright burning thing that left holes in my eyes. The night sky was nothing like the endless blue, a blue void to fall into. It was full of light, full of things to look at, almost too much to take in at once… Yet…

That sky was beautiful…

~Θ~

I didn’t know if I could sleep that night, for the second night in a row. It was warmer, sure, but wetter, and stifling. I spent a long time thinking about that moon… just getting a feel for the word. Wondering how all those stars got there, and how the moon was positioned so perfectly, not running into any of them. But those entrancing thoughts couldn’t hold me forever… and the later and more uncomfortable it got… the more negative my thoughts became. The fight between us all… and the fact that I was sleeping all alone.

I just feel like I’m just standing back and watching, or putting a stop to the fighting. When I enter the conversation… it stops. I guess it’s a good thing that my friends listen to me… But Discord wants to go to Canterlot. Celestia wants to go to Canterbury. I’m just thinking about their reasons to go places, weighing their words. Don’t I have somewhere I want to go?

Should I just say ‘go in a random direction!’ for a third option? I think that’s kind’ve dumb. But am I always gonna be between Celestia and Discord, deciding which ones right and which ones wrong? I feel like anything I’m gonna say that’s purely me is gonna be wrong. I don’t know anything…

And then some words popped into my brain.

Nobody really knows what’s right. What we ‘know’ is always going to be really, really incomplete. So I know that I don’t know anything.

Why am I assuming Discord and Celestia know any better?

The idea stunned me for a second, made me feel all swirly sideways. Maybe they don’t know what’s best either. Maybe they’re just as dumb as I am!

Wow.

So um…

If both options are dumb, what the heck should we do? Is there a smart option at all? Canterlot seems smarter… but does safer mean smarter? Catching an enemy off guard is smart too, even if Celestia’s being all emotional and dumb about it…

She’s too intense. Like the sun was. Warm and strong, giving light to everybody, but burning holes in your eyes if you look too hard.

There’s another, better way to look at the sky…

And there’s a better way to look at this solution.

There’s one thing that’s really clear to me now: while my friends were fighting, I couldn’t think straight! Who can think straight when they’re getting all worked up over the right answer, you know? Fighting’s not helping! We gotta approach this stuff in the calm and quiet. It’s not really about my own opinion and not getting a word in, not really. I like the thought of weighing all the options and reasons, both logical and emotional, and offering the answer with an even temper! Radiate the response not with the heat of the sun…

But with the cold light of the moon!

So… Celestia If she’s going to be Equestria’s sun… Well, then I want to be its moon!

“And as Equestria’s moon!” I whispered frantically to myself, a rushing feeling in my head, flashing lights coming from behind me, “I say the best option for my country is to see if we can save it now! We must go to Canterbury, and stop this evil once and for all!”

~Θ~

I remember, almost a million years ago, how important a cutie mark was. All the kids in school would panic about what they would get… And those that found their way were always so excited. I was invited to a ton of parties celebrating cutie marks. Not because I was popular or anything, but because cutie marks were a BIG DEAL, and every foal had to go to every party, just to make sure they knew that.

I think, one time I planned out what my Cuteciñera would be like. Celestia looked at it and said maybe. Then she rubbed her eyes and told me no. I wouldn’t have a party when the cutie mark appeared. A cutie mark wasn’t THAT BIG of a BIG DEAL.

So I took her word for it. I mean, she didn’t have a cutie mark either, and she was almost an adult. It must not be that important. Someday I’d get one, when I was ready for it. Knowing it really wasn’t a BIG DEAL stopped me from really getting worked up and worried, like some of my peers. Stopped me from hurting myself or wrecking my coat with paint… like some of my peers.

And my patience was rewarded.

I naturally came to a conclusion about myself, about what I feel. I feel happy. Still happy. And my cutie mark is… beautiful. Unique. Like the moon in the sky, one of a kind. A little sideways smile, a small tap of a hoof, sitting in its own blotchy nighttime shadows. A little light in the dark.

I am Luna, Equestria’s long-lost Moon. Still trying to shine, even though the clouds block my light. A cool and careful nighttime guide.

And I’m comfortable with myself.


XXXIX : Discord

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 39

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfiction.tumblr.com/

~Discord~

Has everyone gone freaking bonkers?!

When Luna decided to side with Celestia on that wet, muddy morning, it was like a punch to the gut! I felt honest to goodness betrayed, wondered why in the world Luna would do that. To me. She didn’t mean it as a jab against me, I’m sure but…

It frustrated the hell out of me!

“Luna,” I said, approaching her. I was sinking up to my ankles in mud and ‘splorch’ing as I walked. Yet, I couldn’t help but stare at her slowly swaying flank… I admit, I don’t know a ton of ponies personally. But I think I’ve seen plenty of cutie marks by now. And hers was different. A big splotchy blob that almost ran down her leg, up to her tail… Then she turned sideways, smiling back at me. I stopped staring.

“Uh-huh?” she said. And she almost seemed to carry herself differently. And not different in the forced way, like Celestia. Luna looked more relaxed, more at ease… more mature. Was that an effect of the cutie mark? Or… for life’s sake, I’ve got to stop staring at her flank. I’m getting cutie mark envy on top of all other stupid things…

“Luna,” I stared her right in the eyes, coming up on her left side.  “I just got my life back again. I’m very, very happy to not be dead. If we go fight the Shadow Stallion, I’m telling you, we’re going to die.”

I guess I half expected her to laugh me off. I mean, she sided with Celestia this morning, and was very, very proud of her choice. Of course she was going to laugh this off, laugh me off. But she didn’t. She looked straight ahead, and actually seemed to be thinking about it! Maybe there’s a way to convince her after all!

“Hey Discord,” she asked casually, “What do you know about the Shadow Stallion?”

“I told you already. He’s a top dog to rule top dogs. He’s stronger than any Draconequus!”

“Like… how strong? How does he keep the Draconequus in line? You said he doesn’t use magic…”

“He just… beats them up? Rips them to shreds.”

“With alicorn magic?”

“Jeez, I don’t know!” I cried, “I don’t watch you know!”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t either…” Luna fell quiet, head tilted up at the clouds. “I’m just kind’ve thinking! Depending on what the Shadow Stallion can and can’t do…”

“He can do a ton. He’s an alicorn.”

“Celestia doesn’t seem to think so,” Luna piped up, “She thinks his magic isn’t all that.”

“Does… does she have a reason to think that?” The idea made my head want to spin. The Stallion, Father, he was all-powerful. There was a question about that?

“He hasn’t found three dumb kids, for one.”

I blink. “I guess there’s that.”

“And he can’t keep his head stallions, or the guys who worships him in line.”

“Yeah but,” I objected, “That’s just because his attention’s divided. Remember? We guessed that ages ago. He’s powerful, yeah, but he’s just one alicorn!”

“But how hard can a couple scrying spells be? Look where we are, shout at the griffins to get us…”

My mind was reeling, “I don’t know. Maybe… maybe it’s outside the realm of his cutie mark?”

Luna grinned. “Sonic magic’s outside the realm of my cutie mark.”

“So… you can still cast that?”

Luna giggled. She threw back her head, and with a flash of her horn, she squeaked at the sky. I jumped as the blast of sound rocketed past me, shaking the wet remnants of snow from every branch around us.

“Luna!” Celestia cried. “Shouting?!”

“Sorry!” Luna giggled. She plucked her feet out of the mud, and kept walking, smiling at me. “We’re already special enough to get this extra magic stuff, so the Stallion should be too…”

“And that makes him crazy powerful—“

“… But he’s not, somehow. He doesn’t have access to every spell or nothing. There might be lots he doesn’t know. I mean… what spells did you see him cast, in the castle?”

“Um… I don’t know.” I wracked my brains for the scant few times I had seen Father… “He can levitate huge things. Stop a Draconequus with a glance. He might be able to teleport… He um… twice a year…” I laughed nervously, “Twice a year, well, he regulates Draconequus breeding. So twice a year he makes it so the females can, um, conceive again.” Oh, that is a bizarre look, Luna! I hastily continue. “He also has this shadowy aura that he totes around him, but I don’t think he does that on purpose! His horn doesn’t glow when he does that! Anyway, I hadn’t seen him do anything really, really crazy or powerful. But!” I hastily add, “That could mean that he keeps most of his powers a secret! I mean, this cloud cover comes from him! He can probably do a lot we don’t know about…”

“Maybe. Probably. But… there aren’t any stories about how awesome he is either!”

I chuckled nervously, “We’re discouraged from talking about Father lightly.”

“Oh.” And Luna’s head was back up in the clouds. What in the world was she trying to see up there? “You know!” She exclaimed, “The Elements chose us. They probably want to, and will protect us.”

“What? These rocks…?” I stare down at the little gem bouncing off my neck. It’s just an inanimate thing, just another part of me… But no, it wasn’t always like that, was it? “Maybe. Maybe you’re right.” I returned to staring at my friend. “You remember when I first brought back that butterfly rock, right?”

She grinned and nodded furiously, urging me on.

“We wear these Elements so easily, they almost feel part of us, comfortable around our neck. But that comfort has led us to forget just how alive these things are. They might even be aware.” A flood of ideas hit me, things I had maybe thought about once or twice, but never dwelled on. They poured out of my mouth, somehow, just sounding right.  “I don’t think Loyalty judged Celestia just on that outburst, nor you on your story. They watched us for all those weeks, through…” I flicked my Element, making it glitter. “Maybe they even led us where we needed to go. We haven’t run across a single Element that we couldn’t pick up, even though it was a fifty-fifty shot whether it belonged to us or that other group. And… well.” Another thought popped to mind, one long, long since forgotten. “When I was fleeing from those guards, all the way back in Canterbury. On the last day we were there…”

Luna looked ecstatic, continuing to nod through my speech. “Did something magical happen?” she asked.

“Not really, really magical. But when I ran into that first guard… I thought I was dead for sure! There were so many pegasi and griffins I had passed on the way up… Yet, I kept getting lucky. I kept ducking into empty rooms, finding passageways… I kind’ve thought I just knew the pattern of the castle well, even in the parts I had never been in before. But maybe…”

“So you see? We got a leg up on the Stallion! The Elements are here to protect us!”

I smiled. “You thought of this, what, last night? Why didn’t you bring it up sooner?”

“Nah, I Just remembered it now while we were talking!”

“Wow, really?”

“Yep!”

“So you were completely self-assured, just on the idea that the Stallion was weaker than he seemed…?!”

“Well, that, and because it’s the right thing, our duty to—“

“Oh no, no, no. Not this again!” I moaned. “Don’t tell me your cutie mark is the same as Celestia’s… All of that Duty and responsibility crap!”

“Nope!” Luna squeaked, her voice dreamy. “I just realized that I like being a mediator. That making clear and direct decisions is my special talent! Kind’ve like the moon!”

“I um…” I stared at her, confused. Definitely confused. “I never thought of the moon as a great decision maker…”

She blinked, tilted her head and thought quietly. “It’s kind’ve silly when you say it like that!” She happily declared, “But it all made sense at the time. My cutie mark isn’t like… literal, or anything. Represents something more.”

“Anyway, self-assurance—”

“Yep. Got that too.”

Why?”

“You mean besides the Stallion being weak and the Elements protecting us?” She stuck out her tounge, mocking my question. “I just do! It’s the right thing to do, so we gotta go do it. Dunno if we’ll succeed or fail, but,” she giggled, “I’ve got faith in us! We kind’ve hit some rough patches with the fights yesterday… but… Celestia will protect me. I’ll protect Celestia. I’ll protect you too, and you’ll protect me, right Discord?”

“Of course I will!” I frowned, “Would never think otherwise…” I stare at Celestia, still trotting ahead of us in a tight posture. “And I’d never dream of letting Celestia go, even if she is a pain sometimes.”

“You’re a pain to her, you know!”

I laughed through my teeth. “Oh yeah, I know. Now, if I had to choose one of you…” I grinned at Luna, just trying… I don’t know what I’m even saying…

She nodded. “Pick me so I can teleport us all away! Very clever, Discord!”

… And yet, somehow, it feels like she missed the point.

~æ~

We spent our week or so testing out the boundaries of our magic, working with the elements, working alone, working things out with each other… We never could get Celestia to calm completely down, but she wasn’t doing anything crazy anymore. So that’s good, I guess? Good to have a level head when you’re trotting right into a death trap. Together, we found a way to turn some leaves to stone, which Celestia packed away, checking constantly for cracks. We got comfortable with using our Elements, with this idea of duty…

Though I think I was the only one having any trouble with that. I’m following the suicidal plan, but that didn’t mean I had to like it.

But I think, as the days went on, Celestia and Luna were less and less gung-ho about this plan as well. Our conversations got shorter, further apart. Slowly, we found ourselves with very little to talk about. All of the spells we could think of were tried. We had discussed endlessly about what the Stallion could and could not do… Nothing else really seemed as important as the upcoming confrontation. And so… we just, slowly stopped talking. Luna brought up a topic or two, here and there. Trying to cheer us up, eyes and Element glittering. But even knew there was little a couple jokes could do.

“Well…” I said, breaking an hour-long silence as we followed a familiar road to a familiar place. “Rearing Town, you guys.”

Celestia nodded numbly. “Looks like it’s doing better.”

It was, actually. Even in the short amount of time we were gone, the fields looked reseeded, and little green sprouts were popping up all over the previously dead and dry areas. Ponies wandered up and down the banks of the properly-flowing river, grabbing buckets full of water and carefully sprinkling the crops.

I don’t know how, but we all mentally agreed to just skirt the town… There were a few muttered words here and there about Basil, wondering what he was doing, if he really managed to get along with both towns. But bigger things were on our minds than catching up with our first adventure…  More than the Stallion, in my case. My store of fish was quickly wearing thin, and the riverbanks would be our only stopping point before rushing off to Canterbury…

I think, at one point, I had decided if I was to ever go fishing for myself, I would have tried to deliberately gross the girls out. Make fun of this annoying, nasty little need. Ease the tension a little. But any jokes now just seemed… out of place. Inappropriate. The enormous tower of Canterbury was already invading the horizon, like the fat black shaft of a spear stabbing Equestrian soil. It was impossible to ignore or avoid now.

So we just quietly settled down at the river banks. I slipped into the rushing little current, very glad that it was no longer snowing and chilly. Very glad to see how clear the water was. It showed me that there’s weren’t currently any fish anywhere around me. I let the current wash over my legs, glaring at the rocks, really hoping for a sunfish or a salmon or something to catch. I paced in the river, finding a little magic in my fingertips. If I spotted one… maybe I could use a wall to trap it?

“Gosh,” Luna suddenly spoke up, chuckling nervously, “I wonder if our house is still there!”

For the longest time, neither me nor Celestia replied. I don’t know about Celestia, but I winced a little at the question, kept looking for some stupid sunfish in some still pools.“Do you think some other pony family is living in it?” Luna quietly asked.

“Probably our no good uncle started renting it out…” Celestia mumbled, eyebrows creasing.

“Yeah… Oh!” Luna squeaked, “I left all my toys in that house!” Celestia snorted up a laugh, and I felt the same way. What a silly little thought! Yet, another part of me panged. I didn’t want to embarrass Luna either… “I hope,” Luna muttered, “Whichever unicorn baroness got them is treating them nice...”

I waited for Celestia to offer an “I’m sure they are,” but none came. I took up the responsibility, distracted with a little spell… Water spilled around my simple wall, gushing around my trap. The fish darted away from… No! I snapped my head under the current, trying to catch a freaking sunfish! I felt its tail slip out from between my teeth, but charged after the stupid little thing.

“Hey Discord!”

“Pppftlth… Yeah?!”

“What about your house?” Luna called, a good distance away. “You think some…other Draconequus might be living in it?”

I splashed back upstream, staring at the river. “Never had a house,” I explained. “Just had a stupid bunk with three other idiots. Nothing to miss in that hole…” Quietly, I stared at another fish as it tried to squat in another still pool. Maybe a different tact. Using magic to block off the pool, a wall parallel to the current… My jaws snapped around the squirmy little thing… got one! I um… I ran and dropped it on the opposite shore, trying to hide it behind my old little bundle. Unsuccessfully.

“What about old friends?” Luna softly called.

I cringed, pinning the flopping fish to the ground, and really, really not wanting to talk about this. “Did you guys have old friends?” I called back.

Luna slowly shook her head. “Not really… The fillies at school talked about dumb stuff...”

“It was either work, or socializing.” Celestia stated, staring at the water. “And I needed that work… I, I barely even remember my old acquaintances.” She looked up, silent while I reentered the water. “Might be nice to see the bakery again…” she mumbled.

“You really didn’t have a single friend before us, Discord?” Luna asked. “Nobody liked you at all?”

I snorted. “Heck no, I was a little troublemaker…” I scanned the river, trying to spot something. Anything. Even a crawdad would be welcome. “I think the only guy who put up with me was my brother, Ruin. But even then…”

“You have a brother?” That perked Luna right up, her eyes wide and body straight, leaning towards me. “Like a big brother? Like Celestia?”

“Yeah, a Celestia that’s ten times as demanding, if you can believe it. He’s just the guy who raised me...” I dunk my head under, snapping at another elusive fish, failing again… “Ffpth … We’re just encouraged to think of all the Draconequus as brothers. Generations don’t really matter much.”

“Even… even the girls are brothers?” Luna giggled, a strangely uplifting sound. An actual laugh… I smiled.

“Very funny,” I replied, “Anyway, the guy’s still a jerk. Just slightly less of a jerk than most of the Draconequus. Friggin glad to leave all of them behind.” I stared at the water, not even looking for fish. Just… staring. Finding my own words strange and hollow. “And I’m sure!” I barked, “That he was ecstatic the day I left! Didn’t have to deal with the idiot who can’t keep his stupid nose clean…”

I was silent, and so was Luna. With nothing else to talk about, I wandered up and down the shores, actually catching another couple fish. But a thought came to me, as I returned to my bundle with my fourth catch.

“Y’know,” I called, “When we defeat the stallion, the griffins will probably bail. Not being paid, they’ll probably settle down here, like in Stringhalt. Or they’ll just leave the country for a new mark.” I frowned. “But the Draconequus…” I looked back at my friends, wondering if they saw where I was going. Neither of them looked happy. “We’re going to have to find a way to deal with them. They’re not going to be bound to Canterbury anymore… Not bound by the Stallion. They might go crazy and—” I stopped, jaws stiff, “Attack Equestria.”

I think both of them knew exactly what I meant. Luna closed her eyes. Celestia stared dead at me, boring holes into my skull.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Celestia remarked, voice a forced casual.

And that was that. I had caught my fish, so cleaned them up and coated them in salt, hoping that was enough to keep them. Now there was nothing stopping us from approaching that dark city coated in shadows.

We walked in silence, watching the pillar get bigger, bigger, bigger. Looming higher, wider than any of us ever remembered it being. In the distance, you could see the edges… Yet as we walked, it seemed to lose those edges, invading the entire horizon. And for over half the day, block out what little light the sun gave, leaving us in a massive second shadow. At one point Celestia waved us off the road, and we numbly followed her. We followed what little paths we could find between the trees, trying to look away, but never able to deny that the sky had turned from gray to black. Slowly, bit by bit, after a full and silent day and fitful night of travel, we somehow reached those impossible walls. I think with how far we had fallen the first time… we never actually had gotten up close to the base…

Now, we walked right up to the structure, and touched them. Touched that cold black stone… The pillar almost seemed flat, stretching far and away into the forests, cutting lines through subtle hills. We stared upward as it pierced the clouds, almost seeming to curve outward, preparing to collapse on our heads… Just looking up was dizzying, I actually heard a small squeak as Luna tumbled backward, unable to crane her neck high enough.

I, for some reason, put my ear to the wall, just wondering if I could hear the streets, or hear Draconequus fighting. But there was nothing. Nothing but a long-forgotten cold that drains the life, the light from your eyes.

“So…” I mumbled, almost afraid to be heard. “How are we going to get in?”

Celestia sniffed. “Hm…”

I guess there were a lot of things we failed to talk about…


XL : Overcast Return

The Steadfast Sky : Overcast Return

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfiction.tumblr.com/

~Celestia~

There is a way in. Doesn’t matter if I spent most my life not knowing a way out. There is a way in, somewhere. We’ve just got to find it.

I watched Discord climb with a focused intensity, really seeing how he does it. I watched him as he ran his hand across the stone, trying to find crack or a wide groove to grip as he ascended. It wasn’t hard, or it didn’t look hard to him. The stones were uneven, jutting out at odd angles. And when he couldn’t find the next handhold, he’d just slap his hand down and use magic to haul himself up. It was slow compared to how fast he could scamper up a tree, but it wasn’t long until he rose above tree line, staring downward, back up… With more than a mile to go.

He paused for a moment, staring into the brick before he let go, gliding in a wide circle back down to us.

“I’m sorry Celestia,” Discord shook his head, “But no. This is crazy.”

“You were doing so well!” I urged, “You could probably make it!”

“Yeah… maybe I could. But…” He looked up again, frowning, “You remember how long it took to run up those stairs. Maybe I could make it up by myself, but no way could I carry one of you. Let alone carry you both.” His eyes kept flicking upward, and back down, glaring at the base of the city, trying to avoid staring up. “And I don’t even know what I’d do if I got myself in…”

“Unlock the secret passage into the city?” Luna offered with a weak giggle. Yet, Discord’s frown only grew a little bit more sour.

“Don’t I wish…”

I jerked my body to the right, forcing myself to walk through my thoughts as I stared up that massive black wall… This is just one little obstacle, one tiny little problem that should be easy to solve. We can do it. We’re the Bringers of Harmony. We have to do this.

“There’s got to be some way in from the ground,” I finally spoke. “The trade carts, they can’t all come from the Pegasus. Can they?” I stopped. “What if an earth pony wants to sell in the city… Do they just, I don’t know, turn him away? Ignore them maybe, with no obvious entrance…”

“You owned property,” Discord quietly pointed out, “Don’t you know how this stuff gets in the city?”

I froze, the reminder like a cold twinge on my brain. Why didn’t I know? I cleared my throat, throwing aside the moment.

“I did assist Hot Cross in bringing home supplies from some markets,” I snapped, “I uh… am not entirely sure where the good came from. I assumed they were all a tax thing. Teleported in by the Shadow Stallion.”

Discord’s face curled, sighing in disgust. “No way we’re going to get in if they’re being teleported.”

“Well I guess we could—“

“Guys?” Luna squeaked, backing into the bushes and trees, “Griffins!”

I looked up, surprised my neck wasn’t permanently stuck in this gaze by now. I tottered back… and couldn’t see what Luna was seeing. But did that matter? I trotted back into the tree line, unable to avert my gaze until the leafy barrier was well over my head.

“I hope that the only way to get in,” Discord chuckled nervously, “Isn’t just to get caught.”

“Goodness!” I gasped, “There’s an idea!” Discord recoiled, eyes wide. “We’ll look at our other options first, of course…”

“No,” he snapped.

“But as a last resort…”

“No!” Discord cried, “We don’t need to make this even more suicidal, Celestia!”

The look on Discord’s face… practically horrified. This wasn’t the time and place to be arguing. It was only a passing thought anyway… I tucked the idea away for later. If it really came down to it.

“Goodness,” I chuckled faintly. “I’m sorry. We’ll find another way.”

“Don’t make this worse than it already is, Celestia,” Discord mumbled, “Don’t make it worse…”

Alright… now what? I stared away, trying to find an idea. I couldn’t help continuing to stare at the wall, eyes slowly rising, only stopping when they bounced off the tree’s leaves. Grass tickled my chin as I looked back down, bending and brushing around my jaw. I swatted it away.

“You have any idea, Luna?” Discord asked behind me, out of sight.

“Hm! Good question.” There was silence for a moment, “The walls can’t be exactly the same all the way around the city, right? Maybe we just gotta look for a place that looks climbable, or more open, or something.”

“The city can’t be the same on every side,” Discord said.

“That would take too long,” I huffed. “Maybe even days. We could be spotted.”

“But, but while we look, we could think of another plan,” Luna said.

“How about…” I found myself tugging out the well-worn map, unfolding it into the grass. “Stringhalt… it had that little trading town outside of it. A traveller’s waypoint. Bolton, I think? Maybe Canterbury has one of those?”

“That would involve far more walking than just circling the city,” Discord grumbled, “A town like that could be anywhere. Or just not exist. The Stallion could teleport stuff in, remember?”

“From anywhere at any time?” I replied with a frown, “If he could do something like that, he could have teleported himself or some griffins all over Equestria. He could have found us easily.”

“Maybe he did,” Discord shot back, “And we’ve just been lucky.”

“’Just been lucky,’” I scoffed, “After being spotted twice?”

“I don’t know, alright?” Discord rubbed his eyes. “I don’t want to wander around, looking for some mystery town that may or may not exist.”

“Better than a mystery set of stairs. Or a mystery hole in the wall.”

“Really? Is it really?

“It’s not back near Rearing Town or Broncsburg!” Luna exclaimed over us, “We know that much!”

“Yes… We do know it’s not either of those towns…” I do need to stop fighting with Discord, especially in such a stressful situation… Goodness. I stared at the tiny little lines on the map. Canterbury was obvious. A big tower, actually drawn onto the page. Big curly letters curved above it, one of the few cities given that privilege. Scattered around the tower were a number of tiny dots, maybe half a dozen… five without Rearing Town and its sister village. But the closest, almost touching the big outline of a tower…

“To the southeast,” I pointed, “Gelding. I think we should check there first.”

“Celestia,” Discord huffed, “It’s on the exact opposite side of where we are.”

I flicked my mane out of my eyes, tucking the map back away. We had a direction now, and heck if I was going to let any more doubts waver me now that the direction was clear.

“A little bit more walking isn’t going to kill us,” I stated, firm as I felt.

~¤~

It took more than a day to trudge around the city, with the wall a constant line. Curving somewhere in the distance, but to our eyes, flat and straight. I don’t know about Luna and Discord, but my neck was starting to hurt from its constant craning. I wasn’t even trying to see the top anymore. We just had to keep a constant vigil for the Griffins, and strange, armored Pegasi bobbing in and out of the clouds.

“You think those Pegasi will help us?” Luna had asked.

“They’re slaves given privilege…” Discord mumbled, “So…”

“So they have the power to help the other ponies!”

“I don’t know… I don’t know.”

Sometimes a pack of griffin-driven pegasi hauling carts sliced overhead, ripping through the cloud layer, little smoky trails left in their wake. They were like bizarre symbols to my eyes. I mean, they weren’t a good sign, no. But what were so many carts doing on the ground? As each one passed overhead, I drove myself even faster, knowing my guess was the correct one, knowing it.

Night bore over us, and we muttered back and forth constantly that we should sleep. That we needed to be fresh and ready to fight the stallion. I agreed, it was a smart move, right? We talked it over and we talked some more and we kept talking, and all the while we kept walking around the wall, still hearing the carts rattle and squeal over our heads, the cracks of whips and the screeches of the griffins. We walked and talked long past the thought of sleep, body aching and tense, eyes heavy, but still so painfully awake and aware. I jumped at the wind through the trees, froze at the screech of an irritated griffin.

Luna tried to give me and herself enough vision to see in the dark, but the spell kept flickering off as she sleepily stumbled over roots and rocks, plunging us into the impenetrably dark night. We slowed to nearly a crawl, trying to save Luna’s energy, trying not to trip in the dark. This entire time, I had been leading. But in the dark, I constantly saw Discord’s little reflective eyes, flicking back to check on us, warning us of particularly problematic spots.

Beyond even that, between garbled by I’m-not-tireds and suppressed yawns, Discord offered to carry Luna on his back. In his words “since, well, I can see pretty good…” and not much beyond that. I was mutely handed off his smelly fish rot to carry. I had to shove it in my bag with my teeth, lest my bright yellow aura attract unwanted eyes. The taste wouldn’t leave my mouth, awful. Vile. A gust from the right direction blew hints of the stink up my nose. Why did I never notice it coming off Discord before?

There was no way to judge exactly how late it got… but when I saw the not-curve of the wall getting bright, orange light soaking and reflecting off the clouds, a dazed part of my mind thought it was sunrise. As in, we were starting to approach the sun before it rose into the sky. Because where else would the sun be at night, other than on the ground? I shook my head furiously, bashed my hoof into my forehead. No, Celestia. Dumb. That’s dumb. Wake up, stay focused. A light in the distance, what else could that be?

“It’s… Is that the town? Did we make it?”

I saw Discord look back at me. Actually saw a faint shadow along with his little glowing eyes… Luna mumbled something behind me, Discord quietly trying to encourage her awake. But somehow, despite the aching, walking for nearly a full twenty-four hours now, dazed and confused, I charged for that light, as if I was renewed. I forgot for the moment the griffins casually coming and going over our heads, pegasi carts still rattling, getting louder and louder. It wasn’t just a sign, it was a better sign. A clear sign! Clearer and clearer now, a brightly burning torch, illuminating the black wall behind it. And running up to it, I tripped, not on a branch or rock, but on innumerable wagon ruts, digging deep into the bare earth. Gradually getting fainter and fainter as they vanished into the grass, stopped existing. Almost as if the cart had flown away…!

Discord had to drag me back into the tree line. I was all too eager to walk directly beside those wagon tracks, find where they led. Instead, we followed the wall in the woods. The path of torches, goodness yes! The torches along the wall multiplied, created a row following a black cobblestone road… Both Luna and Discord began plucking and fiddling with shadows, prepared to hide at a moment’s notice.

“Do you hear that?” Discord suddenly whispered.

“What?” Luna whispered back.

“A cart. Coming down the road.”

“Hm?” I flicked my ears up, as forward as they would go, but stopping helped my hearing more. I could hear it too. A loud clatter of wheels, getting louder.

There was a crack, a whip, and a Pegasi team charged down that road, snorting and whinnying as the cart bounced and rattled behind them, smacking into the wall once to an angry screech of the griffin driver. They were by in a flash, but I ran out of the tree line, watched the pegasi take off into the sky, aiming for the high, high clouds. I fell back into the trees just as fast, charging, back on track, not even bothering to check if Discord and Luna were following me.

There was a way into the city! There was a way in!

“Celestia! Celestia, slow down!” Discord ran up behind me, out of breath. “Okay. Okay. This looks really promising, but…”

“I was right!” I gasped, “First guess, Discord! I was right!”

“Yeah, alright, you were right!” Goodness, happy little shot rocked through me to hear Discord admit I was right! “But hold up, jeez! Should we at least take a nap or something before heading in?”

I slowed down, if only to let my sister catch up. She had never started running… “With all of these griffins around?” I said, “What would happen if they saw us here?”

“One of us could keep an eye out, right? I sleep for a bit, then you sleep… ”

“I dunnoooo…” Luna yawned, finally catching up, “We’re all so, so tired. Would any of us be able to stay up all by themselves?”

Discord straightened his shoulders. “I would!”

“With nobody to talk to?” Luna mumbled, “Nothing to do?”

“I… I’m not sure.”

“It’s gonna be all…” Luna continued, rocking her head back and forth, “Daylight soon enough, too. Then it’d be all really easy to see us, and really, really hard to sneak in and stuff…”

“Luna,” Discord said, “You sound exhausted.”

“Mmnn…” she grumbled, rubbing her eyes, “We can find someplace to sleep inside the city.”

“What, at night?” Discord softly hissed.

Luna frowned, staring at the black little runway. “The griffins are going in at night. They’re not afraid. Maybe they got someplace to stay.”

Discord glared at the track. In the soft torchlight, I could see he was pouting. Of all things…

“We’re…” he finally started, “We might do something rash. You’re too tired to think straight, we all are!” Discord laughed nervously. Then, quietly. “We can still change our minds. Not too late to go to Canterlot. Please. Let’s just go to Canterlot.”

Luna shook her head, blearily knocking her forehead into Discord’s shoulder. “I don’t think anyone wants to go there now…”

“Yeah… yeah… Guess not…” He rubbed his eyes, trying to force them open. “I guess… I’m on board with going now. It will be harder to hide during the daytime. Let’s use the shadows while there are still plenty around. And—”

Another cart rattled by at his words, barrels and boxes bouncing in the back. It jerked towards the wall, trying to straighten out. One crate tumbled over its side, smacking into the ground with a crash, rolling and spewing a number of glass jars, splattering contents into the trees. The shattering was only punctuated by a fleeting screech of a swear word, griffin already long gone, darting around the wall and up into the clouds.

“And um…” Discord muttered, in shock, “Let’s be careful about it.”

We stayed within the trees as we crept forward, but eventually that became next to impossible. Trees began to vanish as the rutted, torch-lines roads multiplied. Pegasi carts dashed down each one at regular intervals, charging off into the overcast clouds. It was only when we could see the city proper did we dare go out into the grass between the roads, praying nothing else fell off the carts as we ran… Besides that crate, we managed to see one Pegasi cart spill off the track, dumping barrels of fizzy liquid into the grass, Pegasi flapping and whinnying wildly with their legs in the air. Thankfully nowhere near us but, just the sight of it… I just kept moving forward. I had to keep moving forward, towards that little ramshackle town.

Gelding looked like Canterbury had bled out a little sister city. Black stone spilled everywhere from the mighty wall, digging out black, torch-lit lines that Pegasi carts dashed off or landed on. Among the stone, at the epicenter where all the roads originated, there were wooden huts nailed together crudely, blending in with various brick buildings. Silos and warehouses spilled out from the town center, ranging from obscenely crude to passably decent. And up in the sky, the same up-side-down cloud spires we had seen in Stringhalt, swirling down over the tops of the crude buildings. White clouds streaked with brown smears, griffin homes. Or possibly Pegasi barracks…

We made a beeline for that center, and tried to find a way through its randomly placed, empty streets. However…

Discord poked his head out from behind a building, looking up and down the torch-lined Pegasi runway. Empty, for now. It cut right through several other streets, dividing some of the rickety buildings from the others. He frowned, opened his mouth to say something. The words didn’t quite make it.

Instead, with a painfully loud yelp, he scampered backward, in just a moment more the impossibly loud cart wizzed by, bouncing off the stones. It heaved itself into the air, veering right, back tire smacking a weathervane right off a roof.

“Quick!” I hissed, “Before another one comes by—!” I galloped across the street, into another alleyway. Discord and Luna quickly followed after. I stared back, up and down the little road we were on, following it as it split into two parallel streets, cut by three other alleyways… Was this street unusually well-lit compared to the others?

I jumped as another cart crashed behind us, Pegasi squealing and screaming. I practically dove for one of the alleyways, knowing Discord and Luna would follow. Got to find where they’re loading the carts, and, and see if there’s a safe looking one… There is going to be one. There is.

“No.” I jumped two feet in the air, a whisper right behind me who—?! I spun around, and Discord stared back, giving me a funny look. He pointed to another alleyway. “Uh… down this street? Hear that? The carts?”

“The ones taking off all the time…?”

“No… like…” he heaved a sigh and rubbed his eyes again, “Like… like normal traffic sounds? Down here?”

“Oh!” I didn’t even have to strain my ears that time. I could actually hear normal creaking and clattering. At normal, reasonable speeds. “Yes, that way…”

A few of the strangely empty streets cut through ours at odd angles, leading to dead ends, to more of the rocketing pegasi paths, to—

“Oh!” Luna excitedly squeaked. My shoulders twinged at the sound, and I slapped a hoof over her mouth, trying to suppress a shout. She stared at me as I slowly lowered my leg. “Over there,” she pointed, “Ponies!”

It was a main street, all right, and it was packed with carts, with Earth Ponies. In stark contrast to the speeding Pegasi streets, the traffic was barely moving forward. Ponies slept under blankets in the back of overstocked carts, while those in the reigns took turns between standing naps and chatting with other drivers. More than one group would walk away from the cart to chat, only to hurry back if the line began inching forward.

“Hey!” A griffin barked somewhere overhead, voice somehow amplified, “Keep the line moving! Let’s go let’s go!” I remained mute, glad the shadows hid me so well. And I expected some grumbled from the Earth Ponies, they had to be here, right?

But the griffin’s orders were followed by shouted complains and more than a few thrown objects.

“Operate at reasonable hours, you fat sack of fluff!”

“Give me my money back! Miser!”

“This system is bullcrap, and your tariffs are too high!”

“Have a gate like a normal city, you, youyouyou… Giant… flying bird!”

“Listen you stupid skarns!” The griffin screeched, “The faster you go, the sooner you can get back to your lousy, flea-bitten beds tonight! Let’s go you little dirt rutters! Move it!”

The exchange continued like that for at least another minute before the line slowly rocked forward a few yards. Then ponies went right back to what they were doing. They shrugged out of their harnesses, pulled down their lanterns, and returned to visiting with one another.

And I turned back to my friends.

“So. So, so… Should we hide in the shadows, or just walk out in our cloaks?” I struggled to pop open my bag with my snout. Both Discord’s and my cloak were folded neatly inside. Under a bag of oats and the sheet. Hm… “Luna’s already been doing a far too much for keeping us hidden. You think you can try and disguise yourself as a pony again, Discord?”

“Of course,” Discord mumbled. He strode beside me and reached in my pack, tugging out the two pieces of cloth. “Won’t be too much of a drain.”

The three of us put on our cloaks somehow without magic. Mostly with Discord’s help, I’m embarrassed to admit. Anyway, under his own green hood, Discord silently wrapped the illusion of a gray pony around his snout and feet. Silently nodding to each other, we slowly stepped into the main thoroughfare.

We were instantly ignored. Thank goodness

Immediately, I set my thoughts to finding the perfect cart. I thought the best target would be one with nobody sleeping in the back, and missing or sleeping ponies in the cart behind it. And looking to my friends… well, they were following my lead. So I kept leading. We began walking down the rows, my eyes peeled and ears open, completely and silently ignored.

“Yeah, Hock’s had it pretty bad this year—” “—and that crazy frost a few days ago? That’s not helping anybody—“ “No, no, just go back to sleep sweetie—“ “—grow up, can I grow wings like a Pegasus?” “First a drought, then a flood, and you say there was a—” “—of the frost, I’m just glad Stringhalt’s climate controlled—”

I stopped, the name flicking over my ears. Already, the speaker was behind us, as we stood beside his cart.

“I don’t think that frost affected the apples all too badly, but hell, the Apple family’s practically has a monopoly on apples in Canterbury. They’ll push ‘em fine, damaged or no.”

“Lucky. There’s a glut in the market for fabrics, and I only got crappy burlap in the back right now… Thinking of diversifying… “

I looked in the back of the cart. That insignia watch roughly etched on the barrels, the four pictures of the farms, the suns… and beneath it, a burned on brand: APPLE FAMILY GOODS.

And it a moment more, the line started rocking forward, cart clattering past.

“Celestia?” Discord asked.

“This one,” I replied.

“The one with the heavy barrels…?”

“Yes. I’m certain. It had to be that one. It had to be.”

“Uh…”

We trotted up to the cart… and I glanced back. The two cart ponies behind us were dragging massive spools of cloth, one of which immediately unhinged himself to continue chatting with the Apple pony. The other, a dark gray stallion… noticed me staring.

“What are you kids doing up so late?” he asked.

“We uh—“

“This is our cart, right?” Luna yawned, propping her hooves up on the back ledge. “I’m just going to find a spot to take a nap…”

“Yes!” I squeaked, “Appleseed… you’re up far past your bedtime. Up you go…”

I nudged my sister over the edge of the cart, into the bed, knowing the pony behind us was eyeing us strangely. Please just don’t say anything, please just ignore the three little ponies... I hopped up after my sister, making the cart lightly shake.

“Hey!” cried the Apple pony. “I just felt my cart move?”

I rubbed a hoof into my forehead.

Discord grabbed my cloak with his apparent hoof, urgently trying to pull me down, try again. But… but this was the cart. I knew it would keep us safe, I knew where it was going. This was our best bet, wasn’t it?

“Uh, hello?!” The orange Apple pony jogged around the corner. “What are you kids doing?!”

“Well um…” My brain was in a tizzy. Was it because I was tired? Or just because… no, no, focus on the situation, Celestia! Think! “Hello… father.”

“Father? What? No way, you have the wrong cart kid.”

Think brain, think! “No I don’t father!” I cried, actually shocked how convincingly desperate I sounded. “Don’t you recognize me?!”

“Kid,” the stallion snorted, “Get off my cart.”

“But… but Apple …”

“Um, Celestia…?!” Discord hissed.

“Come on now,” the apple pony continued, flicking his hoof. “Go back to your family. Go. Uh… shoo?”

Was he trying to swat me away like some cat?! I stared at him and… Oh goodness, my brain was absolutely at a loss. But… but this cart! This was the right cart!

Panicked, blood rushing to my head, I squeezed my eyes shut and let lose a blinding flash of light.

There was shouting, some in pain, lots annoyed, some confused. A Griffin screeched above us, one shouting through the amplifying cone. I grabbed Discord’s cowl and dragged him up, somehow finding the strength to haul him into the cart. I jumped in afterward, forcing myself into a spot between the jam-packed barrels.

“They’re gonna know…!”

“An illusion!” I hissed, “Make it look like we’re running away!”

Discord scraped at his eyes, nodding through his frustration. He found a shadow and vanished under it. I watched briefly as three little cloaked blurs darted away from the cart before ducking down myself.

“What the heck?!” the Apple pony cried. “Snotty little brats…”

“They might’ve been trying to filch some apples, Apple Core. This town’s full of little street rats, they practically run wild.”

Great… I’ll check the barrels…”

Discord dropped back beside me as the whole cart shook. His hand shot above my head, tearing at the shadows, ripping them. There was a light in front of me, behind a barrel, Luna’s light. Shadows fell over us like a blanket, obscuring some of the bottoms of the barrels. For a moment, there was silence.

“Anything?” a cart pony asked.

“Nah… too hard to tell in this light. How many apples could they grab anyway? Six or seven?”

“I dunno, of them was a unicorn. They could’ve grabbed a whole barrel.”

“You kidding me?” Apple Core exclaimed, “I think I’d notice if a barrel was stolen.”

“Right… Guess so.”

“Anyway.” With a rattle, the pony dropped off the cart. “Apples smelled a little foul back there... maybe that frost did rot them...” His voice grew distant, quiet as a murmur. Shortly after, the apple cart began to clatter forward.

“That was stupid and this was stupid,” Discord quietly hissed, “What are you thinking?!”

“We’re on a cart,” I shot back, barely whispering, “And my leadership got us here.”

“Your leadership is what’s going to get us killed!”

“Guys…” Luna piped up. “Keep talking and we’re gonna be really loud, and that’s bad.”

Discord grumbled. “Okay… okay.”

I took a deep breath and tried to find a comfortable place on the hard floor. Barrels rattled on either side of me, shifting slightly, pinning my sides. And that’s just from slow and steady starts and stops. There was no space big enough for all three of us to sit, and each of us was jammed between at least two barrels. I could only see Discord’s head, to my left. Luna was hidden from me, behind another heavy barrel...

Maybe finding a cart of hay or something soft was the smarter idea... and another thought bubbled to the surface of my brain, something I should have thought about ages ago. Wouldn’t the griffins unload this cart, and load up one of their own?

I pushed my ankle into my fetlock and ground circles around my temple. For goodness sake, why didn’t I think of that sooner? There’s been almost no stopping all night, we’ve needed to rush, to get where we’re going. I guess, now, there’s nothing left to do but sit and wait. Sit, wait, and hope my decisions were the right ones.

Discord’s paw edged into my vision. I watched it, bleary, as it gripped my hoof, clutching it tight. And warm. I looked up at him, and he gave me a very strange face. A sideways frown and a shrug, eyes staring back, determined. He sighed, and leaned down, away from me, other arm moving to the other side of the barrel, probably to grip Luna’s hoof as well. I stared at my barrel, wondering if she was feeling just as many apprehensions as Discord, or maybe she had fallen asleep... funny how a single barrel can make us a world apart...

Especially when the hopeful glitter of an Element might expose our hiding place. Discord squeezed my hoof, thumbing the nail. I guess a physical connection might be all we need right now... I dropped my head down, staring at Discord, exhausted from the long day.

The next time the cart rattled forward, Discord frowned, and the barrels slowly rattled apart. A black crust formed over our heads, one of his solid illusions. It squeaked and cracked as the barrels moved, but the sound easily blended in with the squeal of the tires, and the clattering of the cobblestones. At least, I convinced myself that it did. It was relieving to not have the barrels pinch my sides tighter and tighter with every bounce. There was actually room to breathe now.

But what was especially strange to me is that it blocked out some of the light... and not just the orange light from the torches and lanterns. A gray light that made everything around a little bit clearer. I could see my sister’s hoof, and the baggy shadows under Discord’s eyes...

It was nearly sunrise.

~¤~

I think I’ve been up and awake for almost thirty hours now. Things were hectic at first, avoiding griffin eyes, reinforcing the solid illusion as we took off, nearly getting crushed as the barrels threatened to fall over. But after that… there was a howling wind and a strange rocking, like being on a boat. A jolt as we landed. An a long, long silence. Discord and Luna fell asleep after things got quiet, and it’s a miracle than the illusion above us held by the time we got moving. I couldn’t sleep myself, of course I couldn’t. I kept watch. For the both of them, staring at the Apple Family logo in silence.

There was a long, slow drive… Going down. Very far down, cart too quiet to be driven by the rowdy griffins. I still could only see the black ceiling, squeaking and flaking into my hair. But we were inside. For the longest time, I knew we were inside somewhere.

Then…

I edged out of my spot, to another space without the ceiling as the world got brighter. There, above me, was the sky above the walls, the gray ceiling now so familiar to me… And I knew then it was early morning. Maybe around nine. I remember being able to tell time like that. Using these walls, their light and shadows. Accurate as any clock.

The air smelled funny. No, it smells familiar. It smells like trapped heat and baking stone. Like sweat and blood, thousands and thousands of ponies trapped in a tight little city. A caged city of shadows, none are allowed to leave. None are allowed to live on their own terms.

Why would any pony be dumb enough to come back here?

The cart rattled to a stop, and I could hear the street around us… Nowhere near as busy or unfriendly as Stringhalt, and not quiet empty as a small town. A quiet bustling. A few friendly calls and ponies chatting with street vendors. Pleasant and quiet, I always thought. I always thought, at least the ponies are nice. My fellow prisoners. A hushed familiarity that I hated to say I missed, or at least forgot I missed.

In a flash, the barrel beside me began to glow bright pink, and was yanked away. The black illusion cracked and broke, fragmenting and vanishing into nothing. I spun around, finally free and curling up from stiffness, staring at a burly brown unicorn.

And he was staring back.

“What in the world…?!”

“What is it sweetie?” A kind old voice called. “We got a rotten barrel or…” A green head poked around the edge of the cart. A familiar green head.

“Celestia?” she asked.

“Apple-a-day…” I choked, “It’s so good to see you again.”


XLI : Overcast Retribution

The Steadfast Sky : Overcast Retribution

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfiction.tumblr.com

 

~Luna~

 

Half awake, half asleep. Everything made sense in a way that, later, doesn’t make any sense at all. I dreamed, stuffed between barrels, that I was being pressed in half. Folded up like paper. Smaller and smaller, safer and safer. Eventually I was just a little speck, a little speck that could easily be tucked away in a warm pocket. That’s eventually what happened, too. I realized I was being led off the cart, carried by other speck ponies and placed in a bed. Into the pocket where I belonged.

Discord wouldn’t stop gripping my hoof. Which was weird, because he was normal size (of course) how could he fit in my pocket? I guess my hoof didn’t fold up along with me. I was just a speck with one big leg.

And Celestia… I couldn’t see her, since it was dark in my pocket. But I could hear her. Talking and mumbling with another mare, somewhere nearby.

“Celestia…” The other mare said, “I haven’t seen you stop by my cart in ages, sweetie…”

“Been away,” Celestia replied.

“However did you wind up in the back of my apple cart?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Shining Apple said he didn’t see you or your friends get in the cart the whole ride. And you just drop on my doorstep, exhausted.” There was a small clattering sound. “Don’t you think you owe an old mare and explanation?”

“Apple-a-Day… You told me hundreds of stories about Equestria, about what’s out there… I always loved to stop and listen.”

A little laugh, like, ah-heh-heh-heh. “Yes, ever since you were just a little filly.”

“I never used to believe you. But they’re true. I know they’re true.”

The clatter of china, and a heavy weight hitting wood.

“Goodness Celestia, you left Canterbury?”

“We did. All three of us escaped, Apple-a-Day.”

“Then what in the world possessed you to come back?!”

A sharp intake of breath.“Well...”

“Celestia, dearest! You were out of this godforsaken place! Whatever crack you found in the wall, use it again, and run! Be free, child!”

“No, Apple-a-Day. We… uh…”

“Nothing in this city is worth returning for, believe you me!”

“Yes, it is worth returning for. We’re here to save everyone, Apple-a-Day. We’re… we’re here to.”  Silence, followed by the hissing of a whisper.

“Sky above child! You can’t do that! You, what has possessed you?!”

“These are the Elements of Harmony, Apple-a-Day! Me, Luna, Discord… We’re all going to be Equestria’s next gods. We’ve come back to save the city, and all of Equestria along with it!”

For the longest time, only breathing. Occasionally, the clatter of a dish.

“You’re not pulling an old mare’s leg, are you?”

“No. I’m not.”

“What you’re saying is, well, I know I say some crazy things. But what has gotten into your head, child?”

“You must have heard of the Elements of Harmony. I showed you my storybook, didn’t I?”

“I know of the Elements. When I was your age…” China clicking together. “Well, that was when Magic and Generosity were around. When Canterbury wasn’t a prison” A low sigh, a long exhale. “But the Elements were lost! Or sealed, or, or certainly out of the hands of any average ponies!”

“Then my sister and I are not average ponies. You have to believe me. Or believe … I saw the sun on the day Discord retrieved Kindness. I knew then, I was going to bring that sun back to Equestria. And sure enough, I found a way. Believe me, Apple-a-Day. This is an Element. And we’re going to use them to take down the Shadow Stallion!”

Heavy breathing slowly fading away …

“Thanks for letting us sleep the day here, Apple-a-Day. But we’ve got to go. We’ve got to do this before sundown.”

“At least let me make you a little supper, darling. You can’t leave again without a nice warm meal tucked away. I won’t let you.”

“Thanks for your kindness, your generosity, Apple-a-Day.”

The scrape of metal on wood. Chopping, rhythmic.

“The Sun… And Luna too. The Moon.”

“Yes.”

For the longest time, chopping and scraping. The splash of water.

“I’m very proud of you, Celestia. And if your parents were here, they would be too. Now, rest dearest. Let me cook you some dinner.”

A deep breath and a long, long sigh. The fall of a weight. Then silence.

~Θ~

I sat in that pocket for a long time, trying to think like a piece of lint, wondering what would happen to me when it rained. Then a cold nose snuck into my pocket. Probably there to pick me up by my hoof. It nuzzled against my forehead, over my ear. Strange, how was the snout that small?

“Luna,” Celestia said quietly, “Luna. It’s time to wake up.”

“Huh?”

“Breakfast… Dinner is waiting.”

“Oh.”

It was almost like I was still dreaming. We were trapped in a little box room, a table taking up a whole quarter of it. Patternless blankets were draped on every wall, little black lines of stone peeking out from behind the cracks. It was almost like a really, really colorful prison cell. Except the door wasn’t locked and there were stairs running up the side of it.

I tried to stand, but my legs were numb. Sore and numb. I had been sleeping on straw, but it wasn’t much. Just standing up, my hoof hit stone with a pretty loud CLACK.  Straw stuck to my tummy, and it itched a little. I went to scratch it, and Discord’s paw fell off my foot. Fwump, to the ground.

I followed his arm, and saw him in front of me, flopped on his stomach on his own little pile of straw. He blinked up at me, barely awake. The bags under his eyes looked puffy and swollen, like two fat bruises.

“Goo-morn-evenin’…” He mumbled, rubbing his forehead into the floor, horns clicking as they hit the floor. “Uhg… where are we?”

“I unno. Somewhere where we’re not dead?”

Discord’s face flipped up. Now he kind’ve looked sick.

“We’re with a friend of mine.” Celestia stood beside me. I dunno how long she was there for. “We’re safe.”

“For now…”

“Oh, hush Discord.”

“No need to worry, young’uns.” A green mare, the mare with the voice from my half-dream walked up beside my sister. Her smile only had a few teeth left to it. “Though I don’t rightly know what to call you, little colt.” With a jolt, Discord yanked the covers back over himself.

“He won’t hurt you,” Celestia said quickly.

Apple-a-Day turned to smile warmly at my sister. “Why in the world would I think the child would hurt me?”

“Ah… No reason. Forget I said anything.”

Apple-a-Day gave my sister a little laugh, creakily trotting away. “Alright, young’uns. Hurry and wash up before dinner.”

I think I’m awake. But maybe this is one of those dreams where you wake up and wonder why you ever thought stuff was real. I sat down on a pillow at the table after we washed our little hooves, and we drank some carrot and celery soup with the green earth pony mare. There were no spoons or anything to drink the soup, so I had to hold the bowl the Earth Pony way, sip it from my forelegs. Is that the Earth Pony way? Or is that just what my sleepy brain has convinced me is the Earth Pony way?

It’s all very confusing…

But the soup was warm and filling, so I drank it. I think I was hungrier than I felt, because it went too quick, leaving me feeling warm. All the aches in my body becoming pronounced in the heat.

“Goodness, do I have a pack of ponies on my hands, or a pack of ravenous pups?” Apple-a-Day chuckled, “You all went right through that soup! Well…” She turned away, went and opened a little metal box by a small fireplace stove. Carefully, she reached in and pulled out a little wooden plate. “Anypony want some dessert?”

In front of me, three flaky little rolls sat. Their tops were split open, a bright red filling glistening through the tan crust. I hovered the dessert over, a little line of crumbs following in its wake. I bit in… Soft, crunchy, with a melty-hot center, too sweet and a little bit sour. Cherries. When was the last time I had cherries? A sort of cream mixed with the cherry filling, and, and—

“What is this?” Discord squeaked, “What is this stuff?”

“A cherry and cream cheese Danish,” Celestia said softly.

“Um…” I looked over to him. He looked stunned, staring down at the half-eaten pastry. “Is it bad?”

“It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted.”

“Oh!”

Discord swiped his paw across his eyes, sniffing once before wolfing down the rest of the pastry in three bites. Still chewing, he licked at his paws, eying the crumbs still left on the table.

“Thank you, Apple-a-Day,” Celestia said. “The soup and the Danish were delicious.”

“Come back any time. All of you.” Apple-a-Day’s smile was broad, nodding to each of us in a slow turn. “Whenever you’d like.”

“We will, Apple-a-Day.” Celestia nodded, “Maybe we’ll make you dinner sometime.”

My sister sat quietly for a moment, smiled, then returned to her stoic stare.

~Θ~

“This way,” Discord mumbled.

We were following Discord now. Celestia kept trying to walk in pace with him, skittering forward sometimes, then falling back, glancing down at him. It was a struggle to keep up, but I didn’t ask to slow down. I didn’t feel like slowing down. None of us did. We were lucky. Nobody would stare at three little ponies in a hurry. It was the hour where all the ponies were trying to get where they’re going, glancing at the sky and occasionally breaking into a nervous gallop.

Celestia was a little winded by the time Discord stopped. He took a deep breath, glanced around the street, and ducked into the alley.

“Luna!” he squeaked, “Shadows.” He didn’t need to tell me twice. I hurried forward, helping him pull the shadows around all of us as we snuck down that alleyway. Really down, like a ramp descending further and further into the dark.

“We have to go down before we go up,” Discord mumbled. “Luna. Celestia… stick close to me. And whatever you see, don’t, don’t scream.”

We froze. Even Discord. He knew what was down there, and even he didn’t want to go. Celestia made a small squeaking sound.

“Luna can take care of that,” he mumbled. “Your sonic magic. Take away the sound. Do it.”

“Oh.” I frowned, trying to remember how it went again. Last time I had just… tried to throw away my voice, since the griffin could hear it? I tried to focus on that idea, horn and Element glowing.

It was like night out in the snow again. My spell muffled everything, most importantly our footsteps. I hadn’t noticed just how much we were jittering in place until the clicks of our hooves were gone. Discord turned to me, opened his mouth and tried to talk, but there was nothing. Or, maybe a something. Far, far away.

He nodded, readjusted the shadows around us, and began slowly walking forward. I snuck up behind my sister, grabbed the hem of her cloak in my mouth. She looked back, then did the same with Discord’s cloak. We descended a little quicker, in a silent single file.

There was one tight corner, just one turn further down in a sharp ‘u’. Discord rounded it first. From him, I heard the distant echo of a squeal.

There, down at the bottom of the road. An opening, a big opening. And sitting under the arch of it, half covered by shadows, was a beast. Heavy, huge, body like a lion. Head speckled red like it was rusting. Two horns scraped at the ceiling above it, one massive claw picking at its yellowed fangs. Its eyes flashed, reflective like Discord’s. It was an entire monster like Discord. An actual, adult Draconequus.

Celestia’s cloak tugged me forward, and I almost fell. I felt the shadows snapping away behind me. I tugged them back in place. He can’t see us. He can’t, nothing can. Even things that have shadow magic can’t see us. But it felt like, at any second, the Draconequus would look up and—

He glanced our way, and Celestia tugged me forward harder.

We went right up beside him, pressed against the wall and edging past his humongous body. Massive shoulders far, far over our heads, deep growl resounding from his body. That close, I could see his six-foot ribs shift as he breathed. I could see his skin almost spill over the ground, loose on his body. I could smell him, and smelled wrong, horrible. Like filthy fur. Like a dead dog. Like hot trash, or more.

We crept by its massive purple tail, like a fat, exposed bruise. A tuft of tan fur flicked back and forth, yards upon yards behind the main body. I watched that tail, as it slowly slunk away, so far out of sight before it then came lazily rocking back. Discord tried to hurry us by, around another corner, into a dark tunnel. But I don’t know if he noticed the tail or not.

Because, as I tried to shove my sister forward, the fat tip of his tail lazily fell over my back, sliding to the ground with an all-too-loud ‘fwump.’

The beast stopped breathing.

The front of my cloak was yanked forward. My sister had spun around and was trying to pull me forward. The cloth yanked over my nose, pinching at the sides of my eyes. I tripped, landed in something wet, the splatter distant and muted. But what if he could hear it? He had huge ears, what if he heard us?!

I felt a hot gust behind me, a rotting stink, his breath, his breath right behind me, right behind me, right behind me rightbehindme!

We ran. Didn’t matter where, we ran. Barely concealed through barely-lit black corridors. Sound around us fading in and out. Didn’t stop until I heard Discord. Right in front of me, yet sounding so far away. Stop, he said.

And we did, all facing each other, all breathing heavily, suppressed and muffled.

“Okay,” Celestia said in a far-away voice, “Let’s all just calm down.”

“Ferrous,” Discord mumbled. “Why did it have to be Ferrous…”

“What? Who?” I asked.

“No. Nevermind.” He closed his eyes. Trying to breathe through his nose. “Let’s just keep going. Please.”

I nodded. Adjusted the shadows. Brushed away the excess sound. A little headache was starting in my forehead. Too much magic was coming from me. I ignored it. With a few more muted nods, we continued on.

It wasn’t long until we started going up on a slowly circling ramp. There were rarely any torches on the walls, and the few that existed had burned right out of their brackets. But that was good. Lots of shadows to hide in. But other things caught my attention. The whole place stank of dogs and body waste. Straw was scattered all over, clumped and wet along the wall’s edge. Sometimes, another huge Draconequus would wander by, or be lying in the middle of a corridor. We always held our breaths, moved forward at a snail’s pace. None were as big as the one by the entrance. But they all had that weird, lazy ease. Like big dogs or lions laying around. More like animals than anything smart like Discord.

A weird thought came to me then. Discord said we’d have to deal with the Draconequus once the Stallion was gone. And here we are, sneaking around, terrified of one just finding us. Could we really deal with these beasts with how we were now? Why are we doing this now, when we can’t deal with the problems we know we’ll cause? I thought, frantically, as the stench grew less and the Draconequus vanished… What are we doing here?

And yet, up we went. Higher and higher and higher. Discord led us as the corridors became filled with milling Griffins. Armored Pegasi milled about the groups, and laughed at the same cruel jokes.

Finally, we turned one last corner, and the corridor was empty. More than that. It was flat. Before us was a white set of stairs. Actual stairs, going up even higher. Discord led us to them, and looked back. One foreleg hovered over the first step.

My sister stepped right out of our quiet little bubble, hooves offensively loud on the white stone.

“Celestia!” Discord hissed, grabbing for her pink tail, “What are you doing?!”

“We’re here to face him, aren’t we?” She quietly replied. “We can’t hide anymore.”

I didn’t want a fight. Not here and now. I charged up after my sister, and Discord quickly fell behind me. All three of us, side by side, ascended those steps, into a place quieter than any spell I could cast.

I felt like, in the towers down below, there was always something moving. Somebody talking, water dribbling. Stones crumbling, mice scurrying around. Up here, there was none of that. It was just the loud clicks of our footsteps, and the buzzing my ears made when it tried too hard to hear something.

Down below, everything was dark, compact, and full of shadows to hide in. Here, even though there were no windows, the bright white walls and high ceiling themselves seemed to glow, seemed to fill everywhere with light. Big suits of armor cast no shadows. And the eyes of huge oil paintings followed us everywhere we stepped. I got this scary feeling, curling up in my gut, that we were being watched. That there was no way to miss us entering this private space. And we were committing some horrible crime, just walking through there.

The Stallion had to know we were here. How could he not? What was he waiting for? Was he just taking his time attacking us?

“Over there,” Discord whispered. We had just went up another small flight of stairs. He waved to our left, at a massive golden door. “I got the Element from that room. It’s a dead end, so…” He looked right, further down a hallway lined with open doors. Celestia strode down it, still stiff with resolve. We followed.

The hall was long, cavernous with the same high ceilings. Down, far, far away from us, there were several open archways. Doors, blocked off by another kind of out-of-place invader. Plants. Dark, thorny vines, seemingly planted into the stone itself, creeping over all the entrances all but one…

The closest one. The one coated in shadows.

The one the shadows exited.

He didn't even seem to move. He just faded in from nowhere. Something like a pony, but not at all. He was long, gangly, and wrong. When I could see through the shadows that followed at his heels, his body was knotted and tense. His wings were frayed and molting. His mane was like a blanket of trampled grass. Eyes a dead reflection of green.

And that dark thing began to walk toward us.

“There! There he is!” Celestia squealed, “Blast him! Harmony Blast!”

“I—“

“NOW!”

My horn burned on my forehead, and with it, my Element blared, brighter, louder in tone than I ever remember it being. The other Elements rang with mine, screamed. And together, our off-color rainbow snapped together, shooting forward.

The Stallion watched as the beam slammed him square in the chest.

For a moment, it was just that whine. That harmonious scream of our Elements. Our own screams. The light spilled around the Stallion’s shoulders, bubbling into white. A wound seemed to sprout from the rainbow. A little line of gray getting bigger and bigger. Cold stone crept up the Stallion’s neck, down his legs. He watched us. He didn't even glance at the slowly advancing stone.  

With a toss of his mane, a few of the chunks flaked off. They were replaced almost instantly. With a stomp of his leg, another chunk fell off. A shake of his body, more clattered to the ground, crumbled. Stone peeling and flaking off his body, he began walking forward. The Elements barely even slowing his trot.

His gaze fell directly onto me.

And Discord’s beam of light died.

“No, no, no no no no,” Discord squealed, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry Father!”

“Discord!” Celestia screamed, “What in thhauuuAAAUG!”

My sister’s beam of light died. She collapsed to the ground, screaming and clutching her head in her knees. Her Element sputtered, rhythmically pulsing, spewing bright yellow sparks.

I stared at my writhing sister. My beam of light died. Shadows billowed past my ankles, over my sister’s body.

“Look out!”

“huh?”

At Discord’s shout, I looked up. The Stallion stood above us. Corpselike eyes bore through my head. Horn glowing in a sickly blue-green. He silently reared up, becoming dizzyingly, impossibly tall.

“Luna!”

Discord’s claws sunk into my shoulder, yanking me off my front feet. I fell back two steps. Watched as the Shadow Stallion’s hooves slammed down in front of my eyes with an almighty CRACK. Chips of the white stone bounced off my nose.

“Luna, run!”

A black wall, crumbling like plaster, burst in front of my eyes. I spun on Discord. Saw the frightened look on his face, my sister under his arm, trying to rise to her feet as their Elements glowed in unison. His other hand was outstretched past me, fingers splayed. The black wall swelled, slamming into the ceiling and showering us in black flakes.

“Y-yes. Run!” I stammered, “We gotta run!”

I stumbled into my sister’s side. Tried to heave her up, push her forward. A nagging thought beating in my head as my Element flared blue. There was something I could do, something more I could do. We didn’t have to run, did we? Something I can do to save us, something, anything!

We didn’t get far. The wall burst behind us, a gust driving plaster needles into our skin. Another blast sent us tumbling. I fell to my stomach, cold marble sending a shock through my gut. My sister collapsed again. I tried to stand, tried to run for her.

A black hoof slammed down on my element. There was a sound like breaking glass. Shadows poured over me, lukewarm and moist, a sticky fog. I shot up, tried to stand, and my back leg bumped into his other hoof, his thin ankle. Clasp digging into my neck, I tried to look. On top of me, standing over me, there he was.

Those dead eyes stared down at me, other hoof lifting, poised directly over my head. I screamed.

My horn flared, and I screamed.

The world wobbled and cracked, sound deafening me. A hot white light burst over those eyes. A black spike burst from the ground, whizzing past my ear, slamming into his neck. He took a step back. Just a step, a single step. Element free. His hoof bit into my foreleg as it dropped. Searing, nail pinching and ripping the skin.

I didn’t care. I wormed free and ran. I ran for my sister. Ran for my life.

“Luna!” Celestia moaned. She was finally on her feet. “Your Element…”

“Not now!” I squealed.

Discord shot by my other side, tearing down the steps. Practically clawing his way down them.

“What now?!”

“We, we need to get out of this tower!” A wild idea half formed in my mind. I didn’t dwell on it. I just threw myself into my gallop. Each step of my right hoof shot dull pain up into my shoulder. “Get to the black stone!”

“Going!”

We hit the bottom of the steps, running through the corridor full of the suits of armor. There was a stretch in front of us. A long, long stretch with the exit so far away.

And a spike drilled its way through the back of my head.

The world flipped and melted, tore itself inside out as the pain ripped my brains in half. It actually hurt my lungs, dragging in enough air to scream. But that was nothing, nothing nothing nothing nothing compared to the pain rocketing its way up, down, and around my skull. Bright lights blurred the world, white and blue, searing my eyes, stabbing holes in my spine. I couldn’t breathe anymore. I couldn’t breathe I was screaming so hard, world ringing, blood beating at my ears, trying to escape the pain in my head.

And as suddenly as it came, it left. Somehow, Celestia and Discord heaved me forward. Dominating my vision, Elements blaring. I tried to find my feet, but they were lost. I could barely move. My head still throbbed, but my shoulder ached more. It felt wet. I looked at it, and it was stained with some dark color.

“Resonate!” Celestia cried, “Luna, try and Resonate!”

“I—“

“Look!”

Clattering and banging surrounded us. I watched under Discord’s arm as a suit of armor rattled, awash with the Stallion’s sickly aura. Its spear was yanked from its side. Din was coming from all directions, banging metals.

“No, no, no, no…”

“Stairs…” I mumbled.

“Almost there!” Celestia glanced back, and what little color that was in her face drained away. I tried to do the same, follow her gaze. I only got one eye peeking around my bad shoulder. One eye trained on the Stallion. He was walking towards us, casual, steady, determined, focused. Behind him, suits stepped forward, rattling bows in his wake. A cloud of spears hovered above his head, shafts rattling together as they compressed.

Discord snapped his hand up. Another wall between us and The Stallion. But with a loud whizzing sound, just one spear smashed its way through the plaster of his spell, bouncing off the stone and spinning off over our backs.

Discord squealed, yanking at my bad leg. Two more spears burst through the barrier. One bounced off the ground. I heard Discord scream, and he dropped my leg. I tried to see what got him, if he was hurt, if he was hurt badly—!

“Don’t stop!” Celestia cried. Her aura encased us, shoving us forward. “Just a few more feet! Just a few more!”

We were falling, tumbling over the lip as half a dozen spears blasted above our heads. I saw Discord fall past. He gripped his green leg, curled up in pain as blood smeared between his claws. Finally, finally I found my footing, still racing down the steps. I tried, gingerly, to bring magic into my horn. I hoped, pleaded with myself. Don’t let the headache return. Let me have enough magic left, just to do this.

My horn flared, blue sparks twinkling past my eyes. The welcoming shadows of black stones, still far beneath us, began to churn.

“Guys!” I shouted, “Get in!”

“We can’t just hide!” Celestia squealed, “He’ll know we’re there!”

“Trust me!” I screamed back, the pang of my own magic pumping through my head. “Get in! Both of you!”

Discord’s wings flared open. Still clutching his leg, he threw himself to the shadows, gliding as he dove in, headfirst. He vanished. My sister charged down the last few steps. She screamed. Her legs sunk into the shadows, her body and head quickly falling after without much fuss.

I didn’t wait any longer. With one last hop, I dove into my shadow portal. I was shrieking for joy as the world faded around me, and a different world began blooming in front of my eyes.

~Θ~

“It worked!” I squealed as I tumbled into my friends. They stood, stunned at the world around them. The portal hadn’t let us leave the city, but we were certainly out of the castle. The dark walls rose on all sides of us, and I could barely make out the shapes of the buildings in the dark. I quickly began wiping the shadows from my eyes, surprised how much my leg was shaking. “It worked, we’re free!”

“No we’re not…” Discord croaked. “He’ll come after us. We’ve only just earned a small reprieve…”

“Safe? A reprieve?! Is that what you call this?!” Celestia squeaked. I looked at her, she was shaking like a leaf, head spinning to and fro. “We’re outside. At night. In Canterbury. What exactly is safe about our condition?!”

And far away, in the distance, I heard a Draconequus roar.


XLII : Overcast Run

The Steadfast Sky : Overcast Run

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfiction.tumblr.com/

 

~Discord~

 

A oily purple fog seeped around every dark corner, down every street. We were caught in its dim glow, breathing its hot, damp fumes. It was the stallion, I knew it. This was his doing, but it probably wasn’t poison. That would be too deadly, too many losses. Then what? My mind spun through a dozen possibilities. I felt like there were too many. He could do anything. And here we were, just sitting ducks.

Stones were mushy and muddy with something. The water splashed up my legs, chilling them to the bone. Unbelievably, unspeakably cold. It was hard to move my toes. They were going numb. I tucked my paw in my armpit, would’ve done it with both if my hind leg wasn’t throbbing like crazy. I could walk, but I wasn’t about to test it now. Not out here

A Draconequus roared in the distance. I used to ignore those calls, just an idiot announcing he caught something. Or won a fight, or was frustrated.  But now I found myself focusing on the sound. How far was it? Why was he roaring? Was he covering up closer sounds?

A pebble rattled somewhere and I dove against the wall, heart beating like crazy. No, stop that, pull yourself together Discord. You knew, all this time, this would be deadly. Stupid and suicidal. Well, now you’re allowed to go. You’re allowed to actually save your friends, get them out of here for the second time. You can do this. You know this city. You can do this.

So.

Why weren’t we hiding in the shadows already?

Celestia was shivering like a leaf, hooves wavering back and forth, thankfully only making small splashing sounds. Luna’s proud grin had long since left her. She was wavering now, looked like she needed to sit down.

“Luna.” I hissed, worried. “Shadows?”

“Mm…” She nodded, stumbled left. Her eyes closed. A few jolts of light shot up her horn, and her face curled up. “Ow… um… lemme try…” There was a small burst of light, and she cried out, gripping her forehead. “Um, gimmie a sec.”

“Luna please!” Celestia squealed, “Luna, you’ve got to do this, keep trying!”

I winced as there was another pop of light. We’ve been demanding far too much of Luna. I felt like a jerk even asking her to cast now. My turn. I grabbed the shadows and yanked them up. Even now, even in these dire straits, it was a struggle to pull them. Even more of a struggle than usual. I barely managed to yank them over Luna’s head. And when I waved Celestia in, the shadows snapped and retreated in spots. Our cloak was now patchy, faded. We were only mildly obscured at best.

Luna collapsed under the tension of the cloak, shadows pushing down on her head and back. She whimpered, horn still sparking… It was like something sharp had jammed itself in my heart, watching her.

I threw my arms around Luna’s shoulders. “Luna. Stop. It’s okay. You can stop now.”

“Nuh-uh,” she responsed, “We need a bubble.”

“We’ll just keep quiet. We can do that until…”

“Oh Luna…” Celestia moans, and another wave of guilt curls in me. “Your Element…”

“Later,” I hiss.

Yet, even my mind couldn’t leave it for later. The gemstone had been shattered, most of the pieces fallen out of its socket. The metal itself was bent horribly. The only stone left was caught in that folded crevice, broken sliver curving like the wicked edge of a sickle. I felt, so easily, that the stone could jiggle loose. Could dig into my friend’s hoof when it did fall…

I looked away. At Celestia.

“What we need to do is find a way out of the city,” I said. “Run up a tower and skirt the walls if we have to. We’re done here.”

“No,” Celestia whispered. “This isn’t the end.”

I bit my lip. It was all I could do to stop myself from shouting. “Yes, it is! We lost!”

She stared away, almost forgetting to meet my eyes. “We’re still alive. The Shadow Stallion doesn’t know where we are.” She frowned. “There has to be something we can do for the people. There has to be.”

Luna tried to stand up, struggling against the tightly pulling shadows.

“Luna, just stay down…”

“Don’t wanna. My tummy’s gone all numb.”

Mine had as well… The cold was already inching its way up my wings. With a few shaded glances, Celestia and I both stood.

“We can’t stay here,” Celestia said. “We’ve got to find somewhere to hide. Wait until morning, when the Draconequus leave…”

“They’re not going to go back underground,” I replied. “If The Shadow Stallion wills them to stay during the day, then they’ll stay. And they’ll find us.”

“We can find an empty house…”

“They’ll send the smaller ones inside to get us. Then they’ll find us…”

“What can we do?”

Leave.”

Celestia snorted, “Then, by your logic, he’ll just send the Draconequus out there to find us.”

“No. He’ll send the griffins. He can’t risk a Draconequus escaping into the countryside.”

Celestia make a small choking sound. For a moment, she couldn’t look me in the eye. I didn’t want to think about it either. I shook out my feet instead, trying to fling the water off them.

“We can’t just leave, Discord…” Celestia continued. “All these ponies here, trapped in the city, waiting to die. We can’t just leave them. I won’t just leave them.”

“For life’s sake, Celestia. You wanna die trying to save them now, or come back another day and actually help them?

The scrap of claws on stone. Celestia and I froze. I don’t know about her, but my ears were strainging to hear every tiny little sound. They didn’t need to try so hard. A heavy flap of wings, a massive gust of air. Loudly dislodging  a number of tiles, a Draconequus scraped down the side of the tower before us, landing right beside us. Just to our left. Too close. Too close.

I refused to blink. I refused to look away from the creature, entire body tense. He was tall, not a full adult. Head low. Ears flicking. Growling as he looked up and down the street. Couldn’t see us, just heard us. Why did we talk, why did I let us talk for so long?

Another hole snapped open in our cloak. Dead silent, I tore at the shadows. Waved my claws over the ground. Had to be more around, had to be… It’s night out! Glowing fog or no, why was this so hard?!

Luna fell back to the ground with a soft splash. The Draconequus turned, eyes narrowing in our direction. Three steps and his neck passed by us, staring right past us, down the street. He snorted. I stopped scrambling for shadows.

He cocked his head, snorted again. His snout wrinkled. Jaws parted, grumble rising in his throat…

“Feesh?” he grumbled. “Dead feesh?”

I slapped a hand over my mouth, trying to suppress a cry. Threw myself over Luna’s back, yanked open Celestia’s saddlebags. On top of the sheet, squished between the bag material and the bottle of rubbing alcohol. It smelled, rank and rotting, why didn’t I notice how bad the smell was before?! Stupid!

I yanked it out and tossed it, hoping the sound, the smell would drag the Draconequus across the alleyway…!

Didn’t aim right. It splattered right into his knee, spilling to the ground.

He looked down at the gooey mess, dumbfounded. Looked right up, right at us…

Harmony blast!” Celestia squealed.

I didn’t think. Just did.

Two colors shot forward, Gold and Silver. They washed over the Draconequus’ head, making the ground at his feet splash white with radiance. The temperature around us grew to almost comfortable levels, cloud pushed away by our Element’s light.

But a sick wave of déjà vu hit me. The Draconequus blinked stupidly and stepped through the light.

I swore.

And with an almighty SMACK, the Draconequus’ massive head slammed down just yards from our feet. He yowled in pain, hot breath rolling over us. Was he struck down, by what, where? I tried to look. Celestia shoved me, hissing panic in my ear. I ran. Luna at my heels as Celestia drove us both forward. But she couldn’t stop me from glancing backwards.

Where the rainbow had hit the ground, where the Draconequus’ foot was. A chunk of stones were missing. I watched as another stone slipped down, black mortar slick and gooey, as if it had melted in the blast.

But the Draconequus wasn’t done with us. Briefly, a thought spun through my head. Captured quarry like us, any ponies on the street. We’re valuable. Not worth letting slip away.

And all Draconequus on patrol have shadow magic of their own.

Magic sparked between my fingertips. I heaved up an illusion. An old favorite, especially for a situation like this… The Draconequus tried to yank his foot from the hole, eyes only for us. But then, another group, a direct copy ran right past his nose. He snapped his jaws at the illusive heels. But by then, two, three, four more sprouted from the spot. They all ran, blurred, as my toes aches from the effort of my creations.

The Draconequus waved his free paw. Under three groups, the shadows swelled into a black well. A familiar well. A shadow teleport. The Draconequus snorted as all three kept running. Failed to be caught. And, as the real us exited the street, he snarled a single word.

Deescord!?”

“I told you,” I hissed to Celestia, “Shout my name like a swearword, it sounds fantastic!

“Don’t joke like that!” She cried back, “We almost got caught! How many of them can do that spell, anyway?!”

“All of them! RUN!”

The thrill of the minor victory wore off so much quicker than I wanted it to. The sound of the Draconequus’ shouts will draw so many more to us… And with Luna barely able to run, barely able to keep up with us without help, The reality was so much closer to me now. A horrible, sick image creeping in my brain. Celestia and Luna, horns cut off, sitting in those cells and just waiting to die. I forced away what came next, not wanting to even think, even imagine what came after. I beat it back, beat it all away.

There was no way I was going to let that happen to them. I pushed myself harder, ignoring the pain and the numb feelings. No way I’d let that happen! No way in hell!

Focus on escape, Discord. Focus on it!

My focus paid off. A black well slowly boiled to life in front of us. I threw up a solid wall, bounced off it, and shoved the girls down another alleyway. There was an angry snap of jaws. And… above that, a frightened whiney. Another punch to the gut. The trap wasn’t meant for just us.

I looked to Celestia and, maybe for a second, with the image of the cells in my mind… I think I understood her.

When we find a way to leave,” I shouted over the sounds of our gallop, “We’ll find a way to help!”

Celestia nodded heavily, eyes forward.

I let my element flare. A risk, could be seen, but it forced the numbing purple cloud away. I dug a hand under the shadows as I ran, glow banishing and pronouncing them in certain places. My claws stuck in the cracks between the mucky cobble and dredged up shadowy strings. We dove under them as we spun around a corner. Just a little obscured. Footsteps muffled by the mud.

I heard a Draconequus soar above us, wings cracking as they snapped up and down. Did he see us, did he not? We kept running, and the beats faded. There was a roar in the distance, two roars. One closer.

“Haou,” Luna gasped. “A house. Get to the house…”

“I—“ I fumbled, staring back at my exhausted friend, “I said that won’t stop them.”

“Too… Can we stop a bit…?”

“Um…” I thoughtlessly slowed, watching Luna as she trotted past. Thoughtlessly? No. No, we needed a break. She gasped for a bit, trying to catch her breath. Then…

“We’re two streets from our house.”

“Goodness!” Celestia cried, “So we are!”

Celestia galloped ahead. I couldn’t hold the shadows around her. It wasn’t long until she pushed herself right out of the cloak.

“What would we even gain from there?“ I called after her. I couldn’t repair her abrupt exit, and the cloak dropped away from my own shoulders. I tried to follow, and there were roars. In the distance, always in the distance. The Draconequus can’t be everywhere at once… Nobody ever talked about ponies that escaped, but they’re had to be some? Right? Some?

We turned another corner. She was waiting, and the street was empty. Thankfully…

“Even if it’s just a little break…” Luna said, “I’d like to stop by our house. Just for a little bit…”

“And what? Gut a place that’s already been gutted? Find the storybook Celestia’s always been railing on about?”

Suddenly, Celestia laughed. An inappropriately loud, high-pitched titter. She slapped a hoof over her mouth soon after, face flushing red.

“This, um, street!” she exclaimed, “I ran into you on this street… The first night you came into our home. That was you, hiding and scaring me in the street. Wasn’t it?”

I stared down the row. The shape of the walls, the few carts and stacked barrels slightly shifted. But…

“Huh. Yeah, it was.”

“And look!” Down the street was her house. It was still standing. Still standing and pitch dark. “No one’s in! It’s still empty! Let’s—!”

She trotted a few feet forward, and screamed.

Black tendrils shot up from the ground. Celestia’s legs were grabbed, branchlike hands snapping down on her back. She squealed as the nails dug into her back. Froze there. Solid.

I shouted as well. Not scared, definitely not. It was a warcry, dangit! A dense illusion, a rock, a knife. I solidified it in one paw and slammed it against the briar. Luna was right behind me, jamming her horn into the arm, horn sparking. What did we think that would do? My illusion crumbled, blunted. A few flecks of hard glass peeled off the arm from our blows.

“Get it off!” Celestia screamed, “GET IT OFF ME!”

“I’m trying!” I shouted back, staring at the little glass shards. They seemed to vanish as they fell, disappearing into nothing.

Luna gasped. “Beneath us…”

I was already looking, but what I was seeing snapped to my attention. The shadows were condensing at my feet. Bubbling…

“Celestia,” I cried. “Light!”

I didn’t need to ask twice. A glare as bright as the sun filled the alleyway, banishing all shadows.

All of them.

The well beneath us was instantly banished. The shadows peeled away from every surface. And a Draconequus hiding in the shadows suddenly had nowhere else to hide. Massive, a reedy adult stepped out of the middle of the street. Face calm, back straight, eyes sharp in the light. Intelligent. Gaze directed right at me, slitted pupils narrowing in recognition.

Head furred black. Body strangely uneven for a lack of a wing…

The second to last Draconequus I’d want to see right now. The only Draconequus I knew I couldn’t outsmart. Ruin. I did the only thing I thought I could do. The only thing I knew he wouldn’t foresee. I slapped my Element into my palm and—!

“Ah. Pardon, little one.” Ruin said, waving his claw as casually as he spoke. Celestia dropped to the ground, illusionary glass fragments vanishing all around her, her face in confused shock.

“Wh-wuh?”

“You desire to take these two in, don’t you?” The Draconequus stated, more matter of factly then a question. He moved forward slightly.

“Uh…”

“Your first catch,” he waved a claw at the girls, his eyes never leaving me. “Forgive me for intruding, I did not realize they were your quarry.”

“O-oh yes. Um. Thanks for uh, letting me uh… catch ‘em.”

He watched me silently for a moment. Face cold and calculating. It was always cold, as far back as I  could remember it.

“So uh,” I stammered, rolling with my lie. “Yeah. You... You can go now.”

“You do know the proper spell, don’t you?” he growled, “You have not been neglecting your studies? Your shadow magic?”

“‘Course I know the spell.” I answered quickly, feeling a quick flash of indignation at the question.

“Discord?” Celestia mumbled with worry. Her light spell was still glowing around her, slightly dimmer now. “What’s going on?”

I snapped a hand over her mouth. She stared at me. We stood there for a moment, silent. With a wave of my claw, I summoned my own illusions around their legs, binding both the girls in place. Ruin watched my movements closely. My technique.

“Discord?” The deep voice inquired again.

“Yeah, uh…” I glanced back at the Draconequus. “I’ve got this.”

“Have you? Are you very sure?”

“Yep. You can um, go now.”

He stared down at me. Please just leave, please just leave…

“Fine.” He eased himself backwards. “If you are in no need of assistance…” He kept his eyes on me as he walked, before slowly turning back into the alleyway. “I do believe that our brothers have, for the most part, cleared the streets. Perhaps I shall retire for the night…”

“Um. Right. Yeah.”

He walked casually into the little square, plucked easily at the shadows, and vanished silently into them. I watched him go, confused. Thoughts spinning around my head.

“What just happened?” Luna asked.

“I have no idea,” I replied. I really, really didn’t.

“Can you free our feet now?”

I turned to Celestia, banishing the spell. “Uh, yeah. Can you turn off that light?”

“Oh! Well…” Her glow was replaced by the cold purple haze all around us.

“Now um… there’s no way others didn’t see that, so uh… your house! I guess we could…” I stepped forward. There was a quiet scraping sound. The stone shifted a little under my foot. Slipped down…

“Crap.”

“What? What is it?”

A roar pierced the air. Not a victorious roar. A roar of pain. We didn’t have to wonder what it was long. A gigantic body tumbled from a tower, an unfamiliar Draconequus smacking the ground with a sick crunch and another pained roar. The ground beneath us shuttered, stones shifting from the blow. Celestia shoved herself into me, pushing me and dragging her sister towards our house.

But on our other side, another Draconequus dropped. In control of himself. Massive, wings spread wide, still hitting the ground with an earth-shaking force.

Of course some other Draconequus would see that light. Already in the distance I could hear more wings, more roars and claws on stone scrambling to get us. But why in dear, sweet Equestria did it have to be that massive lion of a Draconequus.

Why did it have to be Ferrous who got here first? Why did he have to be grinning? Advancing on us with his teeth bared. Capture? No. Murder on his mind. A casual killer. He’d tear through us. Break… Sick memories shot through all the bones he had broken in me, all those years ago. Does it matter now? So many people hurt me in that place. But he—

I screamed at myself in my own head.

Not the time!

Just run!

“Harmony Blast!” I shouted, grabbing my Element.

“But that doesn’t—!”

“Down!”

I blasted the ground with my silver beam. Celestia’s light bloomed beside me. Even Luna’s element flickered with the vague spark of hope. The purple fog curled away, and in a single cold blast I could see, actually see the stone itself melting.

And feel as it gave away beneath us.

Luna squealed beside me as the black underground opened up. But only briefly. We hit the lower floor in barely a second, not even long enough for me to open my wings. Landed in an ice-cold puddle of semi-solid rock. Cold instantly numbing. Cold causing me to barely be able to control my limbs…

But there was no time to wait for them to respond. Celestia was already pushing her sister down the corridor, and I splashed right after them. I found my own hands and feet awkward to run on, but like the wound on my leg, I ignored it. We only had a small escape window. We took it. We took it and ran.

Because it was only moments later that Ferrous’ head shot down the hole. Shoulders heaving and body writhing. Trying to fit in the cramped space. He wouldn’t lose his quarry, not this easily.

“He’s right behind us he’s right behind us—!”

“Save your breath! I know…” I whirled around a corner, slapping the ground, making it slick. Another brief delay. “I know a place where he can’t follow!”

I knew these tunnels like the back of my hand. All the places to avoid. All the places that I knew would protect me. Protect any being my size and unable to fight… A fleeting hiding place, but one vital to surviving in this pit. I took only a minute to get my bearings…

Then I pushed my friends into a tunnel. A small thing with a sideways roof and a dirt floor. They bounced off the walls and stumbled into the dark corridor as Ferrous blasted past, massive claws scraping on the solid stone. I watched the entrance, watched as Ferrous’ paw wormed through the hole. His yellow eyes, rimmed in iron raw, glared at us in the hole…

“Light, Celestia. He could still teleport us…” Wordlessly, light filled the tunnel. My own shadow became elongated, started to bubble… but with a flash of my own Element, even that shadow vanished.

Ferrous snorted. Barked something over his shoulder. Returned to staring, glaring at us.

And a little idea struck me.

“What are you doing in my saddlebags?” Celestia asked.

I pulled out the rubbing alcohol. “Need this.”

“For your leg?”

“For worse wounds than that,” I hissed.

I spun on Ferrous. He watched as I approached, trying to see me through one eye, then both again. Curious? Or just stupid? I think I’ll go for stupid.

I tore out that cork. He didn’t react. Before he could think, before he could realize what I was doing, I threw that bottle in his face. I made sure it shattered. The burning liquid exploded over his eyes.

He roared, body writhing, slamming into the entrance. The whole tunnel shook.

“That’s what you get!” I screamed, “YOU THINK YOU CAN KILL ME?!”

I swore at him until my lungs hurt. Swore and swore with the clasp of my Element curling up in my mane, tangled in my hair. Swore until Celestia bit my arm.

“What the heck is wrong with you?” she squealed. “We’ve got to keep running!”

“You don’t—!” I hissed in a breath. What this must look like from an outsiders perspective… What it must look like to the ponies. What I’d think of myself later, for that matter… But right now? Ferrous deserved that. And I knew no amount of explaining would ever justify why. “It’s a long story,” I admitted. “A long, painful story. Believe me. He deserved it.” I forced my way past her, deeper into the cramped gap. His screams still echoed past me. Probably dragging more Draconequus his way. But none would be able to fit, none but those I know I could take…

“What a horrible… horrible day…”


XLIII : Overcast Risk

The Steadfast Sky : Overcast Risk

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfiction.tumblr.com

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~Celestia~

“This is stupid. If Discord’s hiding down here, there’s no way we’ll find him. He’s a slippery little coward.”

“For the last time. He’s got two ponies with him. He can’t be too many places.”

“Lucky lucky...”

“And if the adults say look, we look. That’s all we have to do.”

“So let’s double back, say we searched all we could.”

“Why would you want to give up? Crusher! Two ponies. If we find them, do we get to keep them?”

“The adults probably wouldn’t--”

“They don’t have to know that we found ‘em intact.”

For a moment, it sounded like one of them had stopped moving, somewhere beyond our dark pocket. One of the voices snickered, breath hissing between his teeth.

“But how will we split two whole ponies between the three of us?”

“Same as we always do...”

There was a snap, a yowl, the sounds of scuffle punctuated by squealed swearing.

“Get offa me! Save it, Gnash!”

“So,” a third voice rose in a tittering chuckle. “What are you going to do to Discord, if we do find him?”

“Rip his throat out.”

“He’s slippery, he’s slippery, I’m telling you. We’ve got to have more of a plan.”

“Yeah, grab his legs first.”

“But I want to bite him!”

“Then bite his stupid legs for pete’s sake!”

“Hang on.” Once more, the tunnel was silence. “There was another section here. An open one, I swear there was.”

“Of course you’d know, you little coward...”

“Clamp it. There was like… a little hallway bit.”

I looked to Discord. His reflective eyes stared right past me, steady as ever.

“Liar.”

“Look.” There was a small scraping sound. “He has those illusions and stuff.”

“And? Look again.” Thump thump thump. “That’s freaking rock.”

“But I could have sworn…”

“Of course Crusher. You swear by your constant visits to this filthy little hole. You know the place like the back of your claws.”

“You shut up! I’ll kill you!”

“You couldn’t kill a week-old kid.”

“I killed Turmoil, I’ll kill you too!”

“Wow, still bringing that up, are you...”

“Who’ve you killed lately, Crusher?”

“Not like you’ve done any better!”

“You see those new kids? They’re all teeth and no body, it’s not even worth it.”

“So don’t insult me!”

“I’ll insult you all I want you little piece of--”

There was a yowl, and then, further away, a bark. The squeals and swears of a squabble faded, echoing away. I strained my ears, hoping the crumble of rock, the skittering claws of who knows what were not signs of their return…

“Okay…” Discord mumbled. “Think it’s safe to turn the lights back on.”

“They’re just a bunch of colts, Discord.” I breathed, barely able to talk as I eased the light back around us. How many times must I hear a bunch of squabbling… “How could… how can they just talk like that?”

Discord didn’t answer. He couldn’t even find it in himself to look at me.

“So…” Luna’s horn flickered blue as she spoke up. She turned away, and began dragging the sopping wet sheet out from one corner. “I collected some of that water, so we can—“

“Luna!” I whimpered, “Don’t exert yourself, not so soon.”

“I’m feeling okay.”

“You’ve already overexerted yourself too far, Luna. Please…”

She pouted, “It’s just hovering, and I wanna help. Lemme do this.”

“Well…”

“Not like I can help with the um… Super… alicorn magic… because we’re awesome all powerful gods, hail the alicorns’ wisdom… something something... The Aurora Spell.” She frowned. I was still very surprised to see her bent Element still intact. Even in the dim light, I could still see the little blue sliver stuck firmly in its place. “I wish I could remember its whole name. It was a funny one. We could use some laughter right about now.”

Again, she pulled forward the dripping sheet. It looked… Well, it may have been a trick of the light, but the water dripping off one end looked practically brown.

“Goodness, don’t even know if this water is sanitary,” I said. “If we still had that rubbing alcohol…”

“I grew up drinking this crappy water,” Discord said. “I can handle it.”

“Well then,” I said, “Where were we?”

Discord stuck out his green leg as Luna moved forward with the sheet. A red gash had smudged and scabbed up his flank. Shallow… Already closed, or at least, no longer bleeding. But if we expected to keep running, then it was probably better to fix this up, as best we could.

Discord’s element eased to life, and I let my own glow in tandem. A steady little dribble of brown water fell over the wound. The droplets clung where they hit, glittering with tiny gold bubbles. They magnified the red wound as it slowly zipped up. We released the spell, and the blood washed away, streaking down his leg. His skin looked a little stretched, a lighter shade of tender green with a chunky, pale scab marking the point where the skin came together.

Discord looked over the healed cut, thumbing the pale line.

“So um,” Luna spoke up, magically wringing out the rest of the water with a grimace on her face. “What now?”

“Well, we can’t stay here.” Discord stood up, gingerly putting weight on his bad leg. “It won’t be long until they try something besides sending the kids after us.”

“What else could we possibly face tonight?”

“Anything.” Discord stared blankly at his illusion wall. Stared beyond it. “We’ve got to go now. Shadow magic or no.”

The wall in front of us vanished, Discord briefly looked around before he slipped around the corner.

“The sheet…!” Luna whispered, hastily trying to fold it up as she too left our hole-in-the-wall. “Discord!”

Softly, we trotted through the twists and turns of a maze only Discord knew. Roof low, no torches to speak of, shadows thick and heavy on the eyes.  And yet, as Discord pulled us under the blanket of darkness, they still felt uncomfortably tight. My sister edged past me, wet sheet flung over her back like a poorly tied skirt. She snuck right up beside my friend, and whispered a question into his ear.

“Where are we going?”

Discord looked around, and led us down another passage.

“We can punch a hole through the outer wall now,” he said softly. “We go there, blast it open, and we’re home free.”

“Oh…” I frowned, wondering why I didn’t think of that sooner. Or why we hadn’t tested the Elements out more before entering into the city. But a more important feeling began bubbling to the surface as we walked through the twisting, tight paths.

“Discord,” I said, “That means we can use this power to create a passage for other ponies to escape, right? That’s got to be our plan now.”

He was silent. Silent for far, far too long. There were voices in the distance, footsteps. Yet, maybe those were our footsteps, our own voices slowly echoing back to us. With how my ears were straining, everything sounded like some dark creature, creeping and whispering right up behind us.

“That could mean,” Discord said, at long last, “That Draconequus could escape too.”

The tunnels were getting brighter. Or was it just my eyes getting used to the dark? We turned a corner, and the passage opened up into a large hallway lit by sparse torches. Discord nudged his nose out into the new space, but he quickly retreated. We all held our breath as the feet of a massive Draconequus casually lumbered past. It was a long, long while before I stopped hearing the echoes of those padding, clicking feet.

Discord slipped into the corridor, pulling shadows along with him. Yet, this cloak squeezed and relaxed as we approached and walked past torches. It felt like… Well, I tried not to think about what it felt like. Something absolutely nightmarish.

I spoke up, quiet in a lonely moment.  “We can find a way, right? Stay here as long as it takes… You know I won’t leave this city with nothing accomplished, Discord.”

“I know.”

“Big sis…” Luna whispered ahead of me, “You told us, all the way here, that we had to try… And we did try.” She sighed, face puckered. “But we lost. There’s nothing we can do now. We just gotta get out of here.”

“I can’t accept that.”

My sister bit her lip and turned away. Ahead of me, Discord nodded, following the slow, spiraling curve of a wall. When did they start to curve like that…?

“I know,” he said.

“Oh!” I exclaimed. “So you agree we have to do something about this.”

“Yes, Celestia. I know.”

“Well!” Discord actually understood what I was going through? He knew that we couldn’t leave without helping someone? Well… Well finally! “So then— EEP!“ I squeaked, offensively loud. My foot had dropped through what had felt like solid floor into a pile of something nasty, something wet and frigidly cold. I looked down. The puddle of hopefully water had been iced over, discarded straw trapped in the film.

In the distance, there was a little clatter of stones… or was it claws on stones?! Our entire group huddled together, painfully close to one of the guttering torches.

Discord plucked a little at the shadows. Silence. Not long after, we were off again.

“I think,” Discord said slowly as the corridors wound tighter. As doors began cropping up on one wall, little rags hanging from each one. “If we want to get out. If we want to make sure no Draconequus find the hole. And especially if we want to set up a regular road out of this city…”

He stopped walking. There didn’t seem to be anything particularly special about the spot. I strained my ears for a Draconequus, but there was nothing. Nothing larger than a drip of water, or the scratching of a rat. To our left, there were three apparent doors, each with their own scrap marker. A crude red claw. A jagged white set of fanged teeth. And a black star with six sharply drawn points.

“Well.” Discord took a deep breath, and the shadows around us snapped back against the walls. Exposed! My eyes flicked up and down the corridor… nothing. Please, let there be nothing…

“Discord?”

Jaw set, Discord walked up to a door. The one adorned with the black star. “To set something, anything up… We’re going to have to speak with Ruin.” He placed his paw on the door. “I dunno what’s going to happen, but I gotta talk to him alone first… okay? I can hide you here, with an illusion…”

“It’s okay. I got it.” Luna nodded, and her horn flared…

“Luna,” I put my hoof on her shoulder, “Luna you don’t have to…” But with a little wobble of her head, the shadows once more rolled over us. She dropped to her knees, making herself small. I did the same, trying to make things easier for her.

“Luna…” Discord whined.

“Just don’t be too long, kay Discord?”

“Right.”

He spun and forcefully pushed at the door. It squeaked a little in its frame, and barely opened. I frowned. What if somebody heard…?

“Stupid… door!” He slammed his shoulder into it, and it popped open a little bit further with a horrible squeal.

“Discord!” I hissed.

“Shh! Darn thing never quite opened right…”He heaved into it again, and it swung just barely open, stuttering from the impact. I tried to see what I could of the room beyond. It was small for something as big as a Draconequus. Lit by an overhead lamp, dry with a pile of straw in one cornor… I didn’t see anybody, but right after Discord wormed his way through the narrow gap, it slammed immediately shut after him.

“I…” I stammered, “I really do hope that wasn’t a trap.”

“We stay as long as I can hold this shadow,” Luna said, “And then you can blast the door open.”

“Oh yes, I agree.” A fleeting image of what we might find passed through my head. But… “I don’t think it’s going to come to that. Discord...” I mulled over my words in my head. “He’s been afraid of the danger in this city long, long before we got here. If he thinks Ruin is going to help him, then, well, I trust him.”

“Uh-huh! Me too!”

I winced. Her voice was creeping upward. Nothing loud, and there were no Draconequus around. But… I put my leg around her shoulder, holding her to me.

“Let’s just be quiet and wait, alright?” I whispered.

“Oh…” She nodded up at me, wincing a little as her horn sputtered. Then, we both simply watched the door and waited.

I could hear small things. Occasionally the muffled baritone of the Draconequus beyond the door, calmly speaking in words I couldn’t make out. Even more rarely, I heard Discord’s little voice rise and fall. I strained my ears when I could hear him… He sounded upset. But, with nothing to do but stare and wonder, my own thoughts quickly overtaking my attention.

I knew, as soon as we escaped the horrible Stallion’s attacks, that there had to be another approach to this. Another way to help these ponies. And it almost causes me a little swell of pride in Discord to know he feels the same way. Or, at the very least, cares enough about me that he’d find a way to help.

Because that’s what we have to do. It doesn’t matter if we can’t handle this, or if it seems too overwhelming. You’re supposed to throw yourself at a problem. Try, try, and try again until you find just the right way for everything to work out. It may not be the most comfortable or best policy, and it can hurt quite a bit to get to a good position… But it’s what I have to do. There’s no point in complaining, crying, or thinking that you can’tdo it. You just have to do it.

I squeeze my sister’s shoulders, nodding quietly to myself. I didn’t know all the ins and out of raising my sister. I spent months feeling horrible and inadequate, lost and uncertain. But things fell right into place in the end, didn’t it? And she’s turned out wonderfully, a healthy and happy little filly.

If I can learn as I go with raising a filly, than for goodness sake, I can learn as I go with taking care of Equestria. And with Discord finding a way to help our people, well, throwing ourselves at the problem was the right thing to do after all.

With another loud scrape, the door heaved open. Luna dropped the shadows, startled, as Discord stepped out of the room. His eyes were puffy, he was fiddling with some string on his neck… and he wasn’t alone. Towering over him, reaching up to a ceiling lamp to douse it, was a fully grown Draconequus. The one that Discord had chatted casually to in the streets.

“Oh!” Luna exclaimed. “So that was Ruin!”

“Um, yeah. This, this is my mentor. Ruin.” Discord turned back to the large Draconequus, poking a finger under a string around his neck. A flat, brown bag was flung over his shoulders, cradled between his wings.

“What do you have there?” I asked.

“Some personal stuff,” he quickly replied. “Um, anyway. Celestia, Luna, Ruin says that he’s going to help us.”

“Really?! I mean um,” Too loud, Celestia, much too loud! “So, we have to work out a plan, or…?”

“Not here. Follow me, and we will discuss plans when we have arrived.” Ruin said. He smoothly stepped over Discord, and in just two strides, he was already a ways down the tightly curving corridor. He glanced back at us, over an old scar in his side. He lifted his eagle talon, and the shadows swelled around all three of us. Not a tight sheet or an easy blanket, but a gentle, unpopable bubble, only visible but for the lacking shadows beneath our feet. “Let us go.”

And, just like that, we started walking. Just… walking in silence, following this, honestly, quite massive Draconequus as he led us down torch-lit hallways. Following this calm, stalking creature…  To say the least, I found the situation to be very bizarre. Discord said that his brother would help, though he was so adamantly against it before… I wondered what Discord could have possibly said to change this Draconequus’ mind.

No, no, the answer to that is obvious! Discord simply misjudged his brother, quite completely. This Draconequus, distant and estranged as he was, actually cared for his little brother! It actually felt very sweet and cute. A misunderstood, protective big brother looking out and raising his younger member of the family…

Not that… I was just placing my own situation over top of this, wasn’t I? I tried to talk to Discord about the matter, but he just waved me silent, face solemn. Alright.

We were moving out of the curving-wall section, and into a place of just flat, straight halls. Slowly rising upward, and getting warmer. We reached the end of one, where the passage beside us veered at a sharp angle upward. I could see a dim light coming from its top. A light to the outside.

Morning. Morning already.

“This. Here.” Ruin said, voice grumbling from deep in his throat. He lifted his massive paw into the air and place it on the wall in front of us. “This is the escape you’re looking for. Dig through here, and you should find yourself out of the city.”

“Well I…” I stared up the ramp, at the gray opening. “Isn’t this a little exposed here?”

“It’s very rare that a tunnel should come so close to the last wall itself,” Ruin carefully explained. “And due to its distance from the home castle, I suspect that it would be rarely used by the Draconequus… However,” he rumbled, “It would not seem strange for one such as myself to use this exit. I can defend it with little question.”

“Oh! So… Ruin.” He looked down at me, almost, in a creepy way, coldly judging me. Maybe it was just his face… Well, I stood against it. “We still need to discuss the plan. How are we going to get ponies out of the city?”

“I am going to handle it,” he explained.

“I would still like to know what you’re planning.”

“Celestia…” Discord warned. Ruin nodded slowly down at his brother. Then, once more, his gaze returned to me.

“You three are going to carve your way to freedom. Then, once things have settled, I will free some of our prisoners, and reason with them about my intentions. They will help me convince the ponies up above.”

“I suppose that makes sense…” I nodded, but I felt a little bit left out at the same time. I wasn’t invited to help with the plan? I had my own ideas… And how could I be sure this was a good one? I mean… I looked to Discord. I trust him and his judgment here, but was this really the best way? “Anything we can do to help?” I finally asked.

“The sooner you escape,” Ruin stated, “The sooner you find your way to safety, the more help you will do.” He waved to the wall. “Start tunneling.”

Discord immediately moved to blast the wall. By the time I fell by his side, he had already melted a hole the size of a watermelon. Even Luna’s element managed to shine a shimmering blue beam, soft and flickering in and out. Thank goodness, I thought, her Element’s not completely lost…  Be silly if they could be destroyed by a little damage, right?

Even with all three of us together, our progress was slow. Frigid, melted stone rolled around our ankles, flowing slowly past us into the hallway. Eventually my entire body was standing in the icy makeshift cave, and we were still blasting our way through the rock. Little darting illusions zipped and dipped around our feet, scooping and pushing the gooey remains away, creating a massive spill behind us. I wondered, looking back, where exactly all this rock would be hidden. In another drainage tunnel? Would Ruin take care of that too? Was that part of the plan?

We were nearly five or six body-lengths into the tunnel… And… I started to feel, I guess a lil bit loopy. Drunk or… Goodness, it was cold. Really, really cold. My entire body was numb, I didn’t even think I was casting or nothing or… anything…

I blinked, head yanking up, spinning a bit as my Element sputtered and… It was dark, a dark place. Still in the tunnel, still… blasting away. But behind me, Luna had collapsed, blinking slow and bleary. I felt like, my own breath was slow. Sloooow slow slow… Hm. Odd feeling. I stopped, closed my eyes, and thought… was I drunk? I was too cold to be drunk. Practically a popsicle. No… a Ponysicle. A… Celest-i-sicle.

I think.

I think that was the best one.

Uh-huh.

Oh Celestia… I creased my forehead, trying to rub it with my hoof. I couldn’t feel my hoof or my forehead. I think, maybe a little bit, I poked myself in the eye.

My hind flank stung. Discord slapped it again. I stared at him.

“Elloo-men’.” He spat, screwing up his mouth. “Dis.” He flipped his Element up and shone it in his eyes. He spat again. “Use the Element. Clear your head.” He turned around and blasted Luna. She stood up straight, stunned.

“Was… goin’ on?” she asked.

“I think…” Discord mumbled, “I think defensive spells? Stop people from tunneling?”

“From doin’ wha’ we’re…” I nudged my Element, and let its ray wash over me. “Goodness! It’s like clearing my mud from my mind! But…” I blasted my feet, trying to get them less numb. They only fell through, into a puddle of goop they created. “Drat. Well, let’s hurry.”

“I don’ think… Yes!” Discord’s ray of light vanished, but the light in the tunnel didn’t dim. There was a hole, just the size of a hoof, oozing this nasty blackish material. And through it, trees. Light.

“Daylight!” I blasted the rock again, and the hole grew wider, spilling out the other side. “Yes!”

Discord looked back as I stepped forward. Ruin was behind us, outside the wall, watching us from so, so far away.

“Well,” Discord said, “Be dangerous to stay here much longer.” He looked out of the hole along with me. It was a short drop, maybe two or three feet, onto a grassy hill… Goodness, it seems like too long since I had seen nice, healthy green grass.

I hopped down, and my legs buckled – Stupid, Celestia, your legs are still numb! My hoof twisted and I tumbled onto my back, slapping into more of the stone goop before rolling down the dry, warm hill. A bit startled, but unharmed. I watched as Discord and Luna approached me, uneasy on their feet. And behind us, our hole snapped shut, slowly oozing and blending with the rest of the stone work.

“Is... that really all?” I asked.


XLIV : Overcast Reunion

The Steadfast Sky : Overcast Reunion

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfiction.tumblr.com

~Discord~

Ruin…

He was just like the rest of them. No. No, he wasn’t like everybody down here. He wasn’t as violent. He was clever. Didn’t kill anybody because he was bored, didn’t fight if he didn’t have to. In any other case, other Draconequus would be all over him, beating him up in shows of power. But nobody messed with Ruin. No one.

I’m getting off track. Whether or not the Draconequus messed with the guy isn’t important.

I just don’t know if I can really trust him.

It’s stupid, really, why shouldn’t I trust him? He’s always looked out for me, always made sure to answer my questions. Though, I mean… All his answers, they’re like the answers the Illuminators gave: The alicorn in power is never to be questioned. Everything is the way it is, you’re the bottom of the food chain, and he’s at the top. Ruin’s loyalty was unwavering.

Then, why didn’t Ruin just take me to the cells? Why didn’t he just catch us all and be done with it? Because he didn’t know I had switched sides?

But those kids that passed by. The ones in the hiding tunnels… they knew I had turned. By name. The adults had told them to go get me… Ruin, smart as he is, how could he not have known?

I felt stupid when I realized what was going on. Really… really stupid.

Why would he possibly help? I mean, he’s just… he never liked me. I was just a burden to him. Yeah, I think maybe in a small spot in his black heart, I was probably a prized student. The only Draconequus that wasn’t an idiot… But he’d still snap at me! Smack me sometimes, try and get it in my skull what I am and who I serve!

Why would he help me?

Help me?

I got a stupid urge, sitting there in that dark room with Celestia and Luna. I got the stupid, stupid urge to go and talk to Ruin again.

I just had to. Once more before we get out of here. Not for Celestia, not especially. Maybe, if we’re lucky, he’ll help us with this escape thing. But this was for myself.

I noisily shoved his door open, and slipped myself inside.

And it immediately slammed shut after me.

Ruin loomed over me, almost standing at his full height, his arm outstretched and body taut. He looked like he had just thrown himself at the door, in a great hurry to snap it shut. Disturbed papers fluttered around his feet in the remnant of a gust. He looked down at me, face the same as always. Cold, distant, full of disdain.

Ruin eased off the door, and looked at the loose pages. He leaned over, picking everything up gently, piece by piece.

“Discord,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

I watched him gather his papers, silent as he was. I don’t think it mattered much what he asked. I didn’t have an answer.

He glanced up. “Speak.”

“Why do you care,” I started slowly, “What’s on my mind or not…”

Again, his eyes rose to mine. Steady this time. “And why would you think something like that?”

“Because, what I’m thinking, it’s usually the wrong idea. About stuff.”

“Your head certainly was full of the most foolish thoughts, Discord,” he grumbled, “Thinking you were better, smarter than everyone around you.”

“But I was smarter.”

“Yes, you were,” he said, “But it’s a dangerous thought to harbor.”

“Yeah, um…” I was smart? I mean, yeah, I knew I was smart. I was just never smart enough for big, dumb old Ruin. I snorted, “Yeah, I know.”

He gathered up the last of the papers on the floor, and moved the entire one step he needed to sit by his roughly hewn desk.

“Discord,” Ruin stated, meticulously piling the brown sheets. “How have you been?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I mumbled.

“I haven’t seen you for a very, very long time.” He reached up to his single shelf, palming a little pot. He placed it atop the modest stack of papers, weighing them down. He stared at them for a moment and then turned. Looked at me again. His face wasn’t quite as cold anymore.

“Um...”

“So how have you been?”

“Well it’s um… a bit of a mixed bag, I guess. Sometimes really, really great. Sometimes… kind’ve horrible.”

“Is your new life suiting you well?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I think it is.”

“You look thin.”

“Oh." I nervously laughed. "That part’s kind’ve sucked. I’m... working on it.” There was so much more to say, so many little details I could have told him. About not eating meat, killing the chicken, the Illuminators... but it just didn’t feel right. He doesn't have time for stories. For excuses.

“That’s all?” He asked.

“Yeah." I stopped. "Well, no. I’ve felt, really, really… ashamed of myself sometimes, for not living up to my ideals…” Ruin gave a small snort at that, and I moved on quickly. “But I’ve been happy too! It’s different outside the walls. It’s hard, but I can live out there. I can exist, and I can change to fit in. I’ve made friends...” I was rambling, I knew I was rambling. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but I knew, I wanted him to understand.

“Although…” I admitted, laughing nervously “I actually came here, to see you, on a lie.”  He still, still, still didn’t say a thing. Darn it... I just refused to just lift my head anymore. “Maybe I haven’t changed at all…”

Passively, “Tell me, Discord.”

“It’s a long story.” He wasn’t mad?

“Tell me.”

I peeked, no, actually craned my neck up to see my brother. My mentor. His face was almost soft now. Chiseled away and melted. No longer sharp, just… old, and tired. Strange…

“Tell me everything, Discord,” he said, “How have you wound up in my chambers once more?”

I went right up to him and sat by his side. And he made no motion to stop me. I looked back at the door, heard him shift a little beside me. Still no objections.

“Alright…” I started. My thoughts were jumbled. But, I started.

“A… A few months ago, I made some friends. Two ponies, one older than me, and the other younger. One named Celestia, and the other Luna. They, and ponies… they’re something else. So kind, so gentle… I just knew, I wanted to be with them! I felt like I… I don’t know. I’ve never felt like I fit in with them, per say. But I’m better off with them than I am down here. I always knew that. This um...” I couldn't see my mentor’s face, but I could see the tuft of his tail. I stared at it. “This isn’t too far back is it? Too much?”

“Continue.”

“Okay…

“After visiting them near nightly for, well, I suppose a month… I got this.” I tapped the Element on my chest. I wondered, could he see this movement? “It’s an Element of Harmony. The Element of Kindness.” Coming out of my mouth like that, it almost sounds ridiculous. “I guess I don’t have a way to prove it… but Celestia and Luna, they got Elements too. They’re Loyalty and Laughter. And we’re going to save Equestria. Somehow…” I took a deep breath. “Anyway… We ran from the city after I got this rock, and we wandered all around Equestria. Just going from town to town, not a care in the world, but for each other…”

I frowned, “But when Celestia got her Element… when we really first learned of our true burden… To rule Equestria as gods… She couldn’t take it. She said she had to come here, and save all the ponies inside. She wanted to fight the Stallion, Ruin!” I found my words harder to say. Just hard to talk, words tightening in my throat. “And I knew well enough that we weren’t anything compare to him! I knew that if we challenged Father now, he’d kill us! And he nearly did! But Celestia…

“She’s a friend!” I cried, voice creeping into a shout. “A good friend! I fight a ton with her, but I never want to see her hurt or anything! Her and Luna both, I, I was so relieved that we actually survived an encounter with Father! I thought, yeah, that’s it, we can go now! But, but she’s still not going to leave! She’s going to try and stay here, try and save somebody!

“So, so… I gotta do something horrible. I’ve got to lie to her, Ruin…

“To make sure she, Luna, and the whole city is safe again, I’ve got to lie to her face. And I feel absolutely awful, just knowing I’ve got to go out there… Tell her… well.” I stared at my heads, not even managing to look at the tuft of my mentor’s tail. “You’ve got to say that you’re going to help ponies escape while we’re gone. Tell her that, and maybe she’ll be satisfied enough to leave.

“Because if we don’t leave as soon as possible, Father is going to kill ponies. He’s going to rip apart the city to find us. He’s going to bust open houses, he’s going to, t-t-to let the Draconequus feast. He doesn’t care. I saw it myself, in his eyes. He doesn’t care! I just…!”

A heavy paw fell atop my head, gently weighing me down. I could feel heat radiating off of its leathery pads, trapped in the soft fur. Gently, more gently than I thought Ruin was capable of, he patted the tuft atop my head.

“Discord,” he muttered. “I understand.”

I reached up, and I grabbed his wrist.

“And," I babbled, "And I really, really wanted to talk to you one more time. I thought you’d just kill me, bring me in like everybody else… But, but you didn’t just take me in.”

“Stupid boy,” Ruin mumbled reassuringly, “You never belonged here. I always knew each time I saw you that it might be the last time. Our last meeting before I’d find your body somewhere, ripped to shreds. But I was proud of you. Of your ideals. You lived your own foolish way. The way I could not.

“You give me so much hope, Discord. Maybe Draconequus can be more then we are… More than just so much death, pain, and rage.” He gave a single low laugh. “You never realized that I was stupid too.” He pulled away, and this time, I let go. “For you and your friends, I will help you, Discord. Although… I must also ask of you a favor.”

“S-sure.” He turned to his desk. “What do you need?”

“Just one request…” He tapped his papers together, carefully, tenderly, and slipped them, along with the little pot, into a beat up, leathery bag. His satchel… yet, when he held it out to me, it was more a full backpack on a single, thick string. “I want you to take these notes. Take care of them, and see that they are bound into a proper volume.”

He dropped the hefty bag into my paws. Stuffed full of loose papers, it almost looked like a single, thick square. I immediately slung it over my shoulder, trying to tie it over my back.

“S’all I gotta do to win you over? Well…” I noticed Ruin’s look, and I stopped joking around. “Of course I will Ruin.”

He nodded down at me. “I suppose you have learned as much as you can from me.” He gave me a small warm smile. “You are my first student to ever fully  graduate alive.”

~æ~

I spread my wings, maybe hoping I could glide right out of the exit we had blasted. But no matter what I would do, the numb feeling throughout my whole body would always mean my landing would be awkward. I made sure both Luna and Celestia had safely dropped and rolled away before letting myself fall. I clutched Ruin’s bag closed, lest the papers escape me.

I tumbled a little ways down the hill, and only righted myself as the wall snapped itself closed. I noticed Celestia staring, almost suspicious.

“Is... that really all?” she asked.

“It’s an illusion,” I quickly covered, “He’s got to hide it, doesn’t he?”

Celestia leered back at me. Or… was she really leering? Or was I simply paranoid that she had seen past our ruse?

“Of course,” she said at last, “I know that.”

I nodded, trying as hard as I could to keep my face blank. Or maybe I should look away, look at my feet and try to stand.

“I suppose…” Celestia said slowly. “What now?”

I shrugged, even though the answer was obvious. “Canterlot?”

“I…” Celestia stared back at the walls, the massive things looming over us once more. “It almost feels abrupt, you know? We’re just supposed to rely on Ruin now?”

“Yeah… he’s smart. And, I guess, a pretty good guy, for a Draconequus. Just let him do his thing.”

“I wish we could’ve done more.”

“There’s nothing more we can do now.”

Luna darted between us, fumbling on her feet and showing us her best smile.

“Okay then!” she said. “Let’s just get ourselves to Canterlot.”


~~~ Overcast Remnants ~~~

Overcast Remnants

 

 

~~~

 

Don’t much care for night. Day’s nice when the sun’s nice and high, minding its place above you. But heck if I like staring at the sun when it shows its first face, pecking at your eyeballs right when you’re getting nice and cozy with dawn. Blast that sun right out of the rutting sky if I could, make it not shine so bright and cocky. For now, it’s a stare down I can’t avoid, and can’t win.

Heck if I’m going to lose it gracefully.

“Oi Calder!” Wind roaring in my ears, I could hear Garrik’s approach, flapping and clattering like a pile of pots and pans caught in a tornado. Some days, I wonder how the heck Garrik ever learned to fly in his overburdened plates. You see, he’s just so darn small! “Calder, you cloud-snorting skarn! Where the heck do you think you’re friggin’ going?!”

“Gotta report, don’t I?” I screeched back. “You want our Glorious Employer to get his news late, do you?”

“Send a snotball to deliver the news! You don’t gotta do everything yourself anymore, you soft-headed, uh—”

I banged a fist against my helmet, feeling it ring around my ears. “For land’s sake, just drop the freaking small talk. It’s too early for this crap. I just want to deliver a freaking report, and go to freaking bed!”

“Calder. Calder, I hate your parasite-filled guts, you know that right?”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I’ll try to come back alive.”

“Better be with a drinking story, Calder!”

“Screw you, Garrick!” I squawked.

And up I heaved my wings. Only in the mornings, only when I’ve been up all night do I feel my blasted armor’s weight. All shifted and uncomfortable, feathers ruffled. Metal freaking jabbing into my wings as I rise and fall. Jab, scrape, jab, scrape, jab, scrape… I grabbed my helmet, my sword, and I just tumbled through the air, flipping over and over trying to straighten the darn thing. But of course, now my rutting scarf was twisted around my rutting face…

Least I didn’t need to see to land, not here. I tore at the stupid thing and slowly descend onto the pearly, pearly balcony. Prettiest darn thing in this whole freaking city, nice shiny gold-and-white tower just jutting out from the black hunk of rock they got everywhere. If I didn’t know how solid this rock was (and I kicked the darn thing several times to make sure), I would’ve sworn it was made from the purest white of the fluffy frigging clouds.

Course...

I chuckled to myself, thinking just how odd it is. Prettiest little white tower holds the darkest of the shadows in the city. Wouldn’t our Glorious Employer be happier surrounded by the stone as cold as he was?

Well, maybe the nice, bright, downright cheery location will make him a bit more charitable about the bad news. I finished tossing my scarf into place (Equestrian skies are just stupid cold at night), ripped off my helmet and tried to use the reflection to not look like baked roadkill. I managed to get myself looking like an ugly crow’s nest. Good enough, I guess.

No point in delaying this anymore.

I stared at the opening, a glass set of double doors glinting in the sunrise. Blinding me, again. Should probably get inside now, tell him the news I got.

Hrm.

Yep. Probably should have gotten a snotball to do this.

Too late, no time like the present, a million other pony adages, let’s get my stupid feathery butt in this tower and get the Glorious Employer what he needs to hear, nice and quick. Quick and easy. Fast and—

Calder. You are a coward and you make me sick.

I slammed my shoulders into the glass double doors and they popped open, bouncing and rattling around in their hinges. It was dim in here, near black with all the curtains drawn. Pony chairs and couches, all dusty and funny smelling. I would’ve waited and let my eyes adjust, but I’d already played the part of a chicken once today. Glorious Employer wasn’t here, so who gives a crap, keep moving your stupid feathery butt, Calder.

The hallways were dead quiet, so of course he knew I was here. Plates in my armor clinked and clattered no matter how tight they’re packed together. And the echo in this place! It was downright offensive. I could’ve probably heard a finch fart from a hundred paces.

I glared into each room briefly as I passed. No, not here, not there, best not to pry, let’s get this over with, let’s go. C’mon, Calder, keep looking… Even if you don’t want to particularly find, keep moving, keep yourself moving.

“O… Hello?” Best I was polite, right? Ponies, they've got all these rules about how to talk to who, and if you do it wrong, they get offended. You'd think, leader of these little ponies, he’d care the most about how he’s talked to. They’d have laid down some special protocol.

But the only way a griffin knows they screwed up if they don’t come back. It feels like being an actor on one of those stages. Except, instead of getting a bad review if you mess up, you get iced. Not like that’d happen to me. I don’t even have real bad news. I can make it sound like normal news. Change of plans, that’s all. That’s nothing to be offended by, right? Won’t swear about it or nothing…

I noticed, I’d been staring at a room for a long time. He’s not there, Calder. Keep walking. Keep your stupid, feathery… No, best to scrub any insults from my brain now. Don’t want one to accidentally slip out…

“Glorious… God of the Shadows… Stallion?” Oh, if Garrik heard me sounding so much like a baby chick… “I have an important message for you! … Sir?” All my feathers feeling a bit on edge, I was neither approached, nor notified of anybody’s presence. “Your Majesty, Sir? Any, uh, anypony home?” That was polite, right? Mentioning ponies? I heard some of those spineless little… Pegasus (no more rude thoughts no more rude thoughts). They drop ‘pony’ into half their words, that’s how these things go, right?

And it was right about then, I noticed the smoke. That smoke. That curling, hot smoke that always follows at our Glorious Employer’s heels. I prayed to the Saints that he heard me coming. I don’t want to test whether or not he likes surprises.

So... I just followed that smoke. And it’ll lead me right to him. Plain and simple.

The room I found, well, I would’ve sworn up and down that it was his room. High ceilings. Gigantic, golden double doors, both open. Really regal. It was covered in black cloth. But not just any black cloth, it looked like shadows themselves sort’ve… twisted and lifted, sucking the light from everything and everywhere. They spilled from the roof, flowing to the floor in big mounds. And right in the middle of it they seemed to twirl into a single point…  

I thought I saw a little line of blue, just a sliver floating in that dark. I, well, I had to take another step forward, just to make sure…

And just one of his eyes popped open. A neon point, practically glowing. Staring right at me.

I nearly knocked my helmet off, with how hard I saluted.

“Your Lordship!”

No, stupid, Calder! Not polite enough, not nearly polite enough! He remained silent, didn’t even move to the sound of my voice. Didn’t even blink.

“Reporting!” Saints shoot me if I stutter… “On my regular rounds on the north side of the city, I saw the escaped Draconequus! The one with the golden necklace!” I had dared to joke about that once, with Garrick, with Grenda and Brent. Funny little thing to want, a necklace. But it wasn’t. Not funny. Not my business to laugh. Calder, Calder, keep going you fool! “He and his two companions seemed to be heading North Easterly! My own team is still scouring the area, and we’ve sent messenger ponies up to both Greindbrent and Aldrychmoor. We’re just awaiting orders now, Your Almighty, Glorious Lordship!” Yes, better, much better conclusion. Please, let it be enough!

He didn’t even move. And I couldn’t look away. I stared into that one unblinking eye, watched as smoke and shadows curled past it…

And in a flash of green, the double doors slammed shut.

The boom echoed around me for the longest time, my deathbell. I was frozen in place, convinced the cold hand around my heart was going to make me drop dead in an instant. But the echoes died away… and the blood was still pumping in my ears.

So I spun right around and hightailed it as fast as I dared to depart.

Well, well that wasn’t so bad! Nah, it was freaking easy! Gave my report and walked away without a tail feather out of its rutting place! Heck yes, this is going to make one heck of a bar yarn.


XLV : Luna

The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 46

The Grey Potter

/story/11495/The-Steadfast-Sky

http://cosmicponyfiction.tumblr.com

~Luna~

I don’t think we’re ever going to be happy again. I can almost not see any time where we won’t be running, scared. Where I won’t be tugging at shadows and holding them close. I’m tired of it. I’m really, really tired of running and hiding.

We all were bunched together, just staring up at the sky. Lanterns were bobbing and weaving in the clouds. A lot of lanterns. Sometimes, I could hear the griffins screaming and screeching at each other, and I think all three of us were all hoping those calls stayed far, far away.

“How are they still able to find us?” Discord mumbled.

“They wouldn’t have been able to find us,” my sister quietly snapped, “If you didn’t fly up to that patrol and—!“

“Do you think we’ll ever see the sky again?” I asked.

My two friends both fell silent. I looked at Discord, and he looked a little puzzled.

“What do you mean by that, Luna?” he asked.

“The sky was so pretty, especially at night.” I quietly watched a hazy orange ball as it drifted over our heads. “Do you think someday we’ll make all these clouds go away?”

“Of course we will?” I liked that he phrased it like a question. Like it was a fact, and that it was strange to be asking it. There was a reason to be confident. Discord was confident. Why couldn’t I be?

“Going to be the first thing we do,” he continued, “Get rid of all these gloomy clouds. And then the system that keeps them in place.”

Things were silent again. I don’t even think the forest was making a sound. Just clanking armor and screeching birds…

Suddenly, my sister sniffed.

“I detest being powerless,” she said, voice low and scathing.

“We’re far from powerless,” Discord mumbled.

“We were powerless in Canterbury, and we’re powerless now,” my sister shot back. “I can’t wait until we get to Canterlot. Maybe there we’ll stop being so useless.”

I snuggled up close to her, trying to give Celestia quiet hug.

We didn’t say much else for the rest of the night.

~Θ~

We’re on the road again! Or… at least travelling. We couldn’t really stay on the road right now. No more pushing ourselves to exhaustion, though! Even though Celestia sometimes really wanted to. But at least there’s no more scary stuff chasing us all over the place. Except sometimes griffins. Sometimes. Well, at least my friends aren’t fighting. Right now.

But they were five minutes ago! Oh my gosh, how can I be so happy when stuff’s still not fine?!

“You know,” I said to Discord as I kicked my way through a bush, “It’s almost like you guys like to fight!”

“I guess it’s a little funny how worked up she gets,” Discord mumbled. “She probably thinks it’s funny that I stand up to her.”

I stuck out my lip, watching Discord as his eyes never left the ground. He’s been like this for days! DAYS! Snapping at Celestia, mumbling at me, avoiding the both of us sometimes! Well, I’ve seen plenty of sad Discord to last me a lifetime! I poke my hoof into his side, and he slowly looks down at it. Slowly looks up at me.

“Discord?” I huffed.

“What?”

“What has got you so down?”

He snorted, “Besides Celestia’s never ending attempts to chew my ear off?”

And of course, off in the distance and half hidden by a fern, my sister spun around.

“I’m still mad you know!” She shouted.

He rolled his eyes. “I know!”

“Well GOOD!”

“Why can’t you just understand?!” Discord shouted. “I had to make sure they knew we were out of the city, Celestia!”

“No you didn’t! The longer the Stallion didn’t know, the longer we had to get away without them chasing us!” She rubbed her hoof across her forehead, turning slowly in place. I could hear her still, extra quiet. “Goodness, we haven’t set foot on a road in days…”

“Guuuuys!” I groaned, rolling my eyes. “If this is supposed to be fun, can you just tell me so I don’t keep separating you?”

Celestia grumbled something about fun or not fun and mashed her way nosily through another bush. Certainly didn’t look fun to me. I turned back to Discord, staring at the ground again.

“So, that’s over.” I said. “And I don’t think that’s what’s bugging you, Discord.”

“I’m, um. Gimmie a second.” He ducked ahead of me. I could still see as he pressed his thumb into his forehead. “I’m also so, so very sorry that I left you in that hallway!” he exclaimed.

“Hallway?”

“Remember, when I went to go talk to Ruin?” He frowned at me with everything but his eyes. “You were hurting, barely able to cast. And I just left you there. It was selfish, and something could have happened, and—“

“But nothing did happen,” I pointed out.

“No. But what if it had?”

“I dunno!” I shrugged, “I don’t think it matters.”

“Yeah!” he nodded vigorously. “We all got out of the city safe. That’s what matters, right? That we’re all safe?”

Well he agreed with me quick! I must be pretty good at this!

“Of course!” I said.

“Nothing else matters, right?”

Wait, maybe this was too quick? I gave my friend a good, hard looking-at. He tried to look back, make eye contact and stuff. But he just couldn’t hold it. Maybe because we were moving through all these trees and plants and things, he had to keep his eyes on his feet.

Or maybe that was his excuse!

“Why do you keep asking me?” I said, “You keep trying to ask, over and over, with such a sad look on your face.”

“Aheh,” He looked away from me (again!). I could tell he was trying to force a grin. It was easy to see, because he was failing pretty terribly. “Well… bleh! Just glad to be out of there.”

“Me too! I mean,” I glanced up to my sister’s bobbing pink tail. “Glad we tried, glad it’s over.”

“Well good! Good that it’s good…”

“Discord.”

“Um?”

“You’re really, really bad at not acting sad.”

He snorted, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re still not happy about something!”

“Of course I’m happy.”

“Of course you’re not happy.”

“Everything wen