Chapter 2: New Acquaintances
A fresh layer of snow crackled lightly under the hooves of Ice Crystal as she trotted merrily through the town streets in the orange light of dawn. Not many other ponies were out so early, only those whose shops opened earliest in the morning were awake while the rest of the town slumbered. On most days like that, when the snow was light enough to be left until a few hours in the day before being cleared, Ice would have been sleeping with the others. But today was a special day in her mind, and she was anxious to get to the market as early as possible.
Her saddlebags were loaded in their usual manner; one side was filled by her portable record player, while the other held around fifteen records from varying artists. She tried to bring a little bit of everything each day, but without being able to read the labels on the disks, mixing up her choices proved quite the challenge. Of course that did provide an element of surprise for the mare, since she never knew exactly what she was going to be listening to through the day's work.
But this day wasn’t just special because of what awaited Ice in the markets; it was also the day she would wake up early to make a stop at the local cemetery. It was the day of her weekly trip to visit her parents.
The cemetery had been cleared the day before by one of the other unicorns in the town, a pony by the name of Snow Stone, who also served as the local gravedigger. Part of the stallions duties included insuring the grass remained cleared of snow, but as early as Ice would arrive at the graves the snow had yet to be cleared. She didn’t mind much, her parents had always liked the town best when it was covered by a light layer of snow. Mother had always said the early morning sun gave it a beautiful orange glow, something Ice had often wished she could see.
In the mare’s muzzle were two bouquets of fresh picked flowers from the day before, kept lively and fresh in a vase which always sat at the head of her bed; one arrangement for each of her parents.
As she approached the graves, memories of her childhood filled the unicorn’s mind. The days spent playing games with her Mother while Dad was at work, helping her Dad pick out a gift for Hearts and Hooves Day, and the nights when her parents would take turns helping her study for the entry exam for Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. Even though she never did get into the school, the nightly stories were still a memory she held dear.
But unfortunately, everything has to end sometime, and in Ice’s case that end came abruptly and with more pain than she had experienced since. Everything crashed down in one fateful night, a night which still plagued her memory every time she visited her parents.
When she placed the flowers in front of the headstones, each carved into the shape of her parent’s cutie marks; a star above waves for Dad, and a single cloud for Mother, her thoughts drifted to the darker side of her past in Snowhoof. Her vision of the real world disappeared as her mind, overcome by the memory of the past, began showing her exact images of what she had seen over a decade before. The fear she felt, the first moments after walking into her home that night, and the clang of metal in the kitchen. Flashes of the faces of the griffins she hated, each with eyes glowing with malice, and the echoes of their words to her that night: they were so tasty…
The rush of memory and emotion which filled Ice brewed a crushing feeling in her chest, amplified by the wave of cold which engulfed her heart and the air all around her. Small specks of glittering ice filled the air immediately surrounding the mare as her tears froze onto her coat, the results of her power, her curse, her birth given control over the ice and snow; control that had taken the majority of her life to gain. This had finally given her an element of freedom after being controlled by the magic she had been born with throughout the entirety of her young life.
It was another reason she chose to wake so early in the morning to visit her parents each week. It was better if she was seen with total control, rather than others seeing the full truth; that Ice’s emotions still fought with her will in a constant war for control of her magic, and ultimately her body. In the past, her fear had been the greatest challenge for the young mare’s mind to defeat, trumped in one case by the pure anger she gained after the second worst day of her life.
Before her mind could travel to that day as well, Ice shook the thought from her head and turned her attention fully onto the graves at her hooves, forcing her magical vision to abandon its crusade into the past. She wiped her sore eyes with a pale blue hoof, absently trying to remove the still frozen tears upon her cheeks as a smile returned to her muzzle.
“I miss you Mom and Dad,” she told them with a sniffle before nuzzling each of the headstones gently with her nose. “I’ll see you next week.”
After spending a few more moments staring at her parents’ resting place, Ice had turned back to the walkway leading into Snowhoof itself. Only her hoof prints marred the snow covering the cobblestone path, and she didn’t see any others until she grew closer to the markets. Only the prints of adult ponies dented the snow on the streets, the foals still having yet to awake for school. A light breeze whistled through the town, gently pushing the blue of Ice’s poorly combed mane back from her face.
As she rounded a corner, the mare’s destination came into view; Needle’s Vinyl, the local record store. It had quickly become one of Ice’s favorite stores after its opening, and she visited often to keep up on new music releases and to improve her collection of records. Her visit this morning concerned both of those reasons, as her favorite artist had recently released a new song by the name of Manticore Boogie. She had been waiting a few weeks for the record to be available in Snowhoof, and Diamond Needle, the owner of the store, had done everything in her power to get a few copies in her shop.
When she entered the store, the ringing of the bell overhead sent a tingle of joy through Ice’s body. After weeks of waiting she’d finally get to hear the new song during work that day, and the thought of that always made her day a bit brighter than it already was. Needle stood behind her desk on the right side of the shop as usual, a small player resting at the center to sample music for her customers should they wish to do so.
The rest of the store was lined with shelf after shelf of circular disks of several sizes and with what Ice assumed were colorful labels. Cutouts of musical pony’s cutiemarks were hung over several of the shelves, allowing customers to quickly find their favorite artists or groups from anywhere in the store. A few less well known artists were harder to find, and usually a customer would need to ask Needle if she had a certain song in stock, but she was always anxious to help ponies find anything they wished.
The shop owner was a crème coated earth pony with a vinyl as her cutiemark and a short, red and blue dyed mane. She almost always wore a pair of mirrored sunglasses for a reason Ice never quite understood, aside from they likely looked stylish. From what she had told Ice of her past, Needle had once been a travelling DJ with a natural love of all music. However, her wide variety of choices when she performed at an event lead her to be less popular than DJ ponies who stuck to ‘party’ music, which was actually Needle’s least favorite form.
“It’s just random noises,” she argued. “Ponies need to remember that music needs form, inspiration, and above all; tell a story.”
Ice thought that the mare might be a little bitter, but she could agree that the ‘party’ music she had heard wasn’t exactly her favorite either. It was too fast and loud for her, but that didn't stop her from enjoying it on occasion.
“Ice! I think I know why you’re here,” Needle joked once the door closed behind the blue unicorn.
The crème pony ducked briefly behind her desk before returning with an unopened sleeve a little larger than her head. She placed the new vinyl on the table and smiled brightly from behind her glasses, “I’ve gotta say, you’ve made a great choice with this one girl.”
“I hope so! I’ve been looking forward to this since you told me about it,” the unicorn chimed. She practically appeared beside the desk in a blue blur with how fast she moved.
“You won’t be disappointed; I actually took one of these bad boys for my own stash.” As Needle spoke, she gently patted the top of the sleeve with one hoof, obviously satisfied with her new merchandise.
As the two mares spoke, the bell over the shop door rang as a new customer entered. Needle craned her head to the side and practically shouted, “Welcome to Needle’s Vinyl! Where music comes first and all sales are final!”
Ice giggled softly at Needle’s favorite joke, but one that probably wasn’t the best for attracting new customers. The unicorn turned her head to the side and allowed a moment for her magic to flash an image of the new arrival to her mind, revealing a cloaked stallion with an expression showing he wasn’t impressed with Needle’s joke.
The buck was a few inches taller than Ice and slightly bulkier in the chest and neck. Though Ice couldn’t tell, the stallion had a grey coat with white splotches spread unevenly over his body. His brown and rust orange colored mane was slightly disheveled as he lowered the hood of his cloak, revealing a pair of grey-blue eyes. His cutiemark was hidden entirely under the cloak which covered everything below his neck, only revealing his chest through an opening at the front.
“Cute,” the buck replied to Needle sarcastically, a scowl drawn across his muzzle.
“How can I help you today sir?” the music sales pony asked in a much more reserved tone, likely rolling her eyes behind the mirrored glasses perched on her nose.
“Do you have anything from Led Griffin?” he asked plainly. His eyes zipped around the store quickly as he spoke, freezing for a moment on the door and each of the two mares in front of him.
“Uh, I might. How 'new' are you looking for?” Needle raised an eyebrow behind her glasses as she made her way to one of the shelves at the back of the store. As she walked, a glimmer of light shone from her flank.
“Oh my gosh, Needle! You finally got it?” Ice squealed from across the room as she noticed a small nub on the side of the earth pony’s flank.
Needle continued trotting toward the shelves as she looked back to the small gem piecing in the center of her cutiemark. “Yeah, hurt like crazy,” she replied with a chuckle.
The stallion who followed behind the mare audibly scoffed at the excitement Ice and Needle showed for the piercing, eliciting a glare from behind the pair of mirrored glasses.
“What, not a fan of Flourishes Mr. Cloak?” Needle asked with a sneer. Cutieflourishes were a relatively new accessory which had become popular among many mares in Equestria, and normally involved a gem or metal accent pierced into the skin on or around a cutiemark. In Needle’s case, it was a small orb of obsidian at the center of the vinyl adorning her flank. Ice had been considering getting one, but the pain still gave her worry.
“Not particularly, no,” the buck replied defensively. “And it’s Lug Nut, not Mr. Cloak.”
“Lug Nut eh? Well you may not have the greatest eye for style,” Needle told him as she came to a stop in front of a display of disks. “But you do have a good ear for music. So what are we looking for here?”
Lug Nut looked over the albums slowly, taking a moment to read each title before moving to the next. Every so often he would turn his attention back to one he’d already seen. Ice began to giggle softly as the stallion’s nose scrunched up while he tried to decide on a purchase. After a few minutes, he pulled one sleeve from the shelf with his teeth and carried it proudly to the counter alongside Needle.
The crème pony smiled as her customer placed the vinyl carefully onto the counter. “Good choice, Houses of the Alicorn is one of my favorites.”
Ice cocked her head at the mention of the title, her horn sparking slightly as its angle changed. “I’ve never heard of that one; is it really new?”
Needle laughed as she rung up the purchase while Lug Nut turned his head to Ice with a soft glare. “Led Griffin…new? No, it’s a classic,” he told her plainly.
“Oh, are they any good?”
“Well,” the stallion turned to the disk Ice had purchased before looking back to the blind mare. “It’s a bit different than what you listen to, but most ponies consider it to be one of the best rock bands in history.” His voice was much softer than it was when he had first entered the store, though it still stayed mostly stern and blunt.
“I’ll have to give them a listen then, thanks for the hint,” Ice said with a smile.
“No problem Miss…”
“Ice Crystal,” she introduced herself with an outstretched hoof. “Good to meet you Lug Nut.”
Luna paced quickly through the throne room of Canterlot Castle, her hooves beginning to leave a dull spot on the normally polished floors from where she had been walking. The sun beamed in the sky outside, sending colorful patterns from the stained glass onto the floors all around her. Normally the sun high above would signal that the blue alicorn was likely sleeping away the day in her chambers, but the news from the night before had left her anxious and unable to sleep.
She couldn’t believe that it had happened, and that it wasn’t just a bad dream. A prisoner of Tartarus had escaped into the world, and regardless of what, or who it was, that was not good for anypony. The good news was that she was expecting a messenger to arrive shortly with news of exactly which inmate was missing, and if they knew who to look for, it would be easier to capture them as fast as equinely possible.
As she paced, the Princess came to a stop when a pair of shining gold hooves appeared in front of her. She lifted her gaze to her sister’s, a light feeling of embarrassment filling her.
“You shouldn’t pace so much when you’re nervous Luna, it gives you away,” Celestia told her with a small smile.
“I am sorry Sister, but I can’t help it. We’ve never had this problem before…” Luna turned her gaze to the large stained window above the castle doors, her mind racing through all of the horrors that might be on the loose in Equestria at that moment.
“It had to happen sometime,” Celestia said as she turned to face the large wooden doors leading to the castle grounds, a look of worry spreading across her own features as well.
The doors swung open with a resounding crash as they hit the stone walls on the inside, revealing the same young guard from that evening. Her maroon mane was disheveled and filthy with dirt and twigs from the run, and she heaved for breath under her dark armor. Luna held herself back from demanding a message from the exhausted mare, instead giving her a moment to regain her breath and compose herself.
“Your…Highness,” the mare panted between gasping breaths, her voice even more rough than the night before. “We’ve…we’ve found out who is missing.”
“And?” Celestia responded sternly, her manner now that of a ruler rather than a sister.
After a few more deep breaths, the mare took a few steps forward and pulled a large rolled scroll from her bag. She released the parchment to Luna’s magical grasp, reeling slightly from the sudden blue aura around it. “Don’t you mean ‘what’ is missing?” the Princess of the Night asked with a cocked eyebrow.
“No Highness, he’s got a name,” the guard stated matter-of-factly.
“And what would this prisoner’s name be?” Celestia asked as she read the scroll over her sister’s shoulder. It was a list of every inmate of Tartarus, from those with names, to those who were simply referred to as ‘The Kraken’ or something similarly dangerous sounding. Going down the list, each name and title had a small checkmark placed next to it, until the two alicorns reached one name which had been circled.
“Its name is Deimos, Highness.” The name which the mare gave matched the circled name on the list from Tartarus, but unfortunately it didn’t ring a bell in Luna’s memory.
“Sister, I don’t recall who this ‘Deimos’ is,” she stated as the scroll rolled back into a neat bundle before her.
“I’m afraid I don’t either,” Celestia said disappointedly. “Guard, do we know who this is?”
“I’m afraid I do not Princess,” the mare said softly. “I have not been at Tartarus long, but perhaps one of the older guards, or the Warden…”
“I will go Sister,” Luna demanded before the guard could finish her suggestion. “Please, let me investigate this.” At first the Princess didn’t know why she so quickly volunteered to deal with the escaped prisoner, but she soon knew that it was because the matter had been brought to her first, and as a ruler of Equestria she needed to take up the responsibility. Besides, her sister already handled many of the royal duties; she did not need the task of hunting down an escaped prisoner added to her list.
After a brief moment Celestia smiled and nodded to her younger sister. “Of course, I am sure you’ll do a wonderful job sister,” she said warmly. The outburst had been a brief reminder to her of the easily excited filly Luna had once been; a side of her sister she had not seen in a long time.
“Thank you,” the younger alicorn replied with reserved enthusiasm. She turned back to the young guard waiting just a few feet from her. “You may stay here and rest, you have earned it after such a long evening.”
The guard bowed slowly and offered a rough “thank you” before following a golden armored Royal Guard to their barracks for a meal and a nap. Once she had left the Castle, Luna turned her sister and offered one last warm smile before disappearing in a flash of blue light.
Once she was alone, a sense of dread passed over Celestia inexplicably, and she suddenly felt that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to let Luna go off alone.
Author’s Note: Lug Nut is not my own creation as an OC Pony, that honor goes to XT Vengeance, who has been so nice as to let me borrow Lug for this story. Thanks man.