The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 13
The Grey Potter
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!”
“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.
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.