The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 16
The Grey Potter
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.
“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…
“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 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.
“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.”
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!”