The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 33
The Grey Potter
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.”
“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.
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…”
“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…
Before he could come any closer, Luna hopped in front of me, horn and Element radiating a cool blue aura.
“Harmony blast!” she shouted.
“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…
A shadow shifted beside me, bright eyes flicking open in the darkness, wide open in shock.
“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…”
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!”
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.”
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…
“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.
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.”
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.”
“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?”
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…
“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.
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
“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?”
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…”