Special Guest Epilogue by Midnight Shadow
Epilogue: A Taste Of Home
Amber Nova looked down at the letter. It was... disturbingly plain. It lay innocently on top of another letter, a far older letter.
The first bore the Royal Seal of the Pony Sisters. The second the seal of the First Bank of Clydesdale; the name on the back was well known to her - but to very few others. That the letters had both found their way to her meant it was the official sort of business which was hard to ignore, even for the Grand Mage of the Royal Unicorn Corps.
Amber Nova’s brow furrowed. Whilst the name on the back was well known to her, the name on the front was even more so.
Amber Nova stood up, stretching. At something over a hundred and twenty, even with the control of magic she possessed, such an age was nothing to be sneezed at. She idly wondered if she’d live to be as old as her famed predecessor, Comet Tail. She also wondered if she wanted to.
“Ma’am? Is... is something wrong? Do you wish to make your inspection early?”
“No, Star Jewel, no. There is a rather... personal matter I must attend to. I must journey.”
“Great Mage, I shall make the carriage ready.”
Nova huffed and scowled, “I thought I made it clear that this was personal business. I will not be requiring the carriage. I shall travel myself.”
“B-b-but Great One...”
“Enough! I was not asking your opinion, I was not seeking your approval. Am I some foal needing my nostrils wiped and my tail cleaned? Perhaps thou dost desire to check if my weaning has proceeded apace? Begone.”
Star Jewel fled.
Amber Nova relaxed, and snorted. She had yet to instill the kind of fear that could cause the expulsion of bodily fluids as her predecessor had, but there was time. Oh yes, there was time, for her. For others, time oft ran out.
She lifted the first letter in front of her with her magic, positioning the glasses upon her nose and squinting through them. One of these days, she thought to herself, I must learn that spell to bend the air like a lens, but then glasses are kind of an expected feature of mine, and far more intimidating to stare down.
A small smile played her lips as she reminisced about her rise to power - power, but never glory. No, she wasn’t one for glory, despite the position she held. She had it because she deserved it, not particularly because she wanted it.
The smile left her lips as her suspicions were confirmed.
“Mommy! Why! No! I don’t wanna go!”
Caprice sniffed, weeping openly, “We must, my little one. We... we are no longer welcome in Summerland.”
“But I don’t wanna! Fluffy Stuff and Big Bear don’t have to move! Why do we?”
“And Daddy, not to be forgetting Daddy, Sweetness.”
Alexi, her Alexi. Her beautiful, proud Alexi.
“And Daddy,” Caprice leaned into her stallion, burying her head in his mane, “has to leave. That means you do too, love.”
“If you’re leaving, so am I!” Pumpkin said, trotting smartly up to the peach pony. A disappointed Blueberry followed her.
Strawberry skittered around Caprice’s hooves, bleating. She could talk, she’d been talking for a while, but today... today she felt sad, shocked, worried. Mommy wasn’t... wasn’t being Mommy like she should.
“There there, Strawberry. We’ll be alright.” Caprice bent down and licked her foal, her so very loved, so very special foal.
“We’ll all be alright. all of us. Together.” Pumpkin nuzzled Caprice, whose face lit up with the tiniest of smiles. Alexi curved a wing over his peach princess.
Caprice burst into tears again. She’d been doing that a lot, lately, ever since she’d been Venice one last time. She’d... she’d thought it was what everypony had wanted. There’d been cheers, hoof-stomps, celebrations, but then... no, Caprice, we don’t have any more pie. No, Caprice, we don’t have any fruit to spare. No, Caprice, I can’t watch Strawberry today. No, Caprice, Biscuit is sick and can’t play with Buttermilk.
Hopeful road now led somewhere, she realized, her heart heavy. This fact hadn’t brought joy, instead it had brought nothing but sadness.
Hopeful Road, she realized, led away.
Caprice’s eyes filled with tears as she took one last look back at the village. Her village, their village. Summerland. Lost in the wilderness of the Exponential Lands, they’d braved drought, they’d faced starvation. They’d made it rain like the ancient gods of old... and finally, they’d been found, rescued... and promised an easy life. The poison chalice, even here in Equestria.
Caprice hadn’t stood for it. No, Caprice had fixed everything with the help of her old self, Venice. She’d stared down a goddess, taunted a princess and had got her way, like so many times before... and Summerland, Only Mountain, The Galloping Gardens, even the forest, the cloud castle and the racetrack, had been moved, just like that, a distance so great she could barely imagine it - and all in a heartbeat. She hadn’t even noticed. Nopony had, at first.
Everypony in the village had been famous, of course, and for a time it was good. The stories started soon after however - the stupid newfoals had thought themselves lost in the Exponential Lands and instead had just been a few furlongs out of Salt Lick City.
Silly newfoals, foolish newfoals.
Caprice hadn’t cared. Nopony had cared, at first, but then the realities had hit home. They didn’t have money, they didn’t have resources. All they had was a fantastic tale that nopony would believe and a hill with pretentions.
The only other thing they had was somepony to blame.
The only thing Caprice had... was Alexi. And Pumpkin. And Strawberry, and Buttermilk.
Caprice lifted her head high, squared her shoulders and flicked her tail. She kicked her back hooves one after like she was cleaning them from an accident in the little mares’ room. Caprice would leave and never return, and she would take her family with her.
For the second time in her life, she left everything behind. Well no, not quite everything. This time she had everything she needed.
“Kyllä tämä tästä.” Alexi whispered.
“Is this all the great Alexi has to say for himself?” teased Caprice.
“Ah, my peach princess, such words as Alexi Venäläinen would say are not suitable for such sweet ears as yours.”
Alexi had rolled his eyes, spread his wings, puffing himself up to be as big as possible. “Te saatte kaikki haista paska! Saatanan kusipäät!”
“And what did my big strong husband say to Summerland?”
“Alexi was, ah, wishing them well.” The pegasus seemed rather reluctant to explain the precise meaning, but Caprice wasn’t about to argue, for once.
“Then Caprice wishes they would haista paska as well.”
The family, the herd, set off trotting with nothing but what they carried.
As Summerland disappeared into the haze behind them, Caprice felt the sun on her back. She soon found herself in the wilds again. This part of the Exponential Lands was no longer the desert it had become just after its amazing creation as pristine wilderness from the dead husk of Earth. With the resurgence of ponykind, most of them newfoals, it had blossomed. From desert to paradise, to desert... to paradise again. Maybe there was a lesson there, she reasoned.
She let her mind wander, as her family, her herd, moved. When they called a halt, instinctively she bent her head and cropped the sweet grass.
Tears fell, again, but this time at something she’d forgotten. Summerland village had grown self-sufficient during it’s brief exile, and the need for such things had ended. Now, out of necessity, Caprice re-learned the simple truth. She had forgotten just how wonderful it was to just taste the grass.
Amber Nova walked out of Canterlot Castle, alone, nothing but two almost-empty saddlebags on her back. All marks of her station were left behind in that stuffy dungeon better known as the Sacred Guildhouse of the Royal Unicorn Corps. Those dundering blockheads known as the Royal Unicorn Corps would breathe a collective sigh of relief at her sudden holiday and disappearance. Likely they would share round the faint hope that she had left for good, so somepony a little bit less like Comet Tail the Insufferable could take over, and they could all get back to the quiet life they’d been enjoying before those blasted newfoals turned everything upside down.
Amber laughed to herself, and broke into a trot, then a canter, and finally a gallop. As she moved, she weaved a spell. This spell was rather important to her, and she mentally made a note to practice it more often. It was her spell, she had created it, it had given her her name. Its creation was what led to her getting accepted to Celestia’s prestigious School for Gifted Unicorns, and its perfection was what led to her almost meteoric rise to power.
Her horn burst into light, sparks spun from her hooves, and she began to really move. She moved without moving, her body slipping the mere bonds of space and time to jump kilometers at a time, bending the very fabric of reality around her to cross vast distances in moments. Very few unicorns could manage her spell for long, none could keep pace with her - save the princesses, but they didn’t seem to need to. Most unicorns had never given the idea any thought - if they wanted to go anywhere, they would teleport. Amber Nova was different. Amber Nova was a newfoal.
Amber Nova had another name, one she was returning to.
One her mother had given her, many years before.
Amber Nova, Great One of the Royal Corps, was better known to a very select few as Buttermilk.
Buttermilk was going home.
The house was small, modest, unassuming. Few knew that the pony who had lived here was a newfoal, let alone a newfoal who had had the temerity to face down a god. Amber idly wondered if her fate had been a curse or a blessing. As she nosed her way inside, she caught the faint whiff of decay and death. It caused her ears to flick back against her skull and she silently admonished herself for it.
“Madame, as first of kin, we alerted you. You... were not easy to find.”
“My mother and I did not always see eye to eye, she preferred to keep herself to herself.”
“According to your wishes, we have preserved her body, and-”
“Thank you, that will be all.”
“I said thank you, that will be all.”
The constable pony bowed his head, nervously. This strange yellow pony with the burning yellow eyes quite turned his water. He skittered out of the house and excused himself on some makeshift errand. Amber watched him from the window and laughed. Then she turned to the old mare on the bed.
Once this mare had been peach-coloured, she had smelled of love and milk. Now, she was gone.
Amber bent her head reverently, and gave her mother one final kiss. “I’m sorry, Mama, please forgive me.”
“You never let me do anything I want! We always have to move! Don’t talk to the boys! Don’t stay out late! Don’t this, don’t that!”
“Clop off, Mom!”
Caprice had bit her tongue, shaken. She remembered her father, long, long ago in another life. She remembered, however briefly, her mother. Venice had been alone, even when surrounded by adoring suitors. Caprice on the other hoof had very few members of her herd, and she needed every single one of them. Now, one of them was seemingly leaving.
“That’s not my name.”
Caprice had turned away so her daughter wouldn’t see her tears, “Then... what is?”
“I don’t know. I’ll tell you when I know. Goodbye, Mom.”
“I love you, Mom, but... I have to go.”
And just like that, she’d left. The stipend and scholarship in her bags, she’d left.
Oh, she’d made contact with her mother again, but briefly and infrequently. Then, slowly, not at all. Now, it was too late. Her father, Alexi Venäläinen, had consoled her mother at the loss of their eldest daughter. Eventually he too had passed on.
She’d shown up for the funeral, of course, and she’d done something she hadn’t understood until now. There were two jars in her saddlebags. One was empty, the other held nothing but ashes. She’d stolen the body of her father out from under the noses of everypony and had secreted his remains away. She hadn’t understood it. She’d loved her father, she’d loved her mother. She hadn’t been able to stand them, but she’d loved them.
“Mother,” she whispered, “I brought Father to see you. You’re going to be together again, forever.”
The mage-fire burned hot, far hotter than any fuelless fire had any right to burn. To some the scene would be grizzly, the stench unbearable. Amber Nova watched dispassionately as the body of her mother burned in the white-hot flames. It didn’t take long, and she didn’t flinch, not for a moment, as she held the body aloft. It was effortless for her to keep the fire going as she rendered the mortal remains of one of the ponies most dear to her to nothing but white ash.
Eventually the flames died out, the floating ball cooled, and Amber funnelled the ashes into the urn. Wordlessly, she sealed the top and placed the urn in her saddlebags.
Mother would go home where she belonged, and if those ridiculous ingrates in Summerland dared whisper so much as a smidgeon of disapproval she would turn them all to sheep and set the dogs on them. She’d buy dogs, train them specially and then set them on the sheep.
Amber Nova traversed Equestria in a blaze of light, sliding through some nether-corridor that so very few ponies understood. Within a few minutes she had crossed half a continent, and came to rest in the middle of a desert, just outside Salt Lick City.
There was a road. One road. The only road, still. Now, however and to her great surprise, this one lonely road was almost a megahighway of the sort she had learned had existed in Old Earth before it had been gobbled up like some gobstopper. She was an expert with her magic, and there was a distinct lack of explosions and screams from her sudden arrival - it was, after all, a rather dangerous spell to the uninitiated - but she could hardly have been more shocked.
“You stupid old mare,” she whispered to herself, “did you really think nothing would change in a hundred years?”
The village was a village no longer. Neither was it a town, it was practically a city. Amber stared up at the raceway, thronging with pegasi, unicorns and earth ponies alike. Cloud walking spells and smoke-powered elevators, all the crazy hallmarks of newfoals that other places, even places such as Manehatten and especially stuffy metropoli such as Canterlot, lacked.
Presently, she heard music, and had to jostle to pass through the growing crowds. Eventually she was stopped by a large red ribbon, set between two bollards.
No, she realised, it was a huge long makeshift fence. The main street lay beyond, and this was where the music was coming from. A marching band, some hundred strong, meticulously in time, paraded down Main Street to rapturous applause and an almost constant rain of confetti.
“Excuse me,” asked Amber of a passing pony, “I’m trying to get to Alexi’s Hill... what is all this?”
“Alexi’s Hill? No chance, miss, though you can hear the address from almost anywhere.”
“Address? Why... why can’t I get to Alexi’s Hill?”
“The ceremony - don’t you know about it? I thought everypony knew about the ceremony. It’s Capricious Day, don’t you know? What on Equestria are you here for if it’s not to celebrate Capricious Day?”
The pony moved off, ostensibly to get a better look. Amber, not to be denied, followed. She soon found herself heading in a general wave towards a hill in the distance.
That has to be it, she thought to herself, but what is all this... bedlam?
“My good sir, either you inform me what this... Capricious Day is, or I shall forcibly remove your hooves and stuff them in your ears.”
“It’s Founders Day, when we celebrate the founders of Summerland City, Summerland County. Look, listen, Mayor Mare’ll be along in a tick... there she is! Mayor Droplet the Third. Woohoo! Mayor! Go Mayor! I voted for you!” the un-named pony shouted, waving a hoof and stomping.
“That’s it! Founders Day or not, I have had enough!”
Amber Nova ducked under the ridiculous red ribbon and stormed past the carriage being pulled by four earth ponies. With her tail held high, she cantered up Main Street, through the band, who broke left and right, their melody falling away into squeaks and wild trumpets, and up to Alexi’s Hill.
She had been expecting to see nothing.
When she’d left, not that she really remembered, the hill had been nothing but a hill. Her family had stood their lonely, symbolic vigil on that hill, so very long ago. From it, Alexi and Caprice had pulled their little fledgling community together, before they had been so cruelly cast out.
Now though, now the hill was not just a hill. Upon it were two things.
One was a wall of black basalt with golden chicken-scratch Equestrian names on it, one hundred and fifty two of them, if her count was correct.
The other was a statue, or rather a monument - a collection of statues.
Amber fell on her rump, just as the cantering constable ponies surrounded her.
“Ello ello, what’s all this then?”
“Constables, my good sirs, I can handle this. Madame, please, are you quite alright?”
“What... what is all this?”
“That? That’s the wall. This side has on it every pony who lived in Summerland, during the five year exile, every pony, so that we do not forget. The other side... has the name of every victim of Windfeather’s plot. Once a year, my dear, we gather here and read their names.”
“And... what,” Amber’s voice faltered, “what is that?”
Mayor Droplet the Third cleared her voice, and activated the amplification spell, “That is the monument to our greatest folly, our greatest shame. That is the monument to the five, to Caprice, Alexi, Pumpkin, Buttermilk and Strawberry.”
“Shame? Shame? How dare you...” Amber’s voice was ice cold.
Mayor Droplet took a step back, “I don’t... I don’t think you understand. This is a monument to our founders, to honour their name. We tell the story every year, lest we forget. When this town was founded, one hundred and twenty five years ago, it was lost in the Exponential Lands. Five years they were out there, living off grass, fighting to build a community, braving the elements. They were newfoals, stranded by sedition and treason, left to die. Against all odds, they survived. They thrived, as true Equestrians would, better even! After the five long years of isolation, they were found.”
Amber spoke up, interrupting, “The princesses appeared on that day, to oversee the transferral. We were to be moved.”
“They had decided, we were going to get a new home, and all we had to do was pay the price. Thirty pieces of silver, my mother called it. I don’t know what she meant.”
“Caprice. I remember, though I didn’t understand. She rolled around in the grass, pointing up at the sky, at all the buildings. They were such pretty colours. We lived in tents, you know, at first. Just one tent, to start with.” Amber started to cry, “We figured out how to make rocks, where to get salt from, how to make it rain. We grew our own food, made a forest... and they were going to take everything away from us. Everything we’d built. Mother couldn’t let that happen. She taunted the princess, and for her crimes, the whole village was moved, just like that. I know how she did it now, the princess. I’m one of the few who do. I could never do it, not on that scale...”
“You..?” Mayor Droplet was all but speechless.
“Do you know what they did to my mother, my family, to me? They kicked us out.”
“...Who are you?” asked Mayor Droplet, in a strained voice.
Amber walked up to the monument, to a small unicorn foal. The monument was some metal, dark with age, but the likeness was surprisingly accurate.
“My mother was Caprice, my father was Alexi. My name is Buttermilk. I have come to bring my mother and father home.” Amber floated the two urns out of her saddlebags, where they were taken by the astonished mayor.
The crowd grew silent. At the front of the throng were a whole host of ponies of all shapes, sizes and colours. As one, they stepped towards the butter-yellow unicorn, looked into her eyes, and bowed.
Mayor Droplet the Third, with tears in her eyes, spoke first, “My grandmother realised her error a long time ago, but it was too late, we could never find Caprice or her family to apologize. We always hoped we’d get the chance to... to say sorry, to beg her forgiveness. We’d let the same base pettiness we’d thought better left behind us overcome our better judgement. Caprice took away our ‘easy life’ when she arranged to have Summerland moved, but she gave us so much more. She gave us our dignity, our pride, and our home. In her honour we named her birthday as Founders Day, as Capricious Day.”
Mayor Droplet turned to the crowd, “She gave us Summerland!”
The crowd roared, and Amber Nova wept.
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