Prologue: Oddity in the Gallery
The Pony City-state of Roan
1491 A.R. (Astrolia’s Reign)
The cobbled stones that made up the well-trotted backstreets of the city were wet and slick this night from the earlier rain, glistening as Astrolia’s Moon stone brightly overhead to grace the whole of Roan in its everlasting beauty. While many of the city’s ponies had long since turned in for the night, the tall stone and wood buildings, with their façades showing the rich and blooming nature of Roanan architectural supremacy, still gave the city streets a life of their own that might be well appreciated by the occasional late-night traveler or night watchpony.
But for one pony, the majestic sight was ignored as the sound of his beating hooves pounded and clopped awkwardly against the street, moving at the fastest gallop that could be achieved while turning the tight corners of the edges surrounding the stone buildings.
It was all he could do to keep himself moving as the stallion’s hooves tried to slip out from under him in the dark alleyways. His large golden eyes looked about wildly, the streets he was so familiar with during the daytime taking on an alien appearance and tone in the dim lunar light. Panting while he kept his legs pumping, his chest burned painfully as the stallion now greatly regretted not taking the time to maintain his frame, rarely moving faster than a brisk trot most days.
Astrolia help him, he had to get away.
A cloud passed over the Moon just then, casting a deeper shadow over the city as fear and panic drove him all the harder. Still, there was a chance, however slim, as the pony took a hard left down an adjacent street and hopefully out into the open marketplace where help might be found.
What he had not expected was to slam headlong into a scaffolding that had been set up along the side of this particular plaza, sending him crashing and tumbling down the alley.
He wanted to cry out for help -- to call for aid -- but he couldn’t. There wasn’t time and he couldn’t find the breath to do anything except scramble up to his hooves and start again, dashing away as quickly as they would take him. He dared not look back as he came to another turn in the streets.
Where was he now? He couldn’t tell. He was going too fast. Was this Pomegranate Way? Or Marble Calf Street? Forced to make a choice, he turned right.
And only a few strides down the way, found a dead end.
“No…” was all he could utter between pained breaths, his knees trembling as his four legs threatened to give away underneath him.
Still unable to cry out, the unicorn had no choice but to turn, his backside pressed against the wall as his eyes scanned the darkness. The red beret on his head was off-center and leaned against one ear as his horn glowed slightly, lowered in an awkward defensive posture as he gasped for breath. His yellow mane and fur was matted with sweat, and he tried to steel himself against whatever might come around the turn after him.
Unbidden, he found himself wondering…
If this was the end…
...would anypony remember him?
Manehattan Museum of the Arts
991 C.R. (Celestia’s Reign)
-3000 years later-
A blonde-furred, yellow-maned stallion, adorned with a fashionable red beret and a trimmed goatee. That was the portrait that stood larger than life over the newly finished wing of the famous Manehattan Museum of the Arts, and was a perfect likeness of the unicorn to whom this formal affair had been dedicated to. A small crowd of well-dressed and proper ponies from all over Equestria took in the scene as the ribbon was cut. There was polite, toned neighing and hoof-clopping as the museum’s curator, a stuffy-looking old stallion with a painter’s brush set over a thick book as his cutie mark, shook hooves with the Mayor of Manehattan, an equally formal and elderly stallion whose cutie mark bore the image of a rolled up scroll and a quill.
Flashes of large, awkward camera boxes filled the area as the hoof-clopping applause continued, muffling the sound of the cameras while dozens of photographers jockeyed for the best shot. It was a formal occasion, of course; much of it for show as the scene was specially set for this rare and exclusive look at a pillar of Equestrian history, granted only to the upper crust of Manehattan society.
As several groups of the crowd began to mill through the new wing, one in particular was headed by an expert on the subject of so much attention. He led his charges along the path and gave a clear lecture to the gilded and fancy assortment of gathered unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies as they approached the original piece which had been reproduced for the banners that adorned the outside of the hall.
“Leonard DiHoovsie, born 1471 A.R. to a minor unicorn notary and a common earth pony mare. His likeness captured here by his student, Francio Oreo, he was easily the most accomplished and influential unicorn of his time. Remembered in this age primarily as an artist, Leonard was a Scholar of Magic, scientist, inventor, architect, engineer, botanist, anatomist, and philosopher of great talent, as well as a visionary far ahead of his time.” The tour pony nodded, his hoofs clipping the tile floor crisply as he led the procession towards a wall adorned with dozens of sketches of fantastic machines, pegasus wings and notations of their motions, and illustrations of different sorts of clouds.
“Long before the Noble House of Pegasus began their first tentative steps towards the taming of the weather during the Sisters' Reign, several hundred years after his passing, Leonard had already written multiple theses on the subject, rejected in his time as being far beyond the ability of any living pony. This, along with many of his other theories, have been proven time and time again to be correct, providing the building blocks of much that we ponies take for granted today.”
The small herd followed along as there were soft, pleased murmurings as to the nature of the sketches, so highly prized and sought after, their values in the area of millions of golden bits despite looking so creased and faded with age.
“And for this one night only, in commemoration of the historic three thousandth anniversary of its founding, the Royal Astrolia Society for the Preservation of the Arts has allowed for this viewing of these original works by the Master Artisan himself. Lesser-known pieces of art from later in his life, as well as originals of perhaps the most famed canvases and sketches in the history of Equis. From these rough sketches of his first thesis on the subject of magic: A Study of the Miraculous, to the crown jewel of the Royal Society’s collection: the famous Mara Lighta itself. Now, over here…”
The herd continued on, following and smiling like the expressions had been stamped on their faces as the tour continued, oohing and ahhing in all of the right places, some of them genuine while others merely followed along with their more artistically appreciative peers.
And one filly trotted along with them, almost unable to see in the ocean of legs as she tried to stay close to her family in this place, keeping quiet as she listened and tried to behave like a proper Manehattanite in spite of her growing disinterest and restlessness. She found herself wondering what her brother and Granny might be doing now that the Sun had set and the day’s work was done…
It was a slight gasp from her dear aunt that brought her attention snapping back to the present, noting several similar reactions.
“Ah, yes… This relatively unknown piece, thought to be one of Master DiHoovsie’s final works, has been the topic of much debate and discussion among members of the historical and artistic communities for centuries. Presented here for public display for the first time since the end of Astrolia’s Reign,” the tour pony droned on, standing next to a framed canvas that had caught the attention of the herd following him.
Now curious as to what had garnered such attention, the small orange filly pushed herself up to the tips of her hooves, struggling to see past the flanks of the adults.
“Entitled La Machina Impossible, or The Impossible Machine, this icon of unknown origin is believed by most artistic scholars to be symbolic of Leonard’s lifelong passion for flight, and an unfulfilled desire to experience it firsthoof, as magic of the age had not advanced to the degree required to allow even one of his ability to imitate the gift of birds or pegasi. The colors of the central object of the piece, often associated with sadness, denote what was in his time a depressing limitation, and the darkened storm clouds and lightning are thought to represent the harsh realities of his era. Certainly a rare show of expressionist tendency, and perhaps, overly fantastical notions compared to the majority of Leonard's better-known works of realism. Some historians claim that the piece was not done by DiHoovsie himself, but rather, one of his many students. Upon his passing, this particular piece was the only one of the Master's extensive collection of works to be donated directly to the then newly established R.A.S.P.A. Now, moving on…”
The herd began to move on, accepting the expert’s description of the work, many nodding in agreement with this interpretation as they continued to the next piece. They finally cleared the way for the single filly who stayed behind, looking up at the painting with her head turned at a slight tilt.
It was a tall blue box with windows on the sides, that seemed to be flying through a tunnel of storm clouds as streaks of lightning blazed past it.
And for the orange, blank-flanked filly, there was a strange sensation. A feeling as though, for just a moment before she had actually looked at it… it had been moving.
“Applejack, don’t fall behind, dear,” Auntie Orange called for her sweetly, clicking a hind hoof to get the filly’s attention.
“Ah… Ah’ve seen this before…” she found herself uttering, her speech slipping into her old farm-laden tone that her uncle and aunt had been trying to teach her to get past.
“Applejack! Time to get up!”
The voice wasn’t Auntie Orange this time, but the much higher and much more familiar tone of a filly that wouldn’t even be born for years yet.
With a slight start, Applejack opened her eyes and raised her head, the sleepiness that still permeated her entire frame keeping hold for a moment longer as she took in her surroundings.
The Sun was up and gleaming into her room, and there was the telltale sound of the rooster’s crow just outside her window. Her stetson hat was sitting in its familiar spot on the headboard of her bed.
“Hey, AJ!? You okay in there?”
Applejack didn’t answer. The farm pony’s thoughts were not on the orchard for once, nor the fact that she had slept in for perhaps the first time in years, nor even the sound of her younger sister kicking a hoof at the door and trying to wake the young mare.
Applejack’s thoughts were on what had transpired the night before on Stargazer Ridge… and the memory that had faded from her waking thoughts only to come crashing back to her in her sleep.
“Ah’ve…” Applejack shook her head even as the image of that painting from so long ago remained locked in her mind's eye.
A painting made almost three thousand years ago... during the Reneighssance.
“Ah’ve seen it before…”
Doctor Whooves: The Series
“Game of Stones”