Part 2- The Crew.
I awoke sharply to the sound of clopping hooves, wondering to myself as my magic flowed on instinct whipping out the daggers which were hidden within my cloak, how long it had been since I had lived a life where instincts guided my every action. Sleeping that way, if you can call it sleep, was so different then the cushy and safe sleep I had obtained in my once mansion. It was like insomnia with sleep, there was the moments when my mind would enter what a science pony would call R.E.M. sleep; these moments would last a minute or two, like fireworks they went off and on allowing my consciousness to fade in and out of reality in a way that would leave me prepared for anypony who would think to attack me in my sleep. Hardly a restful way to spend a night.
Not that I would have wanted to sleep properly… with sleep would come dreams, dreams would breed nightmares… and honestly I didn’t think I could hoofle that at the moment.
The clopping hooves crashed across moss covered gravel and I slinked my way behind Luna, keeping my thinner form shadowed in the base; the sun was dull in the sky, hanging low at the moment on the other side; encasing me in the sweet darkness.
It took another moment for Celestia to arrive, I could see the rise and fall of her faded chest as she drew deep pants; sadly remembering a finer time when magic had flowed through her body and her wings would carry her forever and beyond without growing tired. This… this New Equestria was not looking so good to me.
For a moment her one good eye looked around panicked at my absence… I remembered that powerful Goddess who had stared me down and trapped me in stone. Putting away my blades with the faint navy glow of my magic I stepped out of the shadows silently breaking my cover. She looked at me slowly and I could see it in her eye, that regal mind of hers working out the instant while paralyzing her body to hide any shock of my sudden appearance. She was adapting well it seemed.
Looking at this crippled and broken being which was once a beautiful goddess, the celestial Sun herself, I found that deep inside I held no hate for her, no rage… not even disappointment. I instead felt only pity.
“Sorry if I startled you, Princess.” I apologized; I suppose I had spent my rage the night before when I sent her low… might as well be civil.
She did look startled now, I suppose she hadn’t expected such a response from me… a civil response from me… Suffice to say my emotions came and went in bursts and I had always been able to adapt quickly to events. Depression. Anger. Release. Numbness. I was back to a feeling that I was very used to… I was alone again.
“If you’ll follow me to the castle…” the voice pulled me back from my inner thoughts, looking to my eye-patched guide I nodded and with a soft glow of my unicorn magic I pulled the hood of my cloak low over my face.
“Lead the way.” I said in my silk voice, the poison of my bitterness having left me to my own devices in its wake.
When Celestia turned and began to walk away, leading me to Castle Canterlot I turned silently and took another look at my stone encased Princess and whispered softly, a voice that only she could hear; or so I would tell myself later.
“I will save you, Luna.”
I was surprised to find that Canterlot the city itself had appeared relatively unchanged. There were some parts where plants had gotten a little unruly and the marble had seem faded but beyond these small aesthetic differences the city I remembered was still standing and seemed full of life. There were ponies moving in the streets, Pegasi flying through the early morning air; I saw a couple of unicorns sit down at an outdoor coffee house to a cup of what I could only describe as the single, best smelling cup of hot liquid I have ever and will ever come to know. I suddenly found myself considering the act of doing a quick silent take-down and enjoying a cup myself; I felt famished.
How long had it been since I’d eaten, how long since I had a drink? Over thirty long years encased in stone did little to keep me well feed; merely alive in a form of stasis where food was not required. For the first time, since I had spoken of Calimare to Luna I felt completely and utterly weak.
“Princess…” I stammered falling to my knees, and swaying against the café’s small white picket fence separating the young couple from my collapsing body. Turning in surprise I found my weight being support on her white flank.
“You can eat at the castle; it’s just a ways further.” She whispered I was drawing a crowd: rule one of survival, never draw a crowd. Pulling myself up I attempted to close my senses, catching the smiles and waves that Celestia was getting; they loved their Princess and she was out among them, loving them back I supposed.
But there were a lot less smiles then I remembered the last time I graced Canterlot with my presence. Leaning heavily on the Princess I allowed myself to be guiding using as little energy as I could; I could feel my stomach rebelling against me as it sought an answer to its hunger. I was more than tempted to dive into the nearest bush.
I focused on whatever else I could though, eyes taking in the colorful buildings which dotted Canterlot as we made our way through the back streets which separated my statue (or myself?) from the Castle. The area had the rustic feeling of a place past its prime and I could taste the lingering scent of depression on my tongue; though it may seem unchanged the mood of the land had changed, the air itself was tainted with this plague just like every pony around me. It was a stagger in my step as I consider the implications, every mare and stallion around me was becoming, if not already was, completely devoid of magic…
Sobering thoughts as that very rarely enter the mind I suppose.
A shadow ripped through the sky pulling me from my silent contemplations as the Princess and I reached the front steps to the massive stone castle with its spiralling towers. On instinct I pulled my hood down sharp over my face casting it in shadows as I spied at whatever had blocked out the pale looking sun.
It was a dragon with scales of the deepest red; a massive wing span the length of four ponies easy, flying freely over the castle before disappearing over the roof. Celestia, for her worth, could sense that my mood had shifted instantly.
“The emissary from the Dragon Lands…” Celestia explained to me as she helped me up the steps; my hunger made me feel my age, and that was truly a horrific thought.
I consider the implications, what Celestia needed to know and what I needed to keep secret until I could confirm my suspicions and trust me I had many at this point, that dragon with brilliant red scales and eyes as black as my own was trouble but I couldn’t rightly inform her of how I had come to this information ‘suddenly’, and honestly… I didn’t think Celestia could handle the truth.
“Will he be here long…?” I asked vaguely, reminding myself to play it cool.
“Well he has his own den on the other side of the mountain and is semi-permanent resident since more concrete dealings with the dragons started.” She said seeming to take my curiosity at face value, she probably thought I had never seen a dragon before, let alone that one specifically.
“Do me a favor Celestia…” I said pushing open the door to the castle with my magic allowing her to lead us in where I found a long wooden table lined with chairs in the main hall, a variable feast set out before one of the seats near the head, opposite the throne. Fighting back the urge to lunge for it I finished my request before diving hoof first into the food. “Do not let that dragon leave.”
It was not until I had almost finished in my ravage conquest of the dinner table that the doors opened and Celestia stood up from her throne. I had been in this room before as a servant; getting close to the Princesses without their knowledge as I attempted to gain favoured position which would make foal-napping Luna all the easier… so much had changed in these thirty odd years, I remembered how busy this hall would be with servants and nobles and I wondered silently how many this plague had claimed? Turning my head I noticed a group of six ponies; their shadow at least for the sun was taunting the other side of the door casting their front in brilliant shadows. My entourage I assumed, finishing my food and pulling my hood lower with my cloak. I had always, for all of my lived life been a loner, this had only changed when I had taken Luna into my custody and I discovered the power of a special somepony who would listen to all the hate and pain inside… now it was gone again…
I followed the crippled Princess down the length of the table where the six mares(for now it was visible to me that they were mares) had lined up.
“Thank you for coming so quickly my faithful students.” Celestia said; her voice shifting from the tyrant I had once known, it was motherly and doting.
“Anything for you Princess.” The one furthest to the right and nearest to myself and the Princess said with a low bow, I walked closer to get a look at them all.
The one on the right, who had spoken to the princess was a sturdy looking unicorn with a brilliant lavender coat and dark purple hair lined with a lighter lavender. Her eyes were a finer shade of magenta; her cutiemark a large star with six smaller orbiting bodies. She had a gash running down from the top of her right ear over across her lips and down half of her neck; it looked deep and painful, jagged. There were straps of leather wrapped around her legs and roughly worn iron shoes covering her hooves; a closer look showed a piece of her left ear missing and deep bags under her eyes from sleepless nights. This was Twilight Sparkle; the Princess introduced me to her protégé and personal apprentice. Turning from her I looked at the next mare in the line.
This mare, a Pegasus, once had a bright yellow coat which had faded, and long candy-floss like mane which had darkened with the passing of time; she was tall, taller than me. A staggering height for a mare. She had soft, almost droopy blue eyes which would shift whenever her wings gave an involuntary twitch; around her neck was a scarf with a halo imprinted on it; a trio of butterflies danced upon her flank. My scanning eyes noticed a gentle and under spoken favouring of her right side, the left hind leg seeming to be injured; blocked from view was a three-clawed gashed running down her flank to her knee which I would discover later. Her name was Fluttershy, dully noted.
The third mare in was the roughest looking. Over her right eye was a rough, rainbow colored bandage which ran through her like coloured mane and rested just behind a half remaining left ear. On her back was one wing which twitched excitedly as if begging to be left free while the other was wrapped in a tight bandage which was coiled around her chest. A simple glance at the wounded appendage revealed to me that it would never fly again… I had seen breaks like that in Calimare… often as a form of torture. Her own, violet eye, contrasting sharply against her cyan mane and white smile of confidence; this Rainbow Dash exuded an aura of power, flightless or not. The thunder cloud on her back raining down a bolt of lightning rainbow upon her flank.
Beside her was the most offensively pink earth pony that I had ever had the occurrence to see, now I’ve lived a suspiciously long life and never before had I seen something quite so…pink. It almost seemed an affront to my shadowy nature on a genetic level, the Earth Pony before me (which was introduced quickly as Pinkie Pie) had a thick magenta mane and tail and eyes of a dark, sea blue. On her flank where three balloons (two blue, one yellow…but I digress, details upon details), out of all the mares she seemed the less roughened up out of all the six mares…on the surface at least. The was a bubbly smile on her face but I didn’t buy it, at least not on the same level she was portraying it; there was a haunting shadow in those eyes that distracted me from the innocence of that smile.
Beside Pinkie Pie was an orange earth pony wearing a black cowpony hat which was low over her face, a band of sheer white wrapped around it; around her neck was a gentle colour with a white, red, and orange gemstone in its center. There was a cut on her chin, nothing large like the gash which run down Twilight’s face, there was however a slight discolouration on her coat around the shoulder leading back to her stomach and that hoof never seemed to have as much weight on it as the others. Three apples floated peacefully on her flank, Celestia introduced this new pony to me as Applejack.
Lastly, at the end was what I could only assume was a truly beautiful pony for her coat had that… remembrance of vibrant white that was only match by freshly fallen snow; it had not however retained that luster. The pale grey of her coat matched a thick streak running through her royal blue mane; a grey not unlike the stripe running through my own aged hair. The poor pony had deep set eyes and a nervous tick in the hind leg, almost like a flight response; a twitch that was only encouraged by the nervous light in her faded eyes. Her body had the shape of a deeply beautiful pony, even I was aware of a good looking mare when I saw one apparently… Her tail was short and jagged looking with the same tell-tale line of grey which followed to where the curl was cut off by the outer edge. On here flank were two gemstones and a scar almost like a burn mark where a third would have been; the same style and shape as the one on Applejack’s choker. This unicorn was Rarity.
They all introduced themselves to me in turn as the Princess rhymed off their names and I took each one in in their totality. Just as I was about to make my statement and explain my first step of our little battle plan a shadow blocked all of the door and a seven foot tall, wingless dragon slinked in.
“This is Spike, Twilight’s assistant and a dear friend.” Celestia explained introducing me to the lizard. I took this reptilian in, no way prepared to trust a Dragon… not after what I expected.
He had long, jagged claw ending forearms and hind legs of a similar ferocity. His form slunk down to be near level with the ponies, he set his right arm over Rarity’s back as he touched her I notice the shiver run down her spine; his slit-pupiled eyes were staring me down just as I was staring him down with mine from beneath my hood. He had rows of green spines going from the top of his head down his back, pressing in against his vibrant purple scales; there were scars here and there, tender spots which had never healed over correctly. I memorized everyone of them.
“Pleasure to meet you.” The dragon hissed at me in his deep voice, it cracking a little towards the end, this one was still a child; nothing like the monstrous beast which had flown over head before.
“Spike can send me messages with his flame…” Celestia explained pulling my eyes and head away from the dragon. “He will be crucial for communication.”
“Can you send one back.” I ordered from beneath my hood; I was to lead these ponies, we were not comrades out on some noble quest, I was fighting to save Luna and these were my soldiers, they had a place to learn.
“At least three times a day.” Celestia said calmly not faltering at my tone, she had learned a lot of my personality and mannerisms… perhaps Luna had… No, don’t think of her right now, not until the job is done. Focus.
“Good, well ladies…” I paused and turned my hooded head back to the dragon. “and dragon, my name is Silk D’rouge and its time we went over the ground rules. If I tell you to run you run, if I tell you to stop you stop; going against my word is nothing short of treason and I will deal with it accordingly, I promise you.” I threatened, not an empty threat either, I meant every word that I uttered to those six. “I am doing this for personal reasons and I’m only accepting you all along because the Princess…” a glance to Celestia. “Believes that you will prove yourself useful to me.” I took time looking into each one of them and they looked back trying not to falter as the hot coals of my eyes tore at them.
“Where will you go first…?” Celestia asked me, surprising me honestly. I had assumed by now she would have guessed.
“We’re going to the mansion back in Springhoof.” I stared her down for a moment. “Any problem?”
“No, none at all...” Celestia said quietly looking away from my stare then, she was torn she wanted to attack my motives I could tell that, she wanted to argue that I was being too personal and going there to see things that Luna had left behind not to try and find a cure.
I won’t lie, that was a really big part of it, but there was something else nagging at me; there was something between this plague and that room… I knew there was, deep in my core.
“Well with that…” I walked between Applejack and Pinkie Pie, sliding through them with the gentle grace that was my talent and skill. “Shall we ladies.”
Luna was waiting for me there in the past. At the place where we spent our time together, the place where it all began.