I stretched behind my desk. It had been a long day and there was still a significant stack of guard profiles in front of me. Each one hoped to fill the now vacant spot in Radiant Orchid’s squad following Iridescence’s promotion. I had finally narrowed it down to a short list. That had only eaten up half a day.
Miley was the other half. She had managed to trip, knock over a statue and, as a result, create a pony-sized hole in one of the palace walls. It was her biggest mishap thus far… except that it wasn’t. When the facilities ponies came to patch up the damage, one of them noted that some sort of mites had been aggressively burrowing into and eating the local support beam.
Had there been no hole, facilities would not have seen the damage. I was told that the floor could have given way into the office below at any time should sufficient weight be applied to it.
It wasn’t abundantly clear on whether I should cite Miley, reward her, or just sweep it under the rug like usual. It was also getting late. The sun had been down for an hour or so and I was about ready to go home. Tomorrow, Miley. I closed the file and started to leave.
There was a knock and the door opened suddenly. It missed my nose by half a hoof’s length.
“Oh, Sergeant, I’m so terribly sorry!” Lavender exclaimed.
“No harm done. What can I do for you?”
“Princess Luna is asking for you and she is in a mood.”
My ears twitched. “A mood? She is never in a mood. What sort of mood?”
Lavender shifted. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say sad. She has us stationed outside her chambers. I’d have gone to Sergeant Orchid, but the princess asked for you specifically.”
“Thanks, Lavender. I’ll handle it. You head back to your position.”
“Of course, Sergeant.”
We walked to Princess Luna’s chamber together in silence. Risky Storm was outside the door and Lavender took her place across from him as I went inside.
The phonograph was playing one of the classical pieces that the Royal Canterlot Orchestra was known for. This one in particular was slow and melancholy. Princess Luna was on her settee staring off into space.
“Princess, you sent for me?” My tone was soft. Lavender was right; she looked sad.
There was no immediate reply. The princess just sat in silence until the song drew to a close. “Yes. Please, come here, Silent Knight.” I did so and she took my helmet off. “There is something I need of thee.”
“Of course, Princess. Name it.”
“I have a mission for thee. There is somewhere I want thee to go,” she said as she looked intently at my face. It was unnerving.
“A mission? Have you discussed it with the captain?”
The princess shook her head. “No, it is a mission for me. Not the Royal Guard.”
Most ponies assume that a princess can order a royal guard to do whatever she likes. That isn’t actually the case. We have policies and procedures to avoid that to make certain royal meddling doesn’t result in a systemic failure.
They had to follow the chain of command like anypony else. They order the general, the general orders the brigadiers, the brigadiers order the colonels and so on down the line until it gets to me.
The look on Princess Luna’s face made me care a whole lot less about those policies, though. “Okay… but we could tell him of it. I’m sure he’d agree.”
“He would, but we will not. This mission is between thee and me alone. Canst thou do that for me, Silent Knight?”
It was an awkward position for the princess to put me in, but I wasn’t going to disappoint her. How could I? She was the princess and most likely this was going to be something minor. Perhaps a secret trip to a bookstore or to meet one of her fanfiction fans.
“Yes, Princess. Can you at least tell him after I am gone that you had to dispatch me?”
“Agreed. I need thee to leave as soon as thou can. Fly east towards Fillydelphia. There is a mountain range between here and there. Look for the highest peak that parts the clouds. Thou wilt find a cave there. Go into it and report back thy findings.”
“A cave? What am I looking for, Princess?”
She shook her head. “I cannot say for certain but thou wilt know it when thou findest it. Now… thou wilt need a tool for this task.” Her horn illuminated and tendrils of blue magic reached out towards me. They swirled over my breastplate and for a brief instant it glowed. Then, as if nothing happened, the magic disappeared. “As long as thou wearest thine armor, shouldst thou find thyself in the dark, thou wilt be able to see.”
I blinked a few times, looking down at my armor. “That is amazing. Forever?”
“Nay. It lasts only a fortnight, I’m afraid. Now go, as fast as thy wings will carry thee,” she said, a hint of urgency in her voice.
“Yes, Princess.” I reached for my helmet and she placed her hoof over mine.
“When thou arrivest at the cave thou art, under no circumstance, to enter with thine helmet on. Is that clear?”
“Crystal.” The hoof withdrew and I put my helmet on. I had no idea what I was getting into but it seemed important. I hurried out to make one stop before leaving Canterlot.
It was a stroke of luck. Sunny Day was in her office still working late. Her door was open, which was typical. I knocked and she looked up.
“First Sergeant. Come in!” I did so and she continued, “What can I do for Princess Luna’s House Guard?”
“I need a favor, Lieutenant.”
Her ears wiggled and she beamed. “Oh, Silent Knight needs a favor?”
I shook my head. “First Sergeant.”
“Drat. Well, what can I do for you, First Sergeant?”
“The princess has dispatched me on something only I can do. Can you look after my ponies until the captain gets in?”
Sunny’s head tilted but her cheery expression didn’t change. “Dispatched? On what?”
The mare pouted and then sighed. “Fine, I’ll take care of your ponies…” She then put playful emphasis in her tone. “First Sergeant. But! Silent Knight will owe me lunch.”
Extortion. Never trust the ponies that prance. “Agreed.”
“Have a safe trip then!”
Flying at night with Princess Luna’s vision enchantment spell was both amazing and strange. When she had said I’d be able to see in the dark she was correct, but everything at a distance was washed out colorwise. There were just shades of grey and brown until I got closer.
Despite that fact, finding the mountain the princess was talking about was not difficult. The range in general was not overly large but one particular peak truly did reach into the clouds. When I breached the cover, it was probably around midnight and my body needed a rest.
For a pegasus, I didn’t spend much time in the clouds… or even flying, for that matter. I did it just enough to stay in shape, so it was a pleasant treat to fly above and nap on a fluffy cloud.
I used my rest period to scan the peak and try to spot the cave. At first it seemed like a fool’s errand, since I could hardly distinguish between grey mountain, greyscale vision, and shadows. Over time, my eyes adjusted and the subtle differences became more obvious.
The moon broke through the cloud cover and illuminated the peak. In the pale light, it became all too clear where I was going. The opening itself was large. Large enough for a pony to pull two wagons through side by side. Without a moment’s hesitation, I dove off the cloud and flapped hard for the cave.
Curiosity had taken hold of my soul and I pondered what was going to be found. The distance grew shorter and shorter. This was no ordinary cave; it was a grand entrance. Out before the arch was a landing platform wide enough for multiple wagons.
My hooves clattered on the stone as I landed. It only took a moment of inspecting the platform to realize it was not naturally occurring. The rocky surface had the tell-tale signs of tool work. This had been done by ponies... or some other species. There were no other hints of life and that meant it was time to delve into the entrance of the cave.
The opening was even larger than I had estimated. In fact, I’d guess it was the same size as Canterlot’s main gate. It was smoothly hewn and similarly artificial. Just before I crossed the threshold, the wind blew across me and under my helmet, tickling the tufts of my ears. It was a pointed reminder that I took. My helmet would remain outside while I went in.
Thank Luna for the vision spell. Without it, there would be little chance of success in navigating the cave, since the moon’s light barely reached a few meters inside. I wasn’t that far in before the floor shifted to a downwards grade and started to spiral inwards. The path was leading me deeper into the mountain.
The hair of my coat started to stand on end the further I walked. Even though I could see in the dark, there was nothing but shadow behind me and even darker shadow in front. My vision wasn’t the only sense that was limited, either. There was no sound other than my hooves on the stone. The place felt like a tomb and I quickly realized why.
In front of me, that tunnel opened up into a massive catacomb. It extended out further than even my magically enhanced vision could process. I had just wandered into a village not unlike Ponyville buried deep inside a mountain.
Silence. Nothing but still silence. I was surrounded by empty streets, vacant buildings, and gloom. The wooden doors and windows to the stone buildings had long since rotted out. Many roofs had collapsed as the support beams gave way to time. In some cases, whole walls had collapsed.
My pulse started to pick up and I reached under my armor. The feel of the hilt of my sword was comforting and I drew it. It rang like a bell as I did so and the sound of metal on metal echoed throughout the chamber. Softly, I cursed my foolishness and held my breath. Anything there, dead or alive, would have heard that. Into my battle stance I went, my ears twitching here and there to listen for any sound. There was nothing. Nothing at all.
Fear is good. Fear keeps a pony alive. I crept as quietly as I could into the nearest building. It had been someone’s home. Most of the furniture was still in place, rotting but waiting for the return of its owner. There were no personal effects, however. No pictures, no clothing, no spoiled food. Nothing. Someone had packed before leaving… just not the large items.
A search of several other buildings confirmed my hypothesis. Big items had been left but dressers were empty, cupboards were bare, and there was not a hint of recent occupancy. Whoever lived here had not left in a hurry. It was almost as if the beings that had dwelled here had simply ceased to be. It was unnatural. Either that, or scavengers had stripped this place bare over the centuries.
Slowly, I pushed from the village exterior towards the center. There were shops and stalls to explore on the way. They were all equally abandoned. Neatly, of course. The denizens of this village were consistent if nothing else. That was something I was thankful for. I had expected to find the place littered with bones.
After clearing one more store, my eyes were drawn to the largest building in the village. It was a small keep that rose in the center above all the other structures and I had been avoiding it. I’m not too proud to admit I was frightened. The whole structure had a dark and foreboding feeling to it.
Its spires were tall and sharp, with horrific stone creatures emblazoned on the various roof peaks. They were batlike and had yellow eyes that stared down into the city. At first I thought they were real, but a closer inspection made it clear they were little more than stone. What sort creature would decorate with something so frightful?
The double front door was still intact but the left side of the pair was wide open. An inviting trap. It gave me pause. Once again, I froze to listen. Any noise would give away an ambusher. A breath or a whisper… the shift of a weapon. Anything. Please.