• Published 7th Jul 2013
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Origins - websterhamster



Deep beneath the primeval Everfree Forest, unimaginable things can happen... This story begins several thousand years before Hearth's Warming.

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Chapter Seven - Recondite Ruminations and Scrumptious Sandwitches

Chapter Seven - Recondite Ruminations and Scrumptious Sandwitches

The axe floated in the blue magic, as its wielder swung it in slow, wide circles, getting a comfortable grip on the weapon and testing its weight and balance.

The axe was not an inherent killer - it had been invented in a past age by someone who wished to fell a tree, but didn’t have any magic to aid him. When this person’s neighbor sought to steal or murder from him, or take advantage of his wife or daughter, or looked to harm in some way a friend, this ancient one took the nearest tool, his trusty axe, and hove it in an arc of justice, cleaving flesh and bone and leaving his enemy in pieces, lifeless.

In future years, smiths and farmers found that by double-blading the head, lengthening the beards and haft, and adding grooves to channel blood and gore, the axe could be made into a fearsome weapon of death and destruction.

And so Midnight Shadow swung a long-bearded axe in the training grounds of the First Century of the Fifth Army of the Great Shadow, practicing the art of war with ninety fellow ponies, seeking to recall into his limbs the martial training he’d had in his youth.

“You there! New unicorn! Get’cher sorry flank over here before I fry it and eat it on bread!”

The shout roused Midnight from his endorphin-induced revery, and looking up, he saw a few meters away a light tan pegasus with a stunning bronze mane, wearing the red caparison of an officer in the Royal Army. The emblem on her chest-piece, a large silver wyvern carrying a sword and cup, labeled her as a sergeant, as Midnight recalled from his study of the Royal Army organization manual the previous night.

Placing the axe carefully in a weapon rack, the blue stallion walked over to the sergeant, placing himself almost at attention. These may be ponies, but they swore allegiance to the same nation that foalnapped and imprisoned Forest Treasure, and Midnight owed them only the most slight of courtesy.

“What do ya think you are, yew rotten-triped, hollow-horned, lazy excuse fer a soldier! What are yeh, anyway?” The mare snapped, her military drawl flowing with all the beauty of a half-bleached skull.

“My name is Midnight Shadow, I swear allegiance to no one, but am here by command of King Narmon. The only reason I condescend to aid you in your squabble with the Aetherian Empire and your relations from the south is because of the thousands of innocents that live here, who are not to blame for the idiocy of the Emperor and your King.” Midnight’s nose rose by several centimeters as he gave this speech.

The sergeant spluttered for a moment, before choking out, “Well, lir draaf! What kind of soldier are ya?”

“I should have thought it obvious,” Midnight replied primly, “I’m a scholar. I fight through the use of intellect, not force of arms. I do admit to having some skill with traditional weapons, however. I believe the King wants me to teach your soldiers, not fight alongside them,” he said, looking around, the flashes of thaumic discharge reflecting off the sil sogaal about his neck.

“We’ll see about that! You’ve been assigned to the First Century of the Fifth Army, so by Sos I’m gonna see to it that ya actually know yer stuff! Git over to the dueling platform, yew useless excuse fer a quadruped!” And with that she pushed him towards a slightly elevated wooden platform, with rails around the sides to prevent duelers from falling off.

“Choose yer weapon, unicorn. I dun care whatcha choose, jist choose it quick!”

The platform had two weapon racks, one on each side of the yellow circle in the middle of the floor. Midnight silently regarded the weapon rack nearest him for a moment, thoughts and memories from his youth flowing through his mind. Deciding, he pulled a kyintaris from the back of the rack, holding it in his hornfield.

The kyintaris, or mage-rapier, was a kind of sword meant for only battlemages to wield. It had no hilt, just a broad round endcap, making it resemble nothing more than a giant tailor’s pin. As a skilled mage didn’t have to worry about physical flexibility when using the sword, he could out-duel any opponent with great ease. The kyintaris was used as a self-defense weapon by battlemages, who were usually utilized as support units on the battlefield, which is why they could get away with having a weapon so uniquely unsuited for waging war.

Turning to the opposite side of the platform, Midnight saw the tan pegasus standing on her hind legs and hefting a heavy steel warhammer in her hoofgrip, giving it a few swings to test its balance. As balance wasn’t an issue for Midnight, held his weapon at the ready, waiting for the battle to begin.

“I ‘spect yer gonna git a mighty pritty lesson on dueling this day, Mister Scholar,” the sergeant said, leering at Midnight. He felt his cheeks pale slightly, as a quick image of the blue stallion taking her hammer and pulping her body with it entered his mind. He quickly stamped out the disturbing image, thinking, “Why did I think that? Thoughts of violence have always been the furthest from my mind, even in school-” he lost his train of thought as the pegasus swung her hammer at him, forcing him to dodge. The duel had begun!

Taking two steps back, Midnight began to move in a counter-clockwise circle, looking for weaknesses in the pegasus’ stance. Unfortunately for him, she seemed strong and agile, and could probably break his kyintaris in half with her hammer if he didn’t execute his lunges perfectly. A rapier was never meant to block a heavy warhammer.

“I see you prefer a slower weapon, so likely your battle tactic is to kill your opponents with as few swings as possible, suggesting you don’t have a lot of stamina. Although, this being so, I would have chosen an axe or broadsword, being much more wieldy than a simple hammer, so!” And he lunged, ducking under the sergeant’s parry and almost scoring a hit.

“Ye’ve got a good eye, I’ll give ye that,” the sergeant grumbled, pulling her hammer back into a guard stance and continuing to circle, her eyes narrowed and searching for weaknesses and patterns in Midnight’s form. “Let’s see if I can have a go,” she said.

“I’ll wager you prefer flinging spells, or healing, than fighting hoof-to-hoof. You said ye’re a scholar, so obviously you wouldn’t know much of bein’ in the battle-ranks anyway. Maybe ya’ve got some fancy high-falutin’ spells in that fancy noggin o’ yore’s, eh?” And she swung her hammer lightly, testing, as Midnight hopped nimbly away.

She continued, “And seeing as yer a unicorn an’ know how ta use a rapier, I’d wager you had noble patrons in the Empire once upon a time, am I right? Which means you most likely won’t know how to avoid a trick like this!” and she dropped her hammer, tucked her forelegs, and rolled under Midnight, grabbed her weapon againr, and swung it in a circle, which should have knocked him over when it hit his legs, or perhaps even have broken them, but instead just pulled her forelegs as the hammer met nothing but air for resistance.

Showing more agility than a scholar had any right to have, Midnight rolled under the sergeant’s swing, coming up close behind her as she released the heavy hammer to prevent having her forelegs pulled out of their sockets. A loud clang was heard as the hammer hit a large brass gear assembly on the far wall of the complex. Several of the ponies below stopped their practice and looked up at the noise.

Midnight lightly tapped the back of the sergeant’s neck with his rapier, saying quietly, “Dead.”

The sergeant turned to face the midnight pony, a few beads of shiny sweat on her forehead.

“That was damn good fightin’, scholar, ‘specially the bit where ya used mah own move aginst me; but ye’ll need ta use magic in a real battle. Let’s try that agee-in!” She picked up a broadsword from the weapon rack behind her, and they faced off once more.

“So, Sergeant, do you have a name or does everypony around here call you by your rank?” Midnight asked, as he dodged a swing, making a quick jab before the sergeant parried.

“Aye. I’m called Bitter Breeze. ‘Twas a mite o’ luck me bein’ ‘ere, mah talent bein’ the givin’ and takin’ of orders.” She ducked under Midnight’s lunge, and swung her sword up and back, forcing Midnight to use magic to parry, else his kyintaris would be shattered.

“Aha! That’s what I expect to see from a dueling mage!” Bitter Breeze said victoriously, drawing a practice dagger from under her caparison and tapping Midnight in the center of his chest while he was distracted by his telekinesis.

“Dead, ah reckon.”

Midnight took a step back, and placed his rapier back in the rack.

“Ye ain’t used to fencin’, are yeh?” Breeze asked.

“Neigh, ‘tis been many a year since I last held a weapon. My purpose here is to aid the lorion King, in order to ensure the protection of my apprentice who’s on a mission into what has been described to me as the very depths of Tartarus. She was foalnapped by them, you see.” Midnight replied.

“Is that so? Well ah’ll have ye know that yer apprentice is a good ways from Tartarus, and needn’t fear the demon-spawn to be found there. I should know, ah’ve been there.”

This was a genuine surprise to Midnight, as even the mages of the Royal College in High Gate had been skeptical of the existence of the realm of Tartarus, it being used by pious ponies to warn others against deeds of darkness.

“Tartarus, truly? It really exists? Tell me about it!” Midnight was suddenly eager, a glow of excitement about him, as Bitter Breeze took a step back nervously, her ears lowering slightly.

“There now, don’t get too excited, ‘twasn’t much to see, when I was there. You see-”

“Ahem.”

She was interrupted by a dark violet lorion, wearing the uniform of a high-ranking officer in the Royal Army.

He said, “I do hate to interrupt this intriguing conversation, but I’m afraid I must bear orders from General Raekii to Special Advisor Midnight Shadow. I’m Major Gartosh of the Sixth Army, and I’m here to take you on a tour of the Sixth Army campus, Mr. Shadow.”

Midnight nodded. “This is acceptable. I was hoping to learn something about Tartarus, but we’ll have to save that for another time, Sergeant. Major?”

“This way, please, Mr. Shadow.”

As they walked through the campus, Major Gartosh explained how everything worked.

“You see, Mr. Shadow-”

“You may call me Midnight, I have no use for titles.”

“Ah, indeed. Well then, Midnight, as you can see, each Royal Army campus is designed to be a fully self-sustaining fortress to aid in the defense of the city. The Sixth Army enlisted are made up of only ponies, with lorions and ponies filling various staff roles. As all but the First Century have been deployed to defend the civilians and aid in the evacuation of the city, the Sixth Army campus will be closed down and scuttled should the enemy get past our outer defenses; no need to give them a perfect shot straight into the city, eh?”

“Indeed not, Major.”

From the wall above the training grounds, Gartosh explained the organization of the Century.

“The First Century is composed of twenty-four pegasi and seventy-six unicorns, seventy-seven including you. The unicorns are all battlemages, support units,” he said, disdain clear in his voice. “I have nothing but respect for your schools of magic, Mist- er... eh, Midnight, but these unicorns have a rather less-than-spectacular record, you see. I don’t pretend to know much about magic, much less battle-magic, but I do know a waste of effort when I see it. The tactics these mages use are almost a hundred-percent reliant on brute force, turning mana directly into energy, I guess. In their current state of training, they’ll be crushed by the mages and soldiers of the Imperial Army within seconds.”

Midnight was silent, observing the unicorns practicing below. He was familiar with their school of battle-magic, being learned in it himself, and he knew its strengths and weaknesses.

I think I can work with this,” he thought. He was distracted by a puff of steam from a vent in the wall, directly below them. “This place would be fascinating for some of my old acquaintances at the Academy,” he mused.

They continued walking, the Major taking them into a large square building, made of grey stone and decorated with the same golden alloys as much of the city.

“This is the campus control room.” They had entered a large room, full of gas flames, ropes, pulleys, gears, and levers. Six lorions lounged on worn-out furniture near the entrance, the remnants of their last meal scattered on a couple small tables in the middle of their circle. They didn’t give any indication of life when Midnight and Gartosh walked in.

“From here, all the defenses of the campus can be controlled,” the Major said, gesturing at the mechanics. “This room allows the Sixth Army to turtle up if necessary, becoming an utterly impregnable fortress.”

Midnight raised an eyebrow. “If the campus is impregnable, why do you plan on demolishing it?”

The violet lorion sighed. “Midnight, even though I have complete confidence in the engineers who designed the campuses, back when my great-grandfather was a young lad, it’s simply too great a risk to let it stand without soldiers to defend it. It would only take one of these campuses to be captured intact to make the defense of the city nigh impossible. I’d rather re-design and rebuild the campus after the war than risk it falling into enemy claws.”

Midnight nodded. Such discretion was admirable, but it also reminded him of the great horrors of war, the bloodshed, the families torn apart, the lives broken. This wasn’t going to be a casual conflict.

“I’ve seen it before. Heaven’s forbid my Forest should see it.”

As they walked back into the main square in the center of the campus, the Major commented on Midnight’s fencing skills.

“I couldn’t help but notice your skill in the art of the kyintaris, Midnight. If I may be so bold, may I ask where you trained? There aren’t many places where the use of such weapons are commonplace.”

“Then you haven’t seen much of the Great Forest, Major. Two days’ journey from the northern exit of this city, in a small clearing in the woods, lies a peaceful village, one of the few bastions of peace between the Three Kindreds. The only way this town still stands, against the terrors of the Forest, is by horn, hoof, and blade. Those that live there are very skilled in the way of survival, and wielding a kyintaris is practically a rite of passage for young unicorns, before they discover their talents.”

The Major chuckled. “I know an evasion when I hear one, Midnight. Faust knows I’ve interviewed enough young lads to recognize that tone! Nevermind, as long as you’re with us, I’ve no reason to pry into your secrets.”

“You fool! Much sorrow has been felt because of similar trusts!” Midnight thought, but his face only showed a slight surprise at what the lorion had said, unknowing as to its importance.

“Well, there isn’t much else to show you; you’ve seen the training grounds, the walls are all about us, and those buildings house Administration, Lodging, and the Commissary. Any questions?”

After a moment’s consideration, Midnight responded coolly, “None at this time, Major.”

The Major rubbed his palms together, a grin on his face. “Alrighty then! The last bit of orders I have to relay to you are here-” he produced a sealed scroll from a pouch on his belt “-and they are to meet with Grahlazey Julaan, Grand Master battlemage of the Great Shadow. I wish you good luck in your efforts, Midnight! Aal Vokun kos voth hi.

They saluted, Midnight placing his right forehoof to his temple, Gartosh placing his right fist to his heart, and then they parted ways.

Midnight followed the directions in his orders, finding himself, after an hour of navigating the crooked streets, in front of an unassuming stone abode near the Church of the Dark Shadow. He pressed the button near the door, which resulted in a hiss of steam and a metallic clank, then the clear peal of a bell.

The mechanics these lorions employ are very intriguing,” the scholar thought, “I can’t wait to see what kinds of magic they’ve researched!

The door was opened by a young lizardess who looked barely out of girlhood. She flashed a genuine, youthful smile.

“Ah, a caller! And whom do I have the pleasure of meeting today, pray tell?” She asked.

Midnight stood at attention. “Midnight Shadow, Special Advisor to the King. I’m here to discuss the readiness of the Great Shadow with Grahlazey Julaan.”

The young lorion’s eyes fell slightly, but she perked up quickly. “Well, come in! Come in! There’s much for us to talk about, if half the things I’ve heard about you are true.” And she stepped aside, holding the door open, as he walked in.

After getting Midnight seated comfortably on a shimmery green divan, the lizardess bustled about, getting a service of tea ready. As she worked, Midnight wondered what sort of Master battlemage would be living in such a small home; when he had lived in High Gate, such nobility often lived in large manors and glamorous estates, their magical prowess making them ponies of great import.

As the lizardess placed the tea service on the tea table, she offered a cup to the blue stallion, before taking one herself and sitting down across from him on a tan loveseat that contrasted starkly with the rest of the furniture in the room.

They sat there for ten minutes, silently regarding each other.

Finally, Midnight asked, “Well, where is the Master battlemage? I was under the impression that time was of the essence.”

At this, the young lorion laughed, her giggle causing Midnight to raise an eyebrow.

“Oh, hehehe, this always happens! What did you expect, an old matron living in a palace? I’ll admit, I haven’t had this job very long, but I know what I’m doing! May I present to you, Grahlazey Julaan, Lady battlemage, Master of the Royal battlemages of the Great Shadow!” And she bowed theatrically.

Although he was familiar with the sort of master mage that liked to be humble about their skill and knowledge, those unicorns usually held at least one title of nobility, which meant in their own minds they were far and beyond superior to ordinary ponies; they would never have stooped so low as to serve tea to anyone below their station. Midnight was taken aback by the casual manner of Julaan, but in a good way.

“Forgive me, but you’re correct. In my experience, which I’m now forced to acknowledge as being minimal in comparison to the scope of the world, master mages hold title, as you do, and would have a servant serve the tea, not do it themselves. The masters of the Mages Guild in High Gate perceive themselves as being superior to all other beings, save Galaxius and those who hold higher titles in the Imperial Court.”

Julaan snorted. “I’m familiar with the type. Our own King’s Court and Council of Elders are full of such rapscallions, always looking down at others, and pointing their noses so high it’s a wonder we have so many. Literally,” she said, looking quite honest and not exaggerating in the slightest, “I can recall several cases of nobles not looking where they were going and falling into a smelting furnace or vat of acid. Did the court a world of good, if you ask me!”

The two mages chuckled, finding a similar point of reference. Midnight decided that he was definitely going to like the Lady Julaan.

“So, you mentioned the Mages Guild in High Gate,” Julaan said, leaning forward. “I take it you have history in the capitol of our enemies?”

Midnight sighed. He knew he would have to have this conversation eventually; in fact, he was surprised he’d been able to avoid it so far.

“Indeed. I spent several years studying in the Imperial Academy, and as a member of the Mages Guild. I left High Gate after the elitist attitude of the nobles began to filter down to the commonfolk, and the Imperial Guard stopped defending earth ponies and pegasi from discrimination and persecution at the hands of the unicorns. I had, and have, no patience for such fatuity.”

He was leaving a significant amount of information out, but if Julaan suspected anything, she gave no indication. This was a time of his past that he wanted buried, forgotten.

“I heard about how you came into the city, having your daughter stolen from you. Disgraceful, it is, utterly disgraceful! To think that those idiot zealots in the Council of Elders would kidnap a child, a foal! I am disgusted with them, and I’ll have none of that from my own ranks. I make sure my battlemages leave that sort of bigotry at the door when they put on their cloaks and robes.”

Midnight worked his lips, trying to form a response, but nothing came out. Finally, he managed to sigh heavily. “Heh, I’m that obvious am I? Forest Shadow isn’t my daughter, at least not yet. I rescued her off the streets of High Gate some ten years ago now. Forgive me Julaan, I’m afraid I still haven’t gotten over the foalnapping; there’s nothing I can say to express the anger inside me because of that… incident.” His sil sogaal glowed red in response to his emotions, but he quelled them for fear they would affect Forest, so many miles away.

“I’m afraid such acts of ill counsel and hasty judgment are becoming all too common in the Great Shadow,” Julaan said, a tone of sorrow in her voice. “A fey darkness is falling upon our world, from High Gate to the center of the Great Forest, from the high eyries of the gryphons to the cavernous dungeons of dragonkind; the world is in motion, wars are being fought, won and lost, millions of innocent beings are slaughtered or enslaved. So far our continent has been spared the worst of it, or so the ravens of the King tell us. Such a shadow hasn’t fallen upon our world since the End Days of old, when the Ancient Ones were but children, and followed races older still!”

Midnight was shocked. He had no idea that the actions of the lorions, Emperor Galaxius, or even Speaking Kindreds across the world could cause such a downward spiral.

“How do you know of this?” He asked.

Julaan took a long sip of her tea, smacking her lips and sighing in satisfaction before placing her cup back on its saucer. “Ahh! That hit the spot, it did! How do we know these things, you ask? Well it’s no secret, but then I suppose we don’t have a habit of advertising it either. The King, his Highness Narmon, has three pet ravens that he speaks with, and they fly around the world, bringing news of other realms; this way, we don’t have to leave the Great Shadow for information regarding the outside world.”

Midnight thought about what she said, asking, “What do you mean when you speak of End Days when the Ancient Ones were young?”

Julaan looked up, a sparkle in her eyes. “Aha! You’ve hit on a particular passion of mine! I’m a member of a group that has made the study and collection of the writings of the Ancient Alicorns our life’s work. Our little band has a bit of a bad reputation… we’re a little cultish, I’m afraid. Most beings don’t know of our existence, because the great leaders of the world hold our beliefs in disdain and keep our theology from reaching the masses. That’s one of the few things King Narmon and Emperor Galaxius hold in common, as a matter of fact!” She giggled softly.

“But as to your question, we’ve found records that speak of the the oldest of eras, when the Alicorns were young. They were not gods and goddesses at the time, but ordinary beings, much as the Speaking Kindreds are ordinary beings today. They lived at the End Times of a previous race, whose name we are unsure of, and were able to know the mistakes that nearly caused the end of the world.

“There is one word, one seemingly innocent, insignificant word, that the followers of my faith believe will bring the world to balance and happiness once again: Harmony. It’s an ancient force of magic, and is indeed the very same essence that allows mages to perform thaumic works, and is uniquely imbued in the souls of the Three Kindreds, defining them. Unicorn magic, Pegasus magic, and Earth pony magic are all due to Harmony.

“The precursor race was unable to connect or feel the effects of Harmony, and in the wars and hatred they felt for each other, nearly destroyed the universe. After this cataclysm, the alicorns, in order to prevent such a thing from happening again, infused the earth with their power, with Harmony. The immediate side-effect of the world’s rebirth was the creation of the Three Kindreds, ponykind. The other speaking peoples came in the following thousands of years.”

Midnight’s jaw was slack. In all his readings of alicorn books, not once had anything like this been even remotely hinted at. There were riddles and unanswered questions, surely, but not even the most imaginative of unicorn scholars could have come up with such an answer to them!

“This actually makes sense!” He said, starting to get excited. “There are so many things we don’t know, and yet… this makes sense! It would utterly change the world, were we to have the rest of the story!”

Julaan chuckled. “I see I might have accidentally converted you! Well, no harm done, I suppose.” She looked at the clock on the mantle, behind Midnight. “Well, would you look at that! I was supposed to attend to the Council of Idiots tonight, and I’m going to be late. I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried! How about we get together for more discussion tomorrow, around two in the afternoon?”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea! I’ll plan on it.”

They stood up, Midnight placing his cup and saucer on the tray. Julaan lead him to her door, and they exchanged farewells.

“If you’re looking for a good place to eat that won’t rob you blind or give you cramps, try the Flying Google on Palladium Avenue in the Glowing District. They make the best vegetarian cuisine this side of the Molten River.”

Midnight nodded. “Thanks, I’ll try them out.”

“Place is owned by a pal of mine, a believer of my order. That’s where the name came from; the Flying Google was supposed to be some sort of deity for the precursor race.”

“How curious… Well, goodnight, I’ll see you tomorrow. I look forward to our meeting!”

As Midnight turned to leave, Julaan called softly after him, “Pruzah vulon, Hefvulon Vokun. Aal hin hahnuhe kos hes dahvulon.

As Midnight walked down the dark, lonely road toward the Glowing District, he mused over what Julaan had told him. If what she said was right, the techniques he needed in order to complete his enchantment spell could very likely be found in the writings of the alicorns. If only his book was about spells, and not Binding magic! Words of Command were alright, and very powerful, but they were utterly useless for his project.

He came upon a small round park in the middle of a meeting of ways, two shafts of blue moonlight shining on a groomed lawn and leafy trees. To his surprise, a light green unicorn with a musical note talent mark sat on a bench there, playing a stone flute.

“Good evening!” He called to her.

Pruzah avond, zuruniik!” she replied.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand any of the old tongue, miss…” he stopped for her to fill in her name.

“Heartstrings,” the mare said, looking up with a bright smile on her muzzle. “Flauta Heartstrings, of House Heartstrings. You’re from the spinny family, aren’t you? I’d know that long horn and abstract talent mark anywhere.”

Midnight was rather taken aback. He had never thought to come across a pony who would be familiar with the nobility of the Empire in the Great Shadow, much less one that would be familiar with his family!

“Miss Heartstrings, then. I’m Midnight Shadow, a solitary scholar from the Great Forest. I’m not a member of any of the Noble Houses, I assure you. My only interactions with them were while I studied at the Imperial Academy, twenty years ago. What brings an Aetherian noble to the Great Shadow? I didn’t see you at the training grounds this morning.”

“I don’t do battle magic,” Flauta said with a haughty flip of her mane. “It’s dirty and uncivilized! Besides, my talent is music, which makes me particularly unsuited for taking lives.

“I understand, and feel the same way. I’m only - “ He stopped, biting off his words before he said something that he would later regret. Taking a couple deep breaths, he continued.

“I’m only helping the lorions because they foalnapped my student, my charge. I’m doing it to ensure her… safety.”

Flauta gasped. “That’s terrible! I know everyone’s a little jumpy because of the impending war, but foalnapping! This is disgraceful! And to use your student to hold you hostage!” She growled, and her horn glowed white as she played a quick tune on her flute, the music transmitting emotions of anger and righteous wrath. Midnight felt as though the world had disappeared, and the only existence was the emotions, bubbling with hot energy.

When she stopped, Midnight gasped for breath, and panted for several moments before asking hoarsely, “What was that? What did you do?”

Flauta grinned sheepishly. “It’s my talent. I can convey emotions perfectly through my music. Sometimes I get carried away when I’m angry and… entrance ponies. And lorions. Beings,” she decided, after trying several words for size.

Midnight checked himself over shakily, and then looked up at the deep, rich sound of bells tolling. Behind him, the Church of the Dark Shadow gleamed in artificial light, puffs of steam rising from the mechanism that rang the great Adamantine bells in the highest reaches of its grey tower.

“It must be later than I thought, I’d best be going. ‘Twas a pleasure meeting you, Miss Heartstrings,” Midnight said, nodding as he began to walk again.

“Wait!”

Trotting quickly to catch up, Flauta walked with Midnight, asking, “Where are you going this evening, Master Shadow?”

“I’m going to dinner at the Flying Google; it was suggested to me by Grahlazey Julaan.”

“Really?! She suggested the old Eff-Gee to you?! That’s fantastic!” Flauta did a little twirl in ecstatic glee.

Midnight raised an eyebrow. “That seems to unduly excite you, Miss Heartstrings,” he said.

“Please, call me Flauta. And of course it excites me! I own the Flying Google, it’s the crowning glory of my life! We’ve got it all, artistic lighting, warm, glowing fires, live music, and ancient decor!”

Midnight chuckled.

“Well then, Miss Flauta, would you be so kind as to point me to your restaurant? I’m afraid I’ll lose my way in this maze of a city.”

“I’d love to!” The unicorn pranced over. “Follow me!”

The Flying Google was unique, as far as its construction went. Made of heavy, old wood logs and planks, it was one of the few buildings in the city that wasn’t built of stone. In the common room, which was a large affair with unusual tapestries hung on the walls, was a great rectangular firepit, upon which roasted various vegetables, as well as meats for the establishment’s carnivorous patrons. Tables and benches were aplenty, and a small fireplace burned in one corner for musicians to perform in front of.

Flauta left Midnight in the good care of a pony waitress, and left for her office. The dark stallion waved farewell, and then ordered the house special for his dinner, hoping the fare was as delectable as Julaan had hinted.

While he waited for his meal to be prepared, Midnight wandered around the room, looking at the odd tapestries and other art adorning the dark wooden walls and polished columns. One thing in particular caught his eye, a strangely shaped metal device that looked as if it had survived many generations.

“I see you’ve noticed the peculiar decorations young Flauta’s covered the place with. Many an age has passed since the ones who knew how to use that thing walked this earth.”

“Huh?” Midnight turned to look at the speaker, an old earth pony stallion with a small black seed on his flanks. “Ah, yes, it is rather interesting. Do you know what it is?”

The old pony looked into Midnight’s eyes, a glimmer of knowledge shining on his face. “Aye. The tale’s been passed down by voice through my family, ever since the time of the Old Ones. I doubt many beings have such a direct connection to the times of old, when the Ancients walked the earth and were so common as to be no more special than you or I. The story tells of the race that came before the alicorns, and waged war on each other because of pride, greed, and lust. That there was one of their weapons, though we know not how it could possibly work.”

“A very interesting tale, I’m sure. Thank you, if you’ll excuse me,” Midnight made his way back to his table, musing on the words of the old stallion. Ordinarily he wouldn’t have been so abrupt, but his mind was overflowing with complicated thoughts and the end of the world.

Dinner was a fresh cabbage salad between two pieces of curiously textured tan bread. A viscous, white sauce with dark specks of spice added a strange and not entirely unpleasant savor.

“What is it?” Midnight asked, looking up at the waitress after inspecting the culinary creation thoroughly.

“It’s called a cold-slaw sandwitch, sir; Miss Heartstrings discovered the recipe in an ancient cookbook derived from alicorn writings. We believe it may have once been designed for omnivores, but it’s been adapted for ponies too, as you can see. Enjoy!” And with that, she skipped off to serve another hungry customer.

Eyeing the “sandwitch” warily, Midnight slowly took a bite, the juicy, fresh slivers of cabbage crunching between his teeth, while the sauce added just the right amount of spice and flavor as he chewed thoughtfully. As his tastebuds were treated to a level of pleasure they hadn’t experienced in years, the blue stallion ate quicker and faster until he was practically inhaling the “sandwitch”.

He stopped suddenly when he heard somepony laughing, the clear, almost musical tones causing him to look up. He saw Flauta there, watching him eat with amusement apparent on her muzzle.

“Enjoying your meal?”

“Oh yes, this is simply ingenious, magnificent! Whomever came up with the idea to place the greens between bread should he lauded as the greatest master of the culinary arts ever to walk the face of the earth!” Midnight replied with gusto.

Flauta giggled again. “I’ll give you the recipe if you’d like,” she offered.

“Of course! I wouldn’t dream of leaving without it! I’d have to live here for the rest of my life, just so I could eat these extraordinary “sandwitches.”

“Well, come this way then. I have the books in my office.” Flauta led Midnight to a heavy wooden door with “Proprietor” labeled in handsome letters on a brass plate.

Inside was a room bare of any decorations, save a pretty vase of lavender and crimson, with a bouquet of beautiful lilies on a stone desk. On the wall facing the door was a small bookshelf with a number of books, some new and clean, others ancient and tattered.

Flauta selected one, a conspicuously large and rough book with a rare red leather binding.

“This book,” the mint-green unicorn said as she levitated it over to the desk, “has been passed down through my family for generations. We’re mostly musicians, as I’m sure you’re aware, but a handful of Heartstrings have had a knack for cooking, which I attribute to this book. I’m unsure how old it is, but Julaan tells me it’s one of the most intact Alicorn Journals in known existence.”

Carefully and reverently, Midnight took the ancient tome in his hornfield, slowly turning the pages to read the obscure text inside. The thick vellum was yellowed and stained, and slightly repulsed him, yet drew him in at the same time. An alicorn had written those words, he realized, and had slain an animal to bind them with.

After inspecting a number of the pages closely, he discovered that there really were nothing but recipes inside, which disappointed him a bit.

Flauta floated over a small piece of white paper with scribbles of red ink on it. “Here’s the sandwitch recipe. I transcribed it because the original is a little hard to read and just a teeny bit nauseating. It actually calls for the meat of a cow to be used!

Midnight nodded, wondering just how much about the alicorns he really knew for sure. Apparently they weren’t afraid to eat meat, once upon a time.

“I thank you much, Miss Flauta. When Forest Treasure returns, I’m sure she’ll enjoy the sandwitches immensely. And now I must retire for the night.”

After paying his respects, and for the meal, Midnight headed back to the fort, where his room was. He had a lot to think about, but thoughts would be clearer after a restful sleep.

Author's Note:

I was originally planning to make this chapter longer, but this seemed like an ideal place to end, so we'll continue Midnight's research and labors next chapter.

Translations
Aal Vokun kos voth hi: May the Shadows be with you.
Pruzah vulon, Hefvulon Vokun. Aal hin hahnuhe kos hes dahvulon: Good night, Midnight Shadow. May your dreams be sweet tonight.
Pruzah avond, zuruniik!: Good evening, stranger!

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Comments ( 9 )

Wow. You've certainly piqued my curiosity. I love the history mentioned in this chapter and nice to see Lyra's ancestor in the story. Also, I'm really interested about the precursors (I'm betting they're really humans). Can't wait to see more.

-W.S.

I might not have as much to say as others, but I enjoyed your story and you earned my fave and follow.:twilightsmile:

3912912 Thanks! If you don't mind me asking, how did you find my story?

3913879 I won't lie, I found it forever ago and put it on my read later list. (which is an infinite amount of stories long:facehoof:) But yours stood out and I read it first and fell in love... with the story of course.:pinkiecrazy:

I keep forgetting to read this when it updates.

the Flying Google was supposed to be some sort of deity for the precursor race.

A frighteningly accurate description...

The precursors were almost certainly humans, which ironically puts this story of "ancient times" untold centuries in the future...

And of course Lyra's ancestor is a part of the group the studies them. Why wouldn't she be?

Hopefully I'll actually read this when it updates next time, instead of way later, because I'm really eager to see where this goes.

Write on,
Legion

I was going through my favorites and found this again. I'd forgotten how much I loved this story when you were still writing it. I don't know if you ever plan to continue, but I know I for one miss seeing this update.

Write on,
Legion

5867711 Thanks for the kind words!

I would love to get back on this project, and I know it has potential... but the first three chapters need to be completely revised, and I've found that my muse for this story is elusive and hard to find. But I know I'll get around to it eventually.

Thanks again!

5878381
If you happen to be in need of an editor for said revisions (and/or new chapters), I'd be happy to help.

Write on,
Legion

Ambitious Alliteration! You should finish this story.

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