• Published 11th Apr 2014
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At the Inn of the Prancing Pony - McPoodle

Celestia awakens from an enchantment to discover that Equestria has been taken from her.

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Chapter 1: Signs and Portents

At the Inn of the Prancing Pony

Chapter 1: Signs and Portents

The wails of the damned were the preferred musical accompaniment for the Royal Court of King Discord the Last of Discordia—or “Equestria”, as it was once known. The crack of the whip was slated to re-enter the soundscape tomorrow, after a brief respite.

The court itself was an irregular eleven-sided room, with seven of the sides exposed to the outside. Most of the court congregated there, because despite the lack of a roof, the rain falling down somehow managed to miss the inhabitants. Also, the enclosed side of the room was where the tsunami and sea monster took up their regular abode. “Scylla and Charybdis,” He called them.

Discord was Classically-trained you see, although it was the Classics of a world then completely unknown to Equestria.

The draconequine god sat in His iron throne, elevated ten ponyheights above His subjects—the roof was bowed to accommodate Him. He bore an annoyed expression, which was never a good sign. Below Him, the ponies, griffons and dragons capered for His sport, but none of it amused Him, not even when a knot of them descended into a brawl to settle the question of which particular caper they were supposed to be engaged in.

They rather resembled ants from Discord’s elevated position. Realizing this, He pulled an enormous magnifying glass out of nowhere and with a snap of His fingers brought the sun into position to have some fun.

Suddenly the doors were burst off of their hinges by a small explosion, as the two Alicorn Sisters trotted into the room. They wore a pair of piebald dressing gowns, with odd clumps of parchment stuffed into random corners to fulfill Discord’s dress code for his jesters. Suspended by Celestia’s magic was a wooden pipe or recorder, while Luna carried a small bagpipe around her neck. Also around both ponies’ necks were iron rings set with a multitude of jingle bells, that rang a discordant chorus with every step of their hooves.

The center bell on Celestia’s collar was painted a brilliant white that glowed like a star hanging from her neck, while Luna wore a bell painted so black that it seemed to be a hole into another dimension.

“A contest! A contest!” cried Luna. She had to wait a minute before repeating herself, as the explosion had deafened every mortal inhabitant of the room.

“Oh, I do so love explosions!” With a wave of His paw, Discord disbursed the thick cloud of smoke that had filled the room, pushing it through the strange barrier in the roof. “Ah, my two little rebels!” He cried out with eagerness. “Come to wager your father this time?”

Celestia scowled. From under one wing she produced a small lead casket, which she placed on the ground. “I offer you the secret of the amniomorphic spell, which you have never been able to decipher.”

“What do I want with an alicorn-making spell?” Discord asked with a wrinkled lip. “You two are more than enough trouble to Me as it is.”

Celestia fixed Him with a sinister smile while resting one hoof on the casket. “What can be made can be unmade,” she told Him.

“...Or remade,” He realized. “With that spell I could erase the very definition of breed, nation or even family. An entire world of mismatched chimerae! Your offer is more than adequate. And what would you have Me give up if I lose?”

“Old Equestria,” said Luna, stepping forward to stand beside her sister. “You can have the rest of Equus, but we want the ancient homelands.”

“That frozen wasteland!” Discord exclaimed. “Are you indeed that desperate? Well, I’m not going to play by those terms—they are simply too unfair! We will play for New Equestria, or nothing at all!”

The inhabitants of the room looked at each other in amazement. From His throne, Discord beamed. Even after untold aeons of chaos, He was still capable of surprising His subjects.

Celestia and Luna shared a happy look before they made their answer: “Agreed!”

Discord popped down to stand between the two sisters, resting one mismatched arm across each pony’s withers. “As the challenged party, I shall determine the means of this little game: Each of us shall perform a song, and whichever song this crowd prefers shall win. The instruments that we shall perform will be...ourselves. You go first. Hurry up, hurry up! I don’t have all day.”

Celestia and Luna hesitantly put down their recorder and bagpipe. After clearing her throat, Luna made a high-pitched hum from the back of her throat, her attempt to emulate the drone of her bagpipe. It took her a couple of seconds to find her pitch, at which point Celestia joined in with a whistle that wasn’t nearly reedy enough to sound like a recorder.

Together, they played and danced a quick saltarello of Luna’s composition, with their hooves making the percussion, and even managing to make the horrible jangling of the bells sound like it belonged with everything else. The song they played was a fun and moving piece, the best of the kind of music from the last years before Discord. In human terms, it belonged comfortably in the tradition of the European troubadours of the Fourteenth Century. The two alicorns put their all into the all-too-brief performance, before concluding by looking over at their audience...

...all of whom were frozen in ice.

With a snap of His fingers, Discord returned them to life, and watched intently as they milled about in confusion. “Hmm...” He said with a raised eyebrow. “They don’t seem very impressed with your performance at all! Now it’s My turn!”

With a bright flash of light, the draconequus returned to the top of His platform, the throne kicked down to make room for His solo. He opened His mouth, and sang: “Trarara reraaah. Trara ra raaah.”

The thawed audience looked up at Him in complete bewilderment, as it appeared that their king and god had abandoned the Equine language altogether.

“Largo al factorum della citta. Largo!”

And then Discord yanked Equestrian musical practices five centuries into the future. Alicorns, ponies, griffons and dragons all listened spellbound to the most incredible musical performance the planet had ever seen. It didn’t matter that not a one of them understood the words the god was singing. The few among the group who remembered what music actually was in this time of madness wept for joy at what they heard. The performance was only five minutes long, but it was the most incredible five minutes that the band of witnesses would ever experience in their lives.

“Sono il factorum!” sang Discord. “Della cittá! Sono il factorum! Della cittá, della cittá, della cittá! Dellaaaah! Ciiii—”

And that’s when Luna and Celestia blasted Him with the Elements of Harmony, for that’s what the white and black bells around their necks actually were: the Element of Light and the Element of Darkness.

And in one single instant, the most terrifying being to have ever existed was turned to stone.

“We did it!” Luna exclaimed. “We’re free! We’re free!”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be too sure of that.”

The room suddenly vanished, leaving Celestia, Luna and Discord’s statue floating in endless blackness. From all around them, the voice of Discord chuckled in amusement.

“Discord!” cried Luna, addressing the voice. “Don’t try to back out of this!”

“Oh I wouldn’t imagine it,” the voice responded. “After all, you did beat Me, unfair and unsquare. You finally learned Discord’s Rule Number One: There are no rules.”

Celestia shivered. Freed from His body, Discord’s voice rumbled like the force of nature that He was. It seemed like an avalanche was addressing them rather than a being of flesh and blood.

“Welll...good!” Celestia exclaimed. “We’ve taken back Equestria, and it is now ours to rule!”

“Yes!” Discord’s voice replied. “Yes indeed! Equestria is now yours to rule! Every last grain, every last drop! All at your harmonious command! So enjoy it while you can!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Luna.

“It means that you are now usurpers, stealers of My rightful crown! And the fate of all usurpers is the same: Revolution!”

Celestia stepped up to the statue and addressed it. “You’re not going to take this victory away from us, Discord! I won’t let You!”

As she spoke, Luna walked around to face the back of the statue.

I won’t do anything, sweet Celestia! You’re going to lose the crown all by yourself!”

And as He said this, the tip of His stone tail whipped out and tapped Luna on the head, causing her eyes to swirl.

“Ungrateful sister!” Luna cried.

The two of them were now standing in the new throne room in Whinnychester. It was one hundred years later.

“You have hoarded the love of our subjects all to yourself and to your cursed day!” Luna screamed, her coat darkening and her voice deepening. “This injustice will last no longer. The ponies will be mine! And the night will last forever!”

“No!” Celestia screamed as she jolted awake.

It took a few seconds for the alicorn to even realize that she was awake. Her vision was at first a dim blood-red haze, which gradually faded to a slate-gray darkness. Mentally, she had to fight through an even thicker haze, working outward from the fact of her identity to try and grasp where she was. She also had to adjust to a change in size: she was as small as an average mare, and her pink mane lay flat and heavy on her back, weighed down by her sweat.

Eventually the persistent clues being fed to her by her ears rose to her conscious attention: somewhere nearby a dragon was roaring.

Celestia rose uncertainly to her black hooves. Every one of her joints screamed in pain from disuse. She seemed unnaturally heavy, like the ground was pulling at her. Another pull was present in her thoughts, away from rational thought, and back to the comfort of resumed slumber.

She shook this suggestion off with a toss of her head. She knew the identity of the dragon that was roaring. It was her good friend Kameneva, a gentle artist who would never harm a soul. Kameneva was the one who had graciously allowed her to stay in her cave on the western face of the Canterhorn, where nopony would ever find her. But the sounds that surrounded those roars made it clear that Kameneva was now trying her very best to kill somepony.

Although it felt like her legs were shackled to leaden weights, Celestia forced her way forward, one agonizing step at a time, until she emerged from the cave and took in the sight before her.

The bloated red dragon, barely recognizable to Celestia as the diminutive artist she remembered, was hovering in the air, sweeping the rocky field with gouts of flame. The blackened nature of the soil around the dragon revealed that she had been doing this for quite some time, and the weakness of her current flame revealed that she was nearing the end of her capacity. The target of her wrath was a party of five ponies, huddled together under the protection of a shield spell being projected from a ruby-tipped staff that a bearded earth pony was holding in place. A pegasus with partial burns on his wings was being healed by a unicorn. Twin pegasai armed with crossbows on their backs were dipping arrows in turn into a vial containing a nasty green substance that burned holes in the gravel where it dripped down. At the center of the ponies’ huddle, Celestia could clearly see a pile of jewels and bits that they had plundered from the cave.

Filled with indignation, Celestia took to the sky. Seeking out the setting sun, she reached out and reclaimed the immense magical might she had surrendered along with her title. In a matter of moments, she had been restored to her fully-powered form. “WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?!” she demanded, with all the authority of a god-princess.

The scene before her froze in place, all heads turned in shock in her direction. “Princess Celestia!” the healer unicorn cried out in recognition.

“Ponies, Kammy, please. Let us find some sort of accommodation,” the alicorn pleaded.

“Kammy” responded to this overture by trying to incinerate her.

Celestia effortlessly blocked the flames. “Kammy! Come to your senses!” she pleaded, but to no avail. The dragon, on seeing that the flames would not work, shot towards her, jaws open wide to snap around her torso.

It must be an illusion!” Celestia heard the archer ponies exclaim in unison. “Everypony knows that the Princess is dead.

It is the Princess!” she heard the healer insist.

This was all that Celestia managed to hear before she had flown out of range. It was clear to her that her friend was lost in the throes of a greed rage, and had to be snapped out of it before she managed to hurt somepony. This did not mean that the party of thieves would be allowed to get away with their crime, just that she would be forced to deal with them later. She did wonder though, when Kameneva managed to collect a treasure worth plundering—she remembered the dragon’s cave as being devoid of valuables when she had moved in. How long have I been sleeping? she wondered.

At that moment, the dragon put on a burst of speed and snapped her jaws upon Celestia’s tail. The alicorn made the tail blaze out in a fiery nova, causing the dragon to squeal in pain. “Where is your mind, Kammy?” she asked out loud. “Even in a greed rage you would have remembered that trick.” She raced upwards, planning to force her pursuer into unconsciousness when they reached the edge of the atmosphere.

But the chase ended far quicker than the ex-princess had anticipated. Immediately after they had both passed through an invisible magical barrier, she heard Kameneva’s furious wing-beats calm into a hovering pattern. “Where...where am I?” the dragon asked her. “Princess, what happened?”

Celestia turned around with a relieved grin, to see that the dragon had shrunk down to her normal size, twice that of the alicorn. “It is good to have you back, Kammy,” she said. “And please, it’s just Celestia. I don’t deserve that title.”

“Do not say that, my friend,” the dragon said, flying up to reach the alicorn’s eye level. “Say merely that you have put the title aside until you have regained the strength to bear its burdens.”

“If you insist,” Celestia said with a small smile, although in her mind she was far from convinced of the truth of the advice she was given. “Now, do you know what happened to you down there?”

Kameneva looked away. “I do indeed,” she said with shame. “It was the Curse of Equestria.”

“The...Curse of Equestria?” Celestia asked, wide-eyed.

“Yes, it set in within a year of your slumber,” Kameneva explained. “The animals outside my cave started to become more vicious, to seem to revel in their violence against each other. My fellow dragons began to flee to the east, each of them urging me to abandon you and join them.” She rubbed absently at one cheek, at the tears she would be shedding if she were a pony. “They told me of barely controlled urges to rampage and hoard, to...to see the ponies as enemies instead of friends. And they claimed that the ponies were changing as well, fighting each other at every opportunity. I tried to wake you...but I failed.” The dragon looked up at the reddish glow on the horizon where the sun had finished setting. “I was afraid to leave the cave, afraid that something might happen to you if I left you alone. Gradually, I came to see you as the heart of my hoard, and started raiding the pony settlements to find treasures worthy of setting beside you. Even as I was losing my mind, I was glad, because I knew I would always keep you safe from harm.”

“Oh, Kammy,” a tearful Celestia said, flying over to the dragon so she could embrace her. “Thank you for serving me at such tremendous cost to yourself. How long...?”

“You’ve been asleep for twelve years,” Kameneva replied.

“Twelve years!”

“Well it’s alright now!” the dragon said with a catch in her voice. “You’re awake, and you can fix everything, with your faithful knight Kammy by your side! We’ll go to New Odessa, to get the help of the other dragons and—”

“New Odessa?” asked Celestia.

“What was once the pony settlement of Baltimare,” said Kameneva. “The dragons who fled the curse told me that the eastern coast was free of its effects, and so they formed a New Draconia while they sought the cause and cure to what was happening.”

“And the ponies of Baltimare?”

“I do not know.”

Celestia separated herself from Kameneva. “Then that is where you should go,” she told her. “Tell your brethren what has happened, and, if they have found a way to resist the effects of the curse, come rejoin me at your cave in one month’s time. That should give me long enough to get a grasp on what has happened to my little ponies.”

“But comrade, I want to stand by your side!” Kameneva insisted.

“And you will stand by me, Dame Kammy, once you’re safe from the curse,” Celestia told her. “But until then, you are a threat, to yourself, to the ponies...”

“...And to you,” the dragon finished sadly. “Very well, Celestia. May the Luck of the Dragons protect you!” She rushed in for a quick hug.

Celestia reached up and touched each of Kameneva’s closed eyes with her horn. “This enchantment will allow you to see the barrier where the curse begins,” Celestia explained. “It will last for one day.”

Thank you,” Kameneva whispered, her eyes faintly glowing from Celestia’s spell. Then she quickly turned and began to fly eastward without looking back.

Celestia knew that her friend kept her eyes forward to keep from breaking down at the thought that they might never see each other again. She watched the dwindling form of the scholar, impressing the sight to her memory. When she could see nobody else in the sky she sighed, then gracefully turned to make a large circle in the air.

She used her magical senses to trace out the shape of the hemispherical barrier. From its curvature, it appeared to indeed reach the ground at a point west of Baltimare and the other port cities. The area it encompassed appeared to be roughly half the size of Equestria at its height, and contained in its western and southern reaches some of the wildest areas included in its borders. Its center, as near as she could discern, was in the vicinity of the Castle of the Two Sisters in Whinnychester...assuming that the city of Whinnychester had ever been rebuilt in the fifteen years since the final battle between herself and Nightmare Moon. Celestia gasped audibly as she realized that the battle may in fact have been the cause of the Curse in the first place. She vowed once more to make things right.

Celestia glided cautiously through the barrier. Its magic seemed utterly foreign to her, and far too complex for her to analyze to any degree of confidence. It seemed to strengthen some forms of magic while weakening others. Its effect on personality and inhibitions was far too subtle for her to discern, although she knew it had to be present.

Having passed through the barrier, the alicorn surveyed the landscape. Where Whinnychester once stood was not the blacked ruin she remembered with horror and shame, but instead a dense forest, utterly devoid of any sign of civilization. She picked out many of the pony cities she had helped to found after the defeat of Discord, but over half of them appeared to be abandoned. Farms existed, but the average size appeared to be much smaller than before. There were also large areas where former farmland had reverted back into the forest, plain or swamp it had been before earth ponies under her leadership had tamed the land. She saw no sign of the great cloud city of Pegasopolis, but instead spotted at least six smaller settlements, each clearly adorned with fortress-like features that hadn’t existed since the days when the three tribes were at war with each other.

As she descended further, it became clear that the entire landscape was dotted with castles, palaces and other stone fortresses. The wilderness areas formed by the abandoned farmland seemed to split the land inside the barrier into a dozen or more separate territories. It was as if the clock had been rolled back to the Pre-Unification Era while she had been gone.

Celestia glided down to the rocky plain in front of Kameneva’s cave. She could see a cart being pulled by the bearded earth pony from before fleeing eastward, packed to nearly the point of collapse with the dragon’s abandoned treasure. Knowing that the goods had almost certainly been stolen from their rightful owners by Kameneva under the influence of the curse, Celestia no longer begrudged the group of plunderers the right to take the riches for themselves, but she still wished to speak with them to learn what she could about where this curse came from, and how it had affected them. Covetousness, and the foolhardiness to attack a greed-bloated dragon in her own cave seemed to be very likely symptoms. The twin archer pegasai flew above the cart, and appeared to be giving words of encouragement to the earth pony to put on speed. The previously injured pegasus, on the other hoof, was urging the healer unicorn to flee. This was because the unicorn was in the same position she had been ever since recognizing Princess Celestia, sitting on her rump and looking up at the alicorn in total awe. The unicorn’s coat was periwinkle blue, her mane was peach orange, and her cutie mark was a bumblebee pulling a tiny chariot. Celestia was struck by the unicorn’s brown eyes, a very rare eye color for ponies. The pegasus’ coat was a very pale blue, her mane was the same shade of orange as the unicorn’s, and her cutie mark was a cloud in the shape of another bumblebee. What most struck Celestia, however, was the small rod that was attached to a mid-torso belt by a thin cable. Celestia instantly recognized it as a magic wand, an extremely powerful and extremely rare artifact.

Rigged!” Celestia heard the pegasus exclaim. “Rigged! Rigged! Ellen!

The unicorn turned her head. “What, Big?” she asked, with some annoyance.

Let’s get out of here, Rigged!” the pegasus insisted.

No!” the unicorn proclaimed, and turned back to quickly address Celestia, who was only a ponyheight above her at this point. “Oh mighty Celestia, please accept me as your acolyte, so that I may teach your truths to the masses! I surrender myself to you, body and—”

Before a shocked Celestia was able to protest, she felt herself buffeted by fierce winds that seemed to spring up out of nowhere. She was suddenly aware of a powerful presence that seemed to press in on them from all directions. A palpable feeling of disembodied disapproval centered around the unicorn named Rigged, and began to squeeze. The winds raised Rigged into the air, and lightning bolts began to fly out of the suddenly gathered clouds all around her. The unicorn mare appeared to be engaged in a fierce argument with an invisible presence, but Celestia was unable to make out the words.

With a scream, Rigged was suddenly released from whatever force was holding her, causing her to fall hard to the ground.

Celestia reached out a black hoof to help her up.

“I’m sorry!” Rigged told the alicorn as she wobbled to her hooves. “I’d swear myself to you, but my mistress Foaltus will not release me. Forgive me!” She then turned and ran away.

“I am not a goddess!” Celestia cried out, to no response. The pegasus named Big had long since fled. Celestia should have been alone at this point, but she felt the presence from before turn its malice against her.

The alicorn braced herself. She was prepared for a physical assault, like she had witnessed against Rigged. She was prepared for a psychic attack, or an attempt to modify her personality, like what must have happened to Kameneva. What she was not prepared for was an overwhelming compulsion to fall asleep. This was after all what she had wanted twelve years ago, the only way she could think of to escape her own personal Tartarus. And so it was nearly impossible for her to resist it. She felt the strength drain completely from her body. With a last desperate effort, she launched herself into the sky, in a vain attempt to get through the barrier into safety. But before she had even gotten ten ponyheights above the ground, she had completely lost control of her body.

The last thing she saw before passing into an endless sleep was the moon, floating in the sky, stained with the sigil of the Nightmare, the sign of her failure.

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