• 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 3: A Tale of Two Sieges (Redfern)

At the Inn of the Prancing Pony

Chapter 3: A Tale of Two Sieges (Redfern)

The pony known as Hope Springs spent nearly a month in the village of Redfern. She made herself available to perform odd jobs for anypony that wanted her, the more grueling the better. And slowly she built up her strength, along with a meager collection of copper and silver coins.

One day Loam Planter took her a short ways outside the western walls of the village (for the village was surrounded with a two-ponyheight wall on all sides other than the eastern road up to the Canterhorn). He took her to a place where the soil was freshly dug. Sitting to one side were the bodies of a half-dozen dead cats and four dead dogs.

“Well,” he said half-jokingly, “you did say to give you a chance at all of the jobs around town.”

Celestia said nothing, picking up one of several shovels that was stacked next to the bodies with her hooves, and got to work, with Loam working right beside her.

“What happened to them?” she asked as she began to break the dirt.

“Plague,” Loam said simply as he did the same. Only after she stared at him in disbelief at his tone did he explain himself: “We consider ourselves lucky that our plague only affects our pets. It used to be...well it used to be worse, let me leave it at that. This is what’s built up in the past week.”

# # #

“Alright, finished,” Celestia said grimly after the bodies had been disposed of. “I feel bad asking for payment after that.”

“Nevertheless,” Loam said grandly, “payment is what you are going to receive. Behold!”

Celestia looked at the fork-shaped object that he had presented her from his saddlebags. “What is this?”

“It’s a slingshot,” Loam explained, “and your weapon from now on.”

“I’m not going to use a weapon,” Celestia said, trying to give the item back.

“There’s no way you can survive without one,” Loam said, pushing the item into her chest. “Especially against a unicorn.” Hooking one hoof around the body of the weapon, he picked up a small stone from the ground with another. Sitting back on his rump, he placed the rock against the elastic, pulled back, and let the pebble sail effortlessly across the breadth of the field, where it bounced off of a great big, dull blue rock. “I like to imagine that little crack is one of their horns, summoning a nasty spell,” he joked. “The slingshot is the weapon of a peasant. Unlike a dagger, you’ll never have to rush into close quarters to retrieve it after throwing it, and its ammunition, the rocks of the fields, are endless. Best of all, if it breaks, you can easily repair or replace it with no coin out of satchel.”

Celestia sighed and accepted her gift, then looked it over. “This main part is wood, I can see that. But what is this stretchy part?”

“Animal intestine. You’ll find plenty of sources along the side of the road to replace it if it ever breaks.”

The mare dropped the object with horror.

With an exasperated sigh, the stallion picked up the weapon and passed it back to her. “Take it,” he insisted. “You won’t survive for a minute around heroes if you can’t defend yourself.”

“No!” she replied, with more force than she intended. “Fighting back physically will only label me as an enemy in their eyes, and I have no chance of outfighting them, if your stories are true. I will get what I need from them with friendship, and nothing more.”

Loam Planter was lost for words for nearly a minute. “From anypony else, I’d call those the words of a madpony. From you...I can almost believe it.”

Celestia’s time with the ponies of Redfern came to an end on the night when she was awakened by the ringing of the town’s warning bell.

She clambered down the stairs of the inn and onto the street.

“Heroes! Heroes!” came the cry carried from one pony to another. The tone was far from welcoming.

# # #

Celestia joined many of the other able-bodied ponies on the parapet of the city wall. Hearing that the crisis was impending but not immediate, she joined the line to look through the town’s scope.

The “scope” was something that had apparently been invented during Celestia’s sleep, or else stolen from some heroes—the mayor, who had dragged it into town one day a couple of years back, refused to say anything, “so no others may be implicated beside me”. In form, it was a pair of seed-shaped pieces of polished glass, held in position by a rickety brass framework. There was a large toothed gear that focused the image one could see through them.

Long before she had reached the front of the line, Celestia had learned what it was that everypony was watching: a group of four heroes engaged in a fight against about a dozen “skeleton dogs”. The fight was taking place on a trunk road that passed several hundred strides to the west of Redfern’s borders. The town was on full alert, because creatures defeated by heroes had a bad habit of taking out their frustrations on the nearest pony habitation. Mrs. and Mr. Sifter, the town bakers, had found an ingenious way to use the scope to aim the town’s mighty catapult, and were busy loading a stone for use against any attackers. There were other weapons waiting for use on the top of the wall, spear-throwers and caldrons of oil sitting above piles of wood and kindling, but these ponies were not warriors. Celestia knew this, and so did they. So they left the grim work to the only family in town that wanted it, and stood around hoping they wouldn’t be called upon to single-hoofedly defend their village. Because they very much doubted that they would be able to do so successfully.

Now if Celestia had an objection against using a weapon to protect herself against ponies, she had no qualms whatsoever in weaponry being used to defend a city of dozens of ponies against a monster or two.

One of them’s broken loose!” the voice of the innkeeper reported to the others. “It’s heading straight this way!

Range?” asked the voice of Mrs. Sifter.

There was a short pause. From Celestia’s participation in a drill a few days earlier, she knew that there was a hoof-made pointer attached to the pivot of the scope. This moved across a painted wooden card mounted on the side, which converted the vertical angle into a distance. “108 strides!” he reported.

We can’t fire until 20,” said Mr. Sifter. “Flower, if you could...

This would be the point where Mrs. Sifter would raise up her fine-maned head of nearly snow-white hair, allowing it to be caught by the breeze.

One and a quarter strides per second, from the south-southwest,” Mr. Sifter announced, basing his calculation on what he saw his wife’s mane do.

Mrs. Sifter immediately started adjusting the catapult, turning wheels and pulling ropes. “Mr. Sifter gets the scope at 50 strides!” she ordered the crowd. “If anypony sees anything else heading this way, or anything else we need to know, do not hesitate to inform us!” In a quieter tone, she addressed the innkeeper. “Skeleton dog?

That’s what it looks like,” the innkeeper’s voice replied.

Half-pony stone?” Mr. Sifter asked his wife.


Skeleton dogs?” Celestia asked herself after a few seconds of pondering. “Are you sure that they’re made from bone?!” she asked the innkeeper.

Um...no!” called back the voice of her innkeeper. “It’s pretty dark—could be anything thin! 85 strides and closing!

Celestia closed her earth pony eyes, and a second later opened the eyes of a pegasus. “Maybe it’s a timberwolf!” Celestia called back, except this was no mere suggestion. Quickly, she blinked again to get her eyes back to normal. She didn’t think this counted as using any magic, but she hoped by being brief she hadn’t brought the town into any additional danger.

Mrs. and Mr. Sifter looked at each other before calling out “Expert!” as one. “Expert” was one of the few times when one was allowed to cut in the all-important scope-viewing line.

Celestia galloped past the other ponies to look through the scope, which was directly in front of the catapult. To be honest, with this light and these scratched lenses, it would have been nearly impossible for an earth pony or unicorn to be sure that what they were seeing was absolutely a timberwolf. But they didn’t have to know that. “Yup, definitely a timberwolf,” she reported.

“Bring up the coal cage!” Mrs. Sifter ordered the ponies on the ground below as she bucked the stone out of the catapult’s basket. She then began furiously adjusting the weapon for the new payload. “Range?!”

Celestia looked down at the card. “75 strides.”

“We’ll fire at 10.”

“10?” the nearby innkeeper asked incredulously.

“A stone we can lob in the night unseen,” Mrs. Sifter quickly explained. “But if we don’t launch a fire payload really close, that creature will be able to see it and dodge.” She looked up at Celestia and pointed. “Just set that lever to—”

At that moment, a blinding ball of fire erupted on the horizon, causing all of the ponies on the wall to crouch down in fear, crying out at their temporary blindness. All of them except for the pony who once looked into the sun on a regular basis. The light of the fireball allowed Celestia to take in everything that was going on in the distant battle between adventurer ponies and timberwolves. And one thing that her glimpse made clear was that that battle was over.

She remembered to crouch down just as the others were recovering.

“Who can still see?” a dazed Mr. Sifter asked. After a moment of silence, he cried out, “Somepony had to have been blinking at that exact moment, right?”

“Uh...I can still see,” Celestia reported. She pretended to scan around with the scope. “The other timberwolves have been destroyed, and one of the heroes is gravely injured. The lone attacker is closing faster now. 65 strides...60...”

“Here’s the coal cage!” declared the spindly colt son of the Sifters, a round wooden lattice balanced upon his back. The family worked together to get the coal-filled object into position, based mostly on touch, as their vision was still slow to come back to them. From his saddlebags, the colt produced a glass bottle full of a viscous and noxious-smelling substance. He began pouring it over the coals like syrup, until an impatient Mr. Sifter grabbed it from him with his mouth and smashed the bottle onto the cage, immediately saturating it.

“50 strides!” reported Celestia, who prepared to step aside for Mr. Sifter to take over. “Should I—?”

“No!” ordered Mrs. Sifter. She pulled a lever that caused the scope to snap out of Celestia’s hooves to point due west, and a heavy harness to drop down behind it. “None of us can see well enough. The scope is now tied directly to the catapult, and the distance finder will now tell you where the payload will land, not how far away the creature is. Line up the scope, and keep it on the attacker. It will fire as soon as the distance finder reads...did you adjust the trigger point?”

Celestia looked over at the lever Mrs. Sifter had been pointing at when the fireball had gone off. She quickly moved it from “20” to “10”. “I did now.”

Mrs. Sifter smiled. “Good girl. The distance finder will trigger the launch, so you must keep the cross-hairs absolutely fixed! Do you understand?”

“Yes, Ma’am!” Celestia said with a salute. She stepped into the harness and one heavy step at a time, rotated the entire apparatus until it was pointed at the approaching timberwolf. “25 strides!” she announced. At this distance, nopony needed special eyes to see the approaching creature. Now that it was close to its target, it began to dodge and weave, but Celestia kept up with every move, keeping the creature fixed in her sights. “20 strides!” She heard a “whoosh!” behind her as the basket was ignited. “15! 14! 13! 12!” She felt a trigger beginning to be engaged. “11...10!”

With a mighty twang and a rapid uprush of air, the flaming basket of coal sailed into the air.

Celestia rushed with the others to the edge of the wall. The timberwolf looked to be 25 strides away, but it was closing at a dizzying speed. At the same time, the great ball of yellow and orange light was sailing towards it in slow motion.

Everypony held their breath.

At the last moment, the creatures eyes flicked upwards, and it tried desperately to get out of the way. As a result, the projectile only managed to turn the creature’s backside into flaming splinters, the rest of it falling apart into its constituent branches and twigs.

The villagers cried out in victory, even as Celestia cried out in dismay.

“Reload!” she ordered them. “Quickly, before—”

“It’s reforming!” the mayor cried out in horror.

“We haven’t got another cage!” yelled Mr. Sifter.

“Use the stone! Use anything!”

It’s on the wall!”

It shouldn’t have been possible. The wall of the city leaned forward at a slight angle, to make it impossible to climb. But it was made out of wood, and no wooden barrier could stop a timberwolf. The re-constituted creature, half its original size, raced up the wall like it was a downward slope, plant juices dribbling from its snapping maw. Soon it would reach the top, and sail over it to begin its rampage in the unprotected village.

“Collapse the wall,” the mayor ordered with a sob.

This was the one part of the civic defense drill that no pony wanted to ever carry out. Stamping their hooves in unison at just the right frequency, a dozen earth ponies caused the western section of the wall to collapse around them.

The timberwolf cried out in terror as it fell with them into the growing cloud of dust.

# # #

Celestia slowly lifted herself to her hooves, disrupting a small pile of rubble that had fallen on top of her. She considered herself extremely lucky to not have any broken bones, although she did have a cut across her ribs on her right side; a superficial wound, but painful nonetheless. From the groans around her, she could not be entirely certain that the other ponies had shared her luck.

Unfortunately, there was another sound in the dust-filled air: the growling of a very angry timberwolf. Celestia knew what she had to do. She checked to see that her saddlebags were in place, and that they contained all of her accumulated earnings. She looked over at the little Sifter colt, who was lying beside her. “Golddust?” she asked.

“Yes, Miss Springs?”

“If you see Loam Planter after this, thank him for all he’s done for me. And tell Mr. Potter that his rent is sitting on my writing desk.”

The colt’s eyes went wide. “Miss? You’re not gonna—?”

“Hey sap-for-brains!” she cried out at the timberwolf. “If you’re looking for somepony to blame for being so tiny, why don’t you blame me?”

With a roar, a shape began to cut through the dust cloud, heading straight for her. Celestia launched herself out of the hole in the wall the collapse had created, headed straight for the campfire that the heroes were currently sitting around.

As she ran, Celestia kept track of two things: how close the timberwolf was to her heels, and whether anypony at the campfire had noticed their approach. Unfortunately for her, the timberwolf was closing faster than she could possibly get to the camp. Furthermore, her speed was being reduced further by the freshly-dug up soil she was now racing across...

She was crossing the animal graveyard. And that meant the great big, dull blue rock ought to be right around...here!

Celestia used her hind legs to jump into the air, sailing over the rock. The timberwolf, on the other hand, ran right into the rock, causing it to splinter.

She landed hard on one of her forehooves, causing her to tumble. She quickly raised herself to her hooves as the creature began once more to reform—until it was taken out by a thin arrow of flame launched by one of the ponies at the campfire.

Celestia collapsed to the ground, panting, as three of the four ponies from the campfire ran towards her. In truth, she realized there was no way she would have been able to escape the timberwolf a second time, meaning that the heroes had truly saved her life. It had taken an entire village, plus an enormous amount of luck, and that still wasn’t enough to stop one of a type of creature that these four ponies had taken a dozen of out of commission in a matter of seconds.

And then Celestia felt something inside of herself, something incredible, something impossible. Within her heart had been born a second wellspring of magic, one completely different from the one she had possessed for her entire life. This was Hope Springs’ wellspring, Celestia intuited, not Celestia’s.

She was now truly an earth pony, instead of the nothing she had made herself into to avoid the Curse. This world, this warped, mad world, had rewarded her...for contributing to the death of a living creature.

She felt like she was going to be sick.

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