• Published 6th Aug 2014
  • 1,788 Views, 136 Comments

The Royal Apples: Into the Land of Neverwere - Radical Gopher



Mac finds himself uncertain as to his role as the new Prince of Equestria.

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Chapter 12

King Sombra slowly paced back and forth in front of the old castle, stopping periodically to watch as Queen Chrysalis ordered her minions to fan out and began their search of the grounds. “If our draconequus master is right, then the alicorn and his party should be showing up sometime soon. It’s been almost a day since they were seen at the old Ponyville depot.”

The queen of holes looked at Sombra. “It’s almost poetic, don’t you think?”

“What is?”

“Well, the fact that just at the point where we have almost all of Equestria under our hooves, this Alicorn Prince suddenly appears to challenge us.”

Sombra chuckled. “You heard our prisoner. He may look like an alicorn, but he’s nothing more than a poor dirt farmer. The wings... the horn... it all has to be an elaborate ruse”

“How can you be sure?” Chrysalis asked.

“Because, in all the long history of this land, there has never been an alicorn prince... not once. Just look at his choice of companions. A lame stage magician, a prostitute... a clown. What kind of threat could they pose? ”

“Why do I get the feeling you’re jealous?” the queen replied sarcastically, licking her lips in amusement. Envy had such a delicious flavor to it, and there was more than enough dripping off the armored unicorn mage to feed her for several days. Best of all, he was so wrapped up in himself he couldn’t feel the subtle tug on his soul that accompanied any decent feeding... not that she needed it.

“Jealous? Why would I be jealous of that red-furred buffoon?”

“Because he isn’t a fake. He’s exactly what you wanted to be,” the queen replied, “what you were striving so hard to become a millennia ago; an alicorn stallion. One who could dominate and mate with Celestia and Luna. One that could rule all of Equestria as high king and emperor of the world.

Sombra glared at her. “You know not of what you speak. The Lord of Chaos rules this land. It is best you do not forget that.”

“Oh, believe me, that’s the last thing I would ever forget.” Chrysalis was interrupted in her taunt by one of the smaller changelings. He quickly whispered something in her ear. She smiled. “Excellent. Have a dozen roving guards patrolling the castle in two-pony teams. I don’t want even a para-sprite to be able to get in or out.”

“Yes your majesty... and what of your collection? Where would you like us to put it?”

“The throne room for the moment. It seems an appropriate place... don’t you think?”

The changeling bowed. “As you wish your highness.” He turned and trotted away to carry out her orders.”

“I do not see why you insist on bringing that “collection” of yours everywhere you go.”

“Oh please... I shouldn’t have to explain myself to you. Especially considering how much I know you like to gloat, yourself.”

Sombra opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by a small, wet drop splashing against his muzzle. A second one struck him between the eyes. “And here we go again,” he muttered, trotting over next to Chrysalis who was sheltering under a nearby tree. Several more drops splattered against him before a full down pour inundated the surrounding land. He took a deep breath, smelling the scent of chocolate milk as it rained down. “You’d best make sure your servants don’t drink any of this rain. It’s laced with brandy.”

“That is not a problem,” the queen replied, chuckling.

“What’s so funny?”

“Can you imagine what it must be like in Manehatten right about now? Thousands of ponies standing in the rain, mouths open to the sky and all of them getting deliciously drunk.”

King Sombra shook his head. “You are so bizarre sometimes...”

“Yes, I know,” she purred, taking yet another tiny sip of the unicorn’s frustration.

**********

“Does this cave go much farther?” asked Rarity, her horn glowing dimly in the blackness. The ponies were all following Big Mac who led them, single-file, down a secret, winding passage under the Castle of the Two Pony Sisters.

“Nnnope.” His own horn was lit up, casting a greenish-white light for all to see. Trixie was also helping, though her light was a little dimmer being pale blue.

Rainbow Dash walked immediately behind the stallion. “You sure we’re going the right way?”

“Eeeyup.”

After a few minutes the party came to the end of the passage. Ahead of them was a solid wall of granite blocks. “That looks like the foundation wall of a castle,” observed Spike.

“Eeeyup.”

“The Pony Sister’s castle?” asked Fluttershy.

“Eeeyup.”

“Ah hope youse know how to get in.”

Instead of answering the alicorn simply closed his eyes and focused. His horn became brighter and as the others watched he traced it along the lines between the stones. Everywhere his horn touched he left a glowing trail of light. When he finished, he stepped back several paces and took a deep breath.
AMICE!”

Big Mac’s voice echoed slightly. For a brief moment there was silence, then the sounds of moving stones filled the passageway. The stones individually slid apart leaving a pathway through the wall large enough for the stallion and his companions.

“Whoa,” muttered Rainbow. “That is so cool.”

Trixie looked up at the opening. “Did your friend Arual show you this?”

“Eeeyup... after a fashion,” the stallion replied. The others did not see him close his eyes and shudder for a moment. “Come on,” he muttered forcefully, “we’re burnin’ daylight.”

Cautiously the ponies made their way into the ancient castle. The wall sealed itself behind them as they looked around.

“These look... look like the dungeons,” Fluttershy observed nervously.

“Eeeyup. We’ve got ta go through here ta get ta where we need ta be.” As they walked Big Mac looked over at Spike. “Ah noticed a guitar hanging on the wall at Zecora’s. Was that yers?”

The dragon nodded. “I practice with it sometimes, but I’m not very good... yet.”
“But ya do know how ta read music?”

“Sure,” Spike replied. “Is it important?”

“It could be.”

The continued on into the castle. As they rounded one corner, they unexpectedly heard the sound of a hissing chatter. Big Mac signaled every pony to stop, then he and Spike peeked around the corner.
There standing in the middle of the next hall were a pair of changelings, arguing with each other. They pulled back and Spike put a finger to his lips.

Reaching into his shoulder bag, he pulled out three vials, one of which was empty. He carefully uncorked the first two and sprinkled some of the contents of each into the third. Capping them tightly, he quietly shook his new compound then peeked around the corner before tossing it with a gentle, underhand throw. It shattered at the hooves of the changelings, producing a blue and pink cloud. The hall was filled with the sound of coughing and then silence. When everypony looked, the creatures were lying unconscious in the middle of the hall. Both had been shrunk to something the size of humming birds. Spike used his breath to burn away any residue of the powder on the floor, then picked up his victims and deposited them in a small mason jar which he dropped into his sack, after punching a few holes in the lid with his claws. He grinned at the others.

“Nice trick,” remarked Babs.

“Wasn’t much... just a few of Zecora’s powders mixed together in the right order.”

“Remind me to talk to her later about doing a magical cosmetics line. I bet she could whip up something that would take the wrinkles off a Shar Pei.” Rarity said.

Rainbow responded by slapping a hoof to her face.

Turning several more corners, the ponies soon found themselves facing yet another blank, stone wall. This time however Big Mac counted seven hoof-spans right of the wall’s center, then pressed in on a keystone. A door opened in front of them leading into a long chamber, at the end of which sat an ornate calliope. The stallion nodded to himself grimly, then went over to the left side of the instrument and pressed a panel. A small door popped open, from which the alicorn withdrew a rolled up scroll. Carefully, he unfurled it and placed it on the music rack, holding it in place with the stays on each end of the rack.

“Can ya understand this, Spike?” Big Mac asked.

The adolescent dragon studied the scroll for a few minutes and nodded. “This isn’t your typical sheet music,” he grinned.

“Nnnope... but then, this ain’t yer typical organ either.”

Trixie looked up at the alicorn. “How do you know so much about this place?”

“When the Tree o’ Harmony was teaching me ta be an alicorn, it was doin’ it in here,” he replied. “Or Ah should say in a dream-replica o’ this place. The spell it used made it feel like Ah was haunting the castle fer more than a hundred years. I got to know it pretty well.”

“How on earth could the tree know so much about it?” asked Rarity.

“If ya stand quiet fer a few minutes, ya can probably feel the magic surrounding it. Most o’ the spells used when it was built are still active, along with a lot of the preservation magic. That’s why this organ still works, and why that scroll didn’t fall apart when Ah unrolled it. The tree can sense and ‘read’ nearby magic. That’s how it called ta me.”

“That makes sense,” murmured Fluttershy. “After all, the tree’s probably been here longer than the castle.” The yellow pegasus looked at the stallion and noticed a lost... faraway look in his eyes.
Realization suddenly dawned on her. “You were trapped in here for what seemed like a hundred years... Alone?”

“Uh... Eeeyup,” he said softly. “Except for Arual, and a few ghostly memories Ah was able ta conjure up and talk with ta keep me from goin’... crazy.”

The others looked at Big Mac for a few moments, silently processing what they’d heard.

“Whoa,” muttered Rainbow. “That’s... really... heavy. I couldn’t imagine being alone for a week, let alone a hundred years.”

“Nottomentionbeingallaloneonaworldwhereyouwereneverbornandyouhavenorealfriends
orfamilyorlovedonestocomfortyou!” Pinkie Pie verbally machine-gunned.

“Do we have ta talk about this... now?” the stallion asked uncomfortably, his tone carrying more than a little frustration.

“No,” replied Babs. “What we’ve gotta do is find those Elements so’s we can get youse home to your world.”

“Right!” replied the others.

“So what’s the plan?” Spike asked.

“We know the castle is being patrolled by You-Know-Who’s minions. So, we make them think it’s haunted. Once they’ve evacuated, we should be able ta get ta the throne room where the elements are hidden.”

“OH? OH! You mean just like Nightmare Night!” observed Pinkie.

“But without the candy,” said Rarity.

The party pony’s face dropped several inches. “AAAAAAWWWWWW!”

“So how do we do that?” asked Fluttershy.

“When the castle was first built, Princess Celestia oversaw the construction. On ma world, she’s a bit of a practical joker, especially when it comes ta her sister, Luna. With that in mind, she had a large number o’ traps, deadfalls, revolving floors, ceilings and walls, and a variety of ‘funhouse’ type gimmicks built inta the design. The same is true here, and the calliope here is the control for them all.”

“So that’s why the music sheet’s full of key combinations and pictographs,” the dragon replied.
“Eeeyup... they’re the triggers for each gag.”

Spike scratched his head fin. “So how do we know when to trip a particular trap?

“Just watch the music sheet.” They all did for several moments. Suddenly, one particular set of notes turned momentarily from black to gold, then faded. “That was somepony walking within range o’ one of the traps.”

The adolescent dragon grinned wickedly. “So all I have to do is wait until a set of notes lights up, then press the right keys.”

“Eeeyup.”

“This is going to be EPIC!” Rainbow Dash observed.

**********

Chrysalis sat in Celestia’s ancient throne, watching as her subjects moved five book cases worth of what looked like large snow globes into the room and set them up near the dais. One of the changelings pulled out a feather duster and diligently began sprucing up each shelf.

Looking around the queen quietly admired the level of magic required to build and preserve the wrecked castle. Torn tapestries which should have fallen to pieces hundreds of years ago still hung from the walls as if waiting for some skilled weaver to repair them. Dust and cobwebs could be seen around the room, but not at the levels one would have expected for close to a thousand years of neglect.

Chrysalis knew the story of Celestia’s battle with Luna. The pain of having to banish her sister must have indeed been great, for she had abandoned the castle, lock, stock and barrel and moved her court to what had originally been the summer palace at Canterlot. She looked forward to her minions finding the library. If the preservation spells held as well there as they had the rest of the ruined structure, she would have access to knowledge that had been forgotten a thousand years ago. Knowledge she did not intend to share with anyone.

She was interrupted in her reverie by the sound of a startled cry that was abruptly cut off. The queen looked around, but could see nothing of the changeling servant who’d been tending her collection, except, that is, for the feather duster that now lay abandoned in the middle of the floor. Rising from Celestia’s old throne, she called for the two guards who were just outside the chamber. When there was no response, she went to check on them, only to discover they too were missing from their post.

“What is going on here?” Even as she began searching for her minions Chrysalis had the feeling there was no pony around to answer her question.

Outside, King Sombra was standing on the west side of the castle. A number of pegasus reinforcements from his own personal guard had arrived and he was in the process of organizing them into airborne reconnaissance teams. No pony would be able to approach the castle undetected with them flying around.

Without warning, a rectangular section of wall began spinning at an insane rate. From it, half-a-dozen changelings were suddenly ejected, like watermelon seeds being spit from some hungry pony’s mouth. They landed all over the place with one, actually coming to rest at his hooves. He watched as the creature shakily stood on its hooves.

“What happened? What are you doing out here?” he demanded. The minion replied in its own, strange, rasping chitter.

“Speak normally, you half-insect. You know I can’t understand your hive tongue.”

“Haunted,” the changeling whined. “Castle haunted. Pulled this one into wall. Spun around till dizzy and spat this one out. Hive brother chewed up by castle. Vanished... no more! Castle haunted... hungry. Warn Queen Chrysalis.”

“IDIOT.” Sombra growled. “It’s no more haunted than my own palace. GET UP and get back to...”
CRUNCH! The Shadow King suddenly found himself knocked head over hoof as yet another changeling was hurled from one of the castle towers only to crash face first into the sorcerous unicorn.

“HIVE BROTHER! Not consumed in small piece are you!” responded the first changeling joyously.

Angrily, Sombra shook the changeling off his back and turned to look at the castle. Over the course of the next few minutes he saw two dozen or so changelings ejected from the castle through windows, doors, the roof and numerous other locations. The air was filled with their frightened chittering. Several of them banded together in small, fearful groups. After quickly consulting with each other, several of these bands rose into the sky, circling the castle like frightened bats. One or two spiraled off the main group and headed off over the Everfree.

“FOOLS!” the witch king yelled. “Get back here... Your queen is still inside! You MUST defend her!”

Only a few of the frightened changelings responded, spinning off the main swarm to land next to Sombra. “Where queen...? Where Chrysalis?” they hissed.

“INSIDE,” the unicorn growled. “She’s in the castle... Go to her... Find her.”

Even as he spoke the air suddenly crackled with a discharge of magical energy. A greenish sphere of energy exploded in the upper branches of a nearby tree, shattering limbs and sending fragments of wood spinning outward in a cloud of shrapnel. Sombra barely managed to raise a barrier of chrystal between himself and the blast. A number of changelings were not so lucky as they were pin-cushioned by splinters.

The witch king looked up in the tree only to find a confused and angry Chrysalis glaring back at him from the charred and smoking branches. “What happened?”

“YOU TELL ME!” the queen spat back angrily. “As far as I can tell the castle is fighting us.”

“How?”

“I don’t know,” Chrysalis hissed. “Maybe we set off a general protection spell... maybe the castle has a guardian entity we’ve awoken. All I know is one minute I’m standing outside the throne room and the next I’m in a tree.”

“Could it be him... the Alicorn Prince?”

“Impossible... unless you were fool enough to let him get by you.”

“No pony passed this way save our own servants.” Sombra replied. “We need to go back inside and find the source of this defense as well as the Elements. They cannot be allowed to fall into his hooves."

“Be my guest...” Chrysalis hissed as she lifted herself from the tree and touched down next to the unicorn. “It’s your turn to go explore the castle. I’ll stay out here and rally my children. They’re frightened and need my strength. Maybe you and your ‘better’ half will have more luck."

“Insolent cow!” Sombra sneered, turning away from the queen. He signaled his guards to form on him. Pausing for a moment, he focused energy through his horn. Both it, and his eyes turned reddish-black. “Meet me in the grand ball room,” he whispered within his mind. The King of Shadows waited until he received a confirming murmur before leading his pegasi guards into the castle.

To be continued...

Author's Note:

And now it starts. I want to keep this story interesting. To do so, I need your comments and critiques so I know when and where the story can be improved, so feel free to respond.