• Published 13th Sep 2014
  • 5,653 Views, 258 Comments

The Seventh Element - PaisleyPerson



Thestrals are thought extinct. But what will happen when one moves to Ponyville? Disguised as an earth pony, Acrylic does her best to fit in. Can she keep the secret, or will she expose her entire race?

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Chapter 31: Exile

Author's Note:

A/N: How do you guys feel about some format coding? Maybe it’ll keep you straight. Now we’ll be checking in on three groups, so it might help. Italicized text means we focus on the thestrals. Capish? Also, pay close attention to the time each scene is set in. We’re going to be jumping around in the time stream between scenes.

Chapter 31
Exile

“Listen here, and listen well,” Torchwood thundered from the center of the clearing. A makeshift stage had been formed out of a large tree stump, which every thestral in the Midnight Armor encampment now swarmed. “Thestrals have been exposed to the entirety of Equestria by the mare Acrylic Storm. She is one of our own.”

“Then she is a traitor!” one called.

“She is an icon!” Torchwood countered. The murmurings hushed. “She saved Equestria from the changeling menace. And in return? Her wings and cutie mark both were removed by the alicorn princesses!” Horror ripped through the multitudes in the forms of angry gasps and whispers. “This is the proof we have been waiting for that thestrals will never be welcomed back to Equestria. So tell me, then. Will we cower in the shadows of the Everfree for the rest of our lives?”

“NO!” came the powerful and unanimous response.

“Or will thestrals rise up once again?” Torchwood suggested.

“YES!” the crowd screamed.

“We will take it by FORCE,” he declared.

“YEAH!”

“The changelings failed, feeding off of the most powerful love known to pony kind!” a young pink mare from the group spoke up. “What do we have that the changelings didn’t?”

“The changelings were fools,” he bellowed back. “They sent their queen in alone to bring down the protection barrier. Even when they had Canterlot secured, they again divided, making themselves weak and exposed. But there is strength in numbers. Are we not many?” The audience roared in agreement. “And what’s more,” he added, “is that the Princesses trust me. In fact, they are looking for me as we speak. To deliver the ‘tragic’ news of Acrylic’s disappearance, no doubt. I can lead you all into the city, and when the time is right, we will strike back!”

“YEAH!”

“The Changelings demonstrated that Celestia can be defeated. First, we send our best fire dancers in to counter the Princesses’ power. We take them separately, when they are alone. Then, we separate the Elements of Harmony.”

“What about Cadence and Shining Armor? Their love defeated Chrysalis.”

“Divide them too! Then who will be left to challenge us?” The thestrals cheered beneath Torchwood. He stood proud from the tree stump where he stood. “Rally our brethren from every encampment in the Everfree! Tell them of our conquest! We need to ready every able stallion and willing mare for the battle to come. Be patient, my comrades. Equestria shall not be subdued in a day.”

The thestrals dispersed, excited chattering filling the valley as every messenger took to the air to spread the news. Meanwhile, Torchwood returned to his tent to catch up on some much needed rest. Planning revenge on Equestria had drained his energy. He circled the mound of pillows he called a bed, and looked over at the single picture in his ‘home.’ Acrylic had painted it for him long ago. The ponies in the picture were so happy. It depicted them at the beginning of their relationship. He wished he could feel that way again. “Don’t worry, Acrylic,” he yawned, laying his head down on the cushions. “We will avenge you.”


Rainbow was overwhelmed. There was an entire camp of angry thestrals somewhere in the Everfree, and Torchwood was one of them! Should she tell the Princesses? Torchwood didn’t seem like the megalomaniac type that would come back to take over Equestria, but what about his friends? Now that they knew, would they come to avenge their lost mare?

“Rainbow Dash?”

“Hey, Spike.” Rainbow glided to the ground from the cloud she’d been lounging on. “What’s up?”

“I was just thinking...”

“About Acrylic?” he nodded. This was the first time the two had actually talked about the matter of thestrals together. Acrylic had informed them both that the other knew, and that it was okay to speak of it amongst themselves, but they were too afraid of letting something slip to say a word. “What’s on your mind?”

“She asked me not to say anything, but I don’t see how it matters now,” he sighed. “She’s not the only one.”

“No kidding,” Rainbow huffed.

“You know?”

“I found out by accident. When Discord teleported me to see Torchwood, he landed us right in the middle of an Everfree camp full of angry thestrals.”

“I was just thinking... what happens to the rest of them now?”

“What do you mean?”

“The whole world knows about thestrals, now. Are the Princesses going to take all of their wings, too?” Rainbow was struck silent.

“I... don’t know...” she mumbled. “They better not; they’ll have an angry mob after them for missing cutie marks and body parts.” She looked at her own feathered wings and shuddered. “Maybe she’ll have us try using the elements?”

“It’s too risky. Acrylic’s... sentence... already made them mad. I don’t think Celestia would risk them turning an entire army’s worth of ponies completely evil.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“But what else is she going to do?”

“We could always ask,” Rainbow prompted. “You can write a letter!”

“Twilight told me not to,” he blushed.

“Oh, come on. You’re just as curious as I am.”

“Twilight says that Celestia’s been beating herself up over the whole incident. She says we need to let her recover.”

“Well, fortunately for us, I don’t have to listen to Twilight.” Rainbow spread her wings.

“Wait! Where are you-”

“I’m going to Canterlot, Spike. Are you with me or not?”

“But-”

“SPIKE! I have to do this. If we don’t get her back soon... I’ll never forgive myself.” Her sad eyes said it all. Then, she took off without the dragon.

Canterlot wasn’t nearly as far a flight as Vanhoover, and she was there within the hour demanding an audience with the Princess. Guards had to hold the pegasus back, she was getting so worked up.

“Let her through,” a deep voice boomed from behind them. The princess of the night stood at the top of the stairwell, watching the scene unfold below her. The guards instantly released the pegasus, and she indignantly flew to Luna’s side.

“What brings you here today, Rainbow Dash?”

“I’ve been... thinking...”

“The thestrals weigh on your mind, as well?”

“Yeah,” she admitted. “What’s going to happen to the rest of them? Acrylic’s family?”

“Sister and I have been pondering the same question,” Luna told her. “Celestia believes she has made a mistake in attempting to change the thestrals. She is barely able to keep up with her royal duties.”

“What do you think?”

“About what?”

“Do you think you did the right thing, taking her wings?” Luna’s expression softened, revealing how tired and stressed it really looked underneath.

“No.” Luna’s horn illuminated the hallway they stood in to open the door to Celestia’s chambers. Upon realizing where they were, Rainbow took a deep breath. She’d never been on such familiar grounds with royalty before. But she soon saw why Luna chose to bring her here. Princess Celestia looked like she had encountered many sleepless nights since Acrylic’s disappearance a week ago. The white alicorn was stationed on her bed, looking absentmindedly out the immense stained glass window in front of the balcony.

“Sister?” Luna called. Celestia barely flinched.

“Your Highness,” Rainbow cleared her throat. Celestia finally turned around.

“Rainbow Dash. It is good to see you.” She got up and slowly plodded for the side table where tea had been set out.

“You too, your Highness.”

“Are your friends here as well?”

“No, your Highness, just me.”

“I see. What brings you to Canterlot alone?”

“I just had to know.” Celestia turned her back to the two, pretending to fix her tea while she was really avoiding the question. “What’s going to happen to all the others?”

“I don’t know,” she confessed. “They cannot be permitted to rejoin Equestria, but they can no longer be ignored, either.”

“But why can’t they come back? They haven’t done anything wrong!” Celestia pondered this for a moment. “You sentenced Acrylic before she ever committed a crime. We all saw how that turned out. Shouldn’t we at least give the rest of them a chance? You did as much for Discord, and he didn’t turn out so bad.” The Princess had been defeated.

“You are right, Rainbow Dash.”

“I am?”

“She is?”

“Yes.”

“But sister, do you not recall what happened a thousand years ago?”

“The memory is fuzzy because it was a thousand years ago,” Celestia retorted. “We tried to vanquish the same enemy from arising again when there was no enemy to be vanquished. It is time to move on, Sister. We must forgive the crimes of long ago and make up for our own mistakes in the present.” Luna bowed her head.

“Then we are agreed.”

“Good.”

“So, the thestrals...”

“Will be welcome to come back to Equestria.”

“We must wait for them to come to us,” Luna reminded. “We do not know where they are.”

“I do!” The Princesses turned in surprise to the elated Rainbow Dash. “They’ve been camping in the Everfree for generations! I don’t know exactly where... just somewhere deep inside.”

“Thank you, Rainbow Dash. I will dispatch my finest messengers immediately with the offering of a peace treaty.”

“YES!” Rainbow did a happy flip midair, bringing the first real smile to Celestia’s face since the wedding.


“Blaze? Garble? I’m going out for more firewood. I won’t be long,” I promised, grabbing my cloak from the hook. As it turned out, Discord had chased me away so he could make a few last minute renovations behind my back. Even my cloak had been upgraded to a heavy coat, light blue in color with thick insulation. (I still had a much lighter breezy blue shawl to wear inside to cover my flanks.) The pitiful rags I’d called boots turned to heavy duty snow boots to match when I returned. I now slipped them over my hooves, wrapping up in the fleece-lined clothing.

“Need help?”

“No, thanks. You know how I feel about you going out there.”

“Yeah, yeah.” The adolescent huffed, and returned to whatever it is he’d been doing before I interrupted him. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and grin. Teenagers. I tucked my scarf in closer and headed out the door. There was a sled waiting for me. I slid into the harness and headed out.

The snow drifted lightly to the ground, much to my delight. At least I didn’t have to drag the logs through a blizzard again. We’d lived out here for nearly a month now. This could be a rather hazardous task in a heavy downfall. There was a cave where I left them to dry just ten minutes from the mansion. I had a tarp to keep the dried wood from becoming soaked again from the snow, but in this light sprinkling, I didn’t think I’d need it.

The logs weren’t heavy individually, but I liked to stack an entire day’s supply onto the cart so I only had to make one trip. I was finally getting a taste of what Applejack went through day after day. I bit my lip. Those names kept resurfacing, no matter how hard I tried to force them down. I shoved the last log onto the stack when a loud hissing sounded from behind me. I turned back to the stack of stored logs. A long black snake was coiled on the mound.

My first thought was to run, but then I identified the reptile. It was an eastern garter snake, a non-venomous breed. They were extremely cold resistant, and barely hibernated through the winter. How fitting that one would be here.

“Hey, little guy,” I said, looking it over. Yellow scales rippled down his back in more or less neat stripes. He blinked his beady brown eyes open and looked at me. Apparently, I’d interrupted his nap. “Cold out, isn’t it?” I expected no response whatsoever, but to my surprise, he nodded back. I found myself suddenly attached to the snake. Sure, he was a snake, but he was almost... adorable. And he provided good company. I had the dragons in my care, but it dawned on me that I didn’t have a pet. Almost everypony in Ponyville had kept one; even Rainbow Dash had recently adopted a turtle she called Tank. Perhaps a pet could do me some good. I never knew what to do with my spare time anymore, after all.

“Come on, little guy.” I prodded his side, urging him to slither up my hoof. “I’ll take you where it’s warm.” He liked the sound of that, and quickly slithered up my leg before coiling himself around my neck. He was a good three or four feet long, but didn’t feel all that heavy. He burrowed himself in my scarf while I hooked up the loaded harness.

The sled was parked just inside the door for the firewood to be moved.

“GAH! It’s on you!” Blaze shrieked, shying away.

“What’s on her?”

“A snake!”

“I know. Guys, meet Heckley.”

“Heckley?”

“I don’t know. Just came off the top of my head.” I let the snake slide down my hoof and find a cozy spot by the brick fireplace.

“Where’d he come from?”

“He was hibernating in the wood stack. I woke him up.”

“Is it poisonous?”

“He’s a garter snake. No, he’s safe.”

“How do you know that?”

“I guess I must have been paying too much attention to one of Fluttershy’s woodland critter spiels,” I shrugged. There was that name again.

“You’re really going to keep it?” Garble groaned.

“Why not?” Blaze didn’t seem to mind, now that he knew it wasn’t poisonous. He shuffled over to where Heckley lay and watched him, finally summoning up the courage to stroke his scales once or twice.

“Where’s it going to sleep?”

“With me, I guess. Or... just... right there.” I looked on as Blaze poked and prodded the snake for a reaction, but Heckley didn’t budge.

“What’s it going to eat?”

“Not my gemstones, that’s for sure,” Garble declared before I could give a proper answer. “I’m going to my room.”

“His room?” I turned to Blaze.

“He decided that since the whole house is warm now, he should get his own room.” Blaze rolled his eyes and turned back to Heckley. “Stupid, if you ask me.”

“Not at all,” I countered. “Everyone needs to feel like they can have their own space. Celestia knows-” I stopped myself. The foal Celetsia knew nothing. “I mean, Discord knows we have plenty of room for that.” It was a true statement- he knew better than any of us, having resided here before. “In fact, it may not be a bad idea for all of us to pick our own room.”

“You mean... sleep there? All by myself?”

“You’re welcome to sleep with Heckley and I if you like. Or Garble, if he’ll let you.” Relief washed over Blaze.

“But if I don’t sleep in it, then what am I supposed to do with my own room?”

“Whatever you like. Let’s call that your own space to be you.” I tapped his nose, and he refrained from sneezing. “What do you say, Blaze? Shall we wander these lonely halls together?”

“Okay!” he suddenly seemed very enthusiastic about the idea of having his own room. As soon as we started off together, Heckley’s head shot up. I guess he didn’t want to be left alone either, because he zipped over to where I stood and wormed his way up my body. Settling around my neck like a scarf, he watched my face to see if I’d object. Realizing I didn’t mind, he worked himself into a position where he could pretend to sleep. I only smiled, slightly amused.

“Lead the way, Blaze.”

“Me?”

“Don’t worry; the castle is only so big. We won’t get lost.” He realized I was right, and looked around trying to decide what direction to start off in. He chose to start down the right hall, where Garble had disappeared. I trotted after him, Heckley in tow.


Blaze had chosen a smaller room just a few down from where we found Garble. He was so caught up in deciding what to do with the place that he didn’t even notice when I left. I left him staring at the blank stone walls. Now, where would I bunk? I didn’t want to be too far from Blaze, lest he started to worry. When I turned to Heckley, he decided that he could care less and completely ignored me. I’d almost settled on the room next to Blaze when the door at the end of the hallway caught my eye.

It was no different than any of the other doors. Just an ordinary wooden entry. But something drew me to it. Discord’s magic? Probably. Might as well humor him.

It creaked open for dramatic effect. I was rather disappointed at what I found. Just an ordinary room. What was I expecting? Some grand chamber designed for royalty? I backed out and began returning to the previous bedroom. That is, until Heckley shimmied to the floor and zoomed across the tile.

“Hey! Where’re you going?” His tongue flicked in response, and he proceeded to slither under the bed. I trotted over to investigate, and sank to the floor so I could see. What he’d discovered wasn’t actually under the bed, but behind it. There was a rather small doorway concealed behind the backboard. Heckley looked to me, pleading for permission to investigate. I lifted him out from under the bed and set him atop while I shoved it aside. Then, he corkscrewed his way down the bedpost to beat me back to the door. I didn’t realize how fast he was, and almost stepped on him. He was too intrigued by the door to notice.

I tugged on the iron ring to get the door open, and Heckley slithered through. I followed more slowly; this door was more Blaze’s size. I had no trouble getting through, but I still had to crouch low. The sight that met my eyes was mind blowing. The room was almost completely white with an immensely high ceiling. Intricate steel moldings protected the corners of every wall; even the ceiling. It almost reminded me of the finer picture frames sold in Canterlot, each showing off a blank canvas. Only one wall wasn’t entirely white. It was broken by a second doorway in the dead center. Heckley’s tail disappeared beneath that one. Even if I wasn’t chasing after him, my curiosity would have dragged me over soon enough.

A brightly illuminated room was on the other side of the door (though the source of the light remained a mystery), walls lined with shelves. Each rack held canvases of every size; colors I didn’t know existed, and every known type of brush. Then there were sketchpads, pencils, pastels, inks, pens, the list went on and on! The first thought that came to mind was that I should be upset with Discord after asking him to leave the studio out of the picture. But as I wandered down the hallway, I found that to be impossible. This felt right. Besides, after going through all that effort to make me comfortable, how could anypony be cross with the spirit of chaos?

The clanking of jars brought my attention back to the entrance. Somehow, Heckley had managed to bring three jars of paint down from the shelf, and now juggled them in his coils as he slithered slowly for the main room. A few brushes were caught between his teeth. “What are you doing?” I laughed. The fact that a snake was trying to carry anything at all was amusing, but even more so was the amount of effort he poured into it. Moving three jars at once couldn’t be easy for him. When I moved to help, his independent stubbornness drove him to abandon this effort and corral each jar individually to the center of the room with lightning speed. Surprisingly, he didn’t spill a drop.

Now he looked down at the supplies he gathered, unsure of what to do next. He’d chosen a red-violet jar with an unusual shimmer, a metallic looking dark green bottle, and an ocean blue hue. He tried dipping the brush in the blue with his mouth, and swept the dripping utensil over the previously sterile floor. The paint came out blobby and clumped. He decided he didn’t like this method, and tossed the brush aside. The splatters it created looked sort of interesting, but he didn’t take notice. Instead, he dipped his entire tail in the jar, and dragged it much more naturally. I watched in stunned amusement as the garter snake created an amateurish painting of a pony on the ground. Of all the pets out there, I couldn’t have chosen better. A snake who could paint? I wouldn’t question it.

After a while of watching him, Heckley paused long enough to give me a look as if to say, What are you standing there for? Get a brush! So, I did. An easel was quickly set up, and paints were gathered. Black, yellow, brown, white, gray, blue. I selected a small canvas; it was roughly a 8x10 inch. I intended to leave the background white, so I didn’t have to bother with that. I could just jump right in. I got Heckley’s black coils in first. Brown eyes protruded from his scaly head, and I made the yellow spots stand out. A touch of white to these added a beautiful shine to his pearly scales. I waited for the gray of his shadow to dry while I recreated his blue masterpiece. A few additional streaks of white depicted the paint as still wet. I briefly borrowed the colors in his two other jars to show them in the background.

Heckley slithered around to me in a routine update on his portrait, taking care not to drag blue all over the ground. When he didn’t go back, I assumed he was finished, and moved to check out his own work. “You can’t leave it like this!” I exclaimed. He hissed in surprise, wondering what he did wrong. He was at my side in an instant, looking over the painting. “You didn’t sign it! Every artist needs to sign their work.” After cocking his head in thought, his tail was again dipped in the blue. A small squiggly line appeared at the bottom corner. After squinting at it, I found it recognizable as a snake. “Better,” I approved with a nod. But then Heckley returned to my piece and teasingly pointed to it with his blue covered tail. “What is it?” I looked at my work before laughing. I’d forgotten to sign my name.

I became engrossed with the canvases, filling one after the other. It was like I’d been deprived of the privilege, and was now falling into a relapse. First, Blaze appeared. Then Garble. And Ignition. And Discord. And of course, Torchwood. All the familiar faces appeared either in miniature or on grander scales. I wasn’t sure when Blaze and Garble wandered in, but the next thing I knew, we were all over the place, dumping paint on the canvases and walls (and sometimes even each other). Garble, who had wings, was given permission to decorate the ceiling as he pleased. He wasn’t much of the ‘artsy’ type, and acted reluctant to paint at all, but we finally convinced him to attempt an outline of his own form on the ceiling. Granted, he was doing it upside down, but Heckley could have done a better job. In the end, I introduced him to abstract painting, and the ceiling was repainted in overlapping streaks of orange, green, blue and red. I encouraged him to add a few ovals for some variety; these were done in yellow.

Before I knew it, I was even painting my old friends. Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie and Applejack all appeared on a rather large canvas together. When I realized what I’d done, I expected to feel a tinge of anger. But none came. Rather, it was good to see their faces again. Not as good as having them here with me, of course, but it was a relief nonetheless. I felt so happy, I could scream.

“THANK YOU, DISCORD!”