• Published 5th Sep 2018
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The Golden Age of Apocalypse - Book I - BlueBastard

A Berylverse Story - The ponies investigate an ancient prophecy tied to Sombra's plan to destroy Equestria, all the while Sunset prepares for her coronation. But not all is as it seems when the mystery begins to imply a far darker truth of the past.

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Chapter 9 - A Hairy...

Golden Age of Apocalypse

Chapter 9: A Hairy...

"There! Over yon is the Castle of Space and Time, from which flows the bountiful cornucopia of plenty, from which I have taken a hearty draught of the nectar of ambro—”

The first sound of a smack came from Summer Daffodil slapping the back of the drunken Amber Shine’s head. The second came from Summer Daffodil facehoofing as she noted the few cans of worryingly pink coloration lying around. The makeshift barracks they’d turned a room at the Blackhoof Lodge into had been spotless mere hours ago.

“Okay, you've really got to stop drinking that stuff,” chastised Daffodil. “Messes with your mind. Can you even read the label on these things?" As if to make a point, she opened a wing and flapped it down with enough force that the resulting little gust pushed one of the cans into a wall, bouncing it such that it landed perfectly in her hoof. She then held the can close to the delirious-eyed Shine. “Seriously, do you even know the name of this crap you guzzle down every time I turn my back on you?”

“Maybe I just want to fly, wanna live I don’t wanna die,” the drunken batpony slurred. “Maybe I just wanna breathe, maybe I just don’t believe….”

Daffodil facehoofed again. “Lately, did you ever feel the pain in the morning rain, as it soaks you to the bone?” An angry hoof was shaken as the sergeant added, “BECAUSE I’M GOING TO BURY YOU SO DEEP IN RAINBOW FALLS YOU’LL BE TASTING THE RAINBOW FOR MONTHS IF YOU DON’T SOBER THE HELL UP!”

Shine half-giggled, half burped in response, deciding to answer the earlier question rather than the later threat. “Yeah, name…uh…well, I don’t remember the name but I know the theme song was something like; “Rainbow Dashie, Rainbow Dashie, oh so round and suuupah chunkieeee…

Daffodil felt the need to succumb to the allure of the facehoof once more. “I’m too young to deal with this.”

“I think you’re the same as me, we see things they’ll never see,” continued the copyright-infringing, inebriated batpony. “You an’ I are g--” The words suddenly trailed off as the very picture of sobriety herself tripped over a conveniently uneven board and landed face first, knocking her out.

“Get her to bed, now!” ordered Daffodil, with Sunshine and Meadowlark immediately hauling the drunken lump that was their fellow guardspony off to one of the rented rooms where she would be spending the rest of the night.

“So, I see one of our guards had a little too much liberty?” Rainbow asked as she approached. She looked rough and soaked, as it had been an all-nighter to get the storm under control, just in time for another one to start its way from the southwest. At least this one was lighter, giving Rainbow and her fellow flyers time to get some much-needed rest.

“A little too much, ma’am. Trust me, I would immediately request a transfer to Stalliongrad if Pvt. Shine did this on a regular basis.” Daffodil sighed. “It’s bad enough that she may be addicted to this shit, but how she repeatedly manages to import whole crates of this from Neighpon without me knowing really grates my ears, y’know?”

“Sounds like someone needs to go to detox,” Rainbow observed. “Have you brought it up with your usual commander?”

“We have, but they let it go as it’s more of a bat thing than an Equestrian thing,” Lightfighter, approaching them, added. “Personally, maybe if we just get her a healthy hobby, something like homonology….”

“Homo-what?” Rainbow asked.

“We went over this the other day, Lieutenant! Homonology! The study of humans! Because I told you my soul name is really Jane and I––”

Rainbow facehoofed. “It’s too early in the morning for this. Daffodil, don’t let Shine get drunk again, or tell her I’m going to have her plot hauled into the brig. Have somepony come wake me up at noon. As for me, I’m going to go die on a cloud bed for a few hours.” Nothing more to say, she wandered off.

As if on cue, in the distance, a slurred voice could be heard shouting, “Maybe I don’t really wanna know how your garden grows, but I just wanna fly….”

As both senior guards looked at each other and rolled their eyes, Lightfigher resumed her conversation. “The heck is this stuff anyway?” She picked up a can and sniffed it, immediately reeling back in disgust. “Holy-! Is this bubblegum flavored alcohol?!”

“Apparently it’s all the rage in Neighpon,” Daffodil answered with a shrug. Fearing the worst, she opened the door to what should have been Raspberry Beryl’s room. Of course, given the guard assigned to first nightwatch duty had taken no time at all to get stoned on super chew liquor, it came as no surprise that neither the Archmagus nor her fiery phoenix were anywhere to be found. “And my rage is about to get Shine booted all the way to the moon because she had the one job to make sure the Archmagus and her entourage didn’t do the stupidest possible thing and she went and got drunk as hell instead!”

“Guess we better go get help from the mayor, then,” unenthusiastically suggested Lightfighter. “No telling where those ponies are now. Also, wake up the Lieutenant. Since she knows them, she probably has a clue where they might be as well.”

“I’m fairly certain Lt. Dash is already up,” Daffodil pointed out, “as well, my guess is that they’re in the forest, going to the Seabiscuit Arno no doubt. But Celestiadamnit…where did Shine hide all that carbonated alcohol?!”

“Maybe I will never be all the things I wanna be….”

Daffodil turned and screamed, “FOR CRYING OUT LOUD IF I HEAR YOU SING ONE MORE TIME, I’M GOING TO MAKE YOU A HIGH-FLYING BIRD, YOU MORON!” Groaning, she then asked Lightfighter, “Is it too late to retire yet?”

“Don’t tempt me,” the senior sergeant sighed in sympathy.

“And you all laughed when I brought a suitcase of Babaru Gamu among my things,” chided Rarity, flaunting her knowledge of one Neighponese word as she and the others walked along the dark forest path, “but a lady is nothing if not prepared to bring along some coercive aids when need be.”

“I thought you were supposed to be Generosity,” pointed out Sandalwood.

“But I am, darling: after all, I generously gave Pvt. Shine all those cans of bubblegum liquor as a thank-you for hauling my bags earlier—those refreshments were not cheap, I’ll have you know! However, how I choose to be generous? Why, if it ends up benefiting both the recipient and myself or my friends, well…that’s why I’m Generosity and not Honesty.”

“Yeah, can’t argue with that,” agreed Applejack. “’Course, Ah also make mah own alcohol from mah own crop, instead of havin’ to buy it from halfway across the world.”

“Your apple cider also tastes a lot better than what I imagine bubblegum liquor would taste like,” added Sandalwood, shuddering at the thought. “Even if I lived in Neighpon, there’s no way I’d ever try that stuff.”

The assembled ponies all laughed, but it was short-lived as they continued walking forward with uncertainty into the forest. Oddly, other than the sound of their hoofsteps, the flapping of Heliodor’s wings, and the occasional trivial observation from Sandalwood (who seemed to be a practical wellspring of useless information), the four ponies walked along in utter silence.

“Anypony getting a sense of déjà vu right now?” asked Rarity.

“To what, exactly?” replied Applejack.

“Oh, just one of the half dozen times we always end up going into the forest and, against all odds, something just dreadful happens.”

“Ah’d say that’s par for the course for us at this point. Ah mean, there’s the night of the Summer Sun Celebration we all became friends–slash-saved Equestria from Nightmare Moon, there’s the time mah sister and her friends sent a self-propelled vehicle into the woods an’ Ah got to finally learn why mah parents died in the worst possible, personal way….”

“There’s also the time you guys mistakenly went after Zecora, twice,” added Sandalwood. A thought crossed her mind. “You know, for a forest that’s supposed to be full of nasties that keeps the whole town scared, you do all tend to go in there a lot.”

“That’s certainly true, darling,” admitted Rarity “but it’s not like we haven’t learned what to expect with the Everfree—only so many times you can go into that collection of trees and still be surprised. Truth be told, that’s probably the only reason why I agreed to go in this place without guards, for all that Lockbox said this place was like the Catacombs of the Barnstille, Prance, there’s yet to be anything of real difference between here and the Everfree.”

Just then, two earth ponies seemed to fall out of the trees right in front of the group.

“What the…?” Before they could even move, they were pinned to the ground by an adhesive spell from Rarity. Raspberry looked from the pair of sudden newcomers to the other unicorn in their group with some confusion.

“Ponies popping out of nowhere, even if innocent, don’t always seem that way,” Rarity told Razz, “but I suppose this is more your bailiwick than mine, darling.”

“And you are?” asked Sandalwood, eyebrow raised. The rest of the group took their best attempt at stances should they need to fight.

“Funny, for a group of ponies lost in these woods,” one of them—a stallion wearing a pair of glasses—grumbled, then motioned his head towards his female partner, a cute thing with a pearl necklace. “Almost like you were expecting us.”

“I’m the Archmagus, and they’re, well, I’m sure you can figure it out,” Razz told them. “You get used to it when you’re, well, us.”

“You always expect a pair of ponies to fall from the sky when you go through thick woods?” asked the unnamed mare.

“You get used to it when you’re from Ponyville.” Rarity briefly considered saying when you’re Rainbow Dash, but thought the joke just wouldn’t be the same as their friend wasn’t present.

“Oh….oh!” The mare’s eyes grew slightly wider as if in realization. “You’re those ponies! Well, most of them.”

“Those ponies?” said the mare’s companion.

“Yeah, they’re, like, the ‘Mane Six’, you dunderhead! Well, ok, more like ‘Mane Six minus three and with two spares,’ since present company seems to have some different magic user in the lead instead of the newest alicorn, and…I’m sorry, I don’t know your name, miss?

"Sandalwood—I'm the new Pinkie Pie," she said with a grin dripping with sarcasm.

“And I’m the new Princess Twilight,” added Raspberry. “Now, if you would be so kind, who are you two?”

“Well, for starters, would you be so kind as to let us off the ground, please?” the mare asked.

“Sure thing, after you answer my question.”

“Ah, yes, how rude of us!” apologized the stallion. “I’m Thorn, and this is my sister, Thistle.”

“We’re florists from Manehattan,” added Thistle. “Well, we’re going to be, we were on the Seabiscuit Arno to find a supplier for seeds in Canterlot before we opened up our shop in the Big Horseapple. We thought we’d have a seller for sealilies here, but unfortunately the ship crashed before we could land.”

“You were on the ship?” asked Sandalwood. “Then you know what’s been going on!”

“Going on? We don’t have a clue as to what’s going on, other that when the ship came down because of those damn changelings, Thistle and I got thrown clear before it began its final descent,” Thorn explained, his expression turning deadly serious. Beside him, his sister closed her eyes like she was trying to forget. “As it is, we were lucky to have landed in those trees, or else we’d be goners!”

“There’s not much else we can tell you,” grunted Thistle, “but I can tell you this much: right around the time we were thrown off the ship, we didn’t see another soul onboard. The decks should’ve been swarming with passengers, but there was none but Thorn and I.”

“Whoa whoa whoa,” interrupted Sandalwood. “There was nopony at all? Not a single pony?”

Thistle shrugged. “No—that was the creepy thing: if there were, we would’ve found some sign of them, but we didn’t. We didn’t think to check inside the ship again, but by then the explosion happened and we were thrown clear.”

“Okay, then you two stick with us,” firmly stated Razz. “Once we arrive at the crash site, we can have you checked for injuries and anything of the sort, and we can have some guards escort you to the town, where you are required to stay until the investigation is over. I apologize if that inconveniences you, but we may have further questions we may need to ask.” They would also need to have a pony who knows a changeling detection spell to look them over, but Razz elected not to mention that out loud. She and the others would simply have to keep a close eye on them in the meantime.

“Quite understandable,” said Thorn. “As it is, I hope you catch the madponies that did this.“

After a quick glance to one another, Thorn and Thistle fell in line with their group. They were all headed off to the wreck, which sat under clouds threatening to rain once more. In the skies, pegasi darted to and fro, trying to break up or move the clouds out of the area, but it wouldn't be enough in time, and as they continued on towards their destination, they could only hope that what Thorn and Thistle had said wasn’t true, or else the tragedy would turn into a mystery; the former was bad, but the latter would be interminable.

Once, the Seabiscuit Arno was, at a glance, no different from a conventional large sailing vessel in shape. This was in large part due to it actually having been built at a conventional dry dock as a converted sailing barque in order to accommodate the aerostat that would replace its sails. While it was not as famous as the Serene Velocity—the first purpose-built airship—the Seabiscuit was no less as luxurious a liner as its more well known counterpart and in its short time in service had performed its duties admirably.

But now it was just a destroyed wooden hulk, a shattered giant with its spine broken and the tattered silken remnants of a giant air balloon lying all over the place in a large clearing, which most likely had not existed the day prior. Behind the hull were the remnants of thick forest, the trees having eventually buckled under the weight of the Arno and snapping, though on the bright side that had allowed the hull to effectively slide roughly to a stop intact. Evidence of a shattered keel, however, indicated the Arno would not be returning to service anytime soon if it was to be salvaged at all. And in the distance, buried partially into the earth as though it would serve as a future memorial to the accident, was the ship’s rudder, listing to the side and as marred and damaged as everything in the area.

“Musta been one rough landin’!” exclaimed Applejack as the group of ponies appeared out of the forest at the base of the grounded airship.

“They’re lucky the aerostat apparently blew in a way that propelled them to the ground relatively safely. Normally, when they blow, they send the ship straight down and shockwaves go through the ship rather than behind it,”” added Sandalwood, who couldn’t help but look at the sight of the Arno’s prow; specifically the cast-iron image of what appeared to be an alicorn. Chances were that it had once been in the image of Celestia, but unlike the sturdy wooden hull of the ship, the ship’s figurehead hadn’t been so lucky and had borne a good deal of abuse on the way down. As such, what remained looked horribly scarred and broken, good for nothing except maybe a vague rendition of Queen Chrysalis instead.

“Well, the ship itself looks intact,” said Razz, who pulled out a set of blueprints she’d gotten of the ship back in Ponyville.

“Raspberry, darling,” asked Rarity with some concern, “you never did take off your saddlebags, did you?”

“I took them off,” replied the unicorn. “Did you really think I went to bed wearing all my luggage on my back?” She looked at her friend with a weary grin. “I have enough luggage on my forehead, thank you very much! Though when we left the Blackhoof Lodge, I put them back on.”

“Maybe you should have your bird wear it?” a voice called from above; they looked up to see Rainbow floating down. “I’m sure he could carry all that stuff. Aren’t phoenixes able to lift immensely heavy loads? Or is that just from that book?”

“Rainbow, you okay?” Razz asked. “I thought you were out all night stormwrangling.”

“I was,” she said with a yawn, “but they had a unicorn there with a refresher spell. Didn’t really take, though.”

“Well, darling, have a second one,” Rarity said, lighting her own horn up. Rainbow was enveloped in a deep blue glow, and her eyes briefly sparked.

“I’m awake now, thanks, Rarity! But I’ll probably need to crash later on and sleep like I was coming off one of Pinkie’s sugar highs.”

“Think nothing of it, dear.”

“Anyway, somepony want to catch me up on the situation?”

“Yeah, we were just about to start going in. Hey, Heelee?” Razz addressed her phoenix, “looking at these blueprints, you’re not gonna like these narrow passages. Why don’t you keep watch outside, let us know if anything’s coming?”

The young phoenix tweeted eagerly, saluted with a wing, then launched high into the air before vanishing from view in the dark sky.

“I have really got to get me one of those,” Sandalwood said absently.

But Razz’s attention was focused entirely on the clearing around the Arno—the empty clearing. “Where are all the military ponies?”

A few minutes of moving around the ship’s weatherdeck had shown that it would not be smooth sailing—in a manner of speaking—to navigate through the ship’s passageways. With the wreck of the hull at a 25-degree list and part of it buried in the ground below what had once been the ship’s waterline, there was no guarantee that anything below the fourth deck was going to be intact afore the beam, Rainbow explained, having had some familiarization with ships as part of her naval training. When they asked what that meant, Rainbow explained, glad Fluttershy wasn’t here as it would give her nightmares.

Finding a hatch in the Arno’s poopdeck that hadn’t been slammed shut, the group slowly made their way forward, the path on the darkened ship lit by Razz and Rarity’s horns. Sandalwood had offered to ignite the lantern she brought with them, but Rainbow suggested otherwise, pointing out that any spilled fuels or magic potions might ignite from a dropped match, though thaumoluminesence didn’t have that problem.

To their surprise, though, Thorn and Thistle had offered to go with them. They admitted that not only did they want to recover their luggage, but as potentially the only survivors of the ship, they felt they had a duty to assist in the rescue or recovery. Besides, it wasn’t like the military was around to look after them. The group didn’t know what to say (about both of their hangers-on and the lack of military presence), but Rainbow stated that so long as they were careful, the others would be okay with their presence.

So deck by deck they went, slowly navigating around the broken spaces of the ship, seeing the spilled detritus and shattered debris of a vessel that had just days earlier, jauntily moved around the skies as if it had owned them:

“The horror, the horror!” cried out Rarity, seeing the remains of what once was a finely packed luggage trunk. “Those color combinations are an abomination! I must fix this ghastly affront to fabulosity post-haste!”

“OhmiCelestia…” the same unicorn gasped in another space a few minutes later. “Is this a...it is! I thought they stopped making Uniqucorns years ago! It’s a miracle this little glass beauty survived the crash!”

“Rares, this isn’t a shopping trip!” Rainbow shouted at her.

“You...you’re right, Rainbow, dear. My apologies in getting so worked up.” Rarity set the object down.

“What’s a ‘uniqucorn’ exactly?” asked Razz, overhearing the conversation from the deck above her.

“Some time ago, they were a huge, and I mean huge hit in the little ‘fancy glass figurines’ market,” answered Sandalwood, who came in with what looked like some kind of chalky powder on her face. “Before you ask, no, I was not digging through somepony’s stuff like Rarity was. I just happened to sneeze at the wrong moment and somepony’s powder makeup kit ended up exploding in my face.”

“You might want to go wash it off,” suggested Razz with a giggle. She wasn’t fooled for an instant. “Now, as glad as I am that you two are having fun, we need to focus on the task at hoof. I’m sure the others aren’t messing around when they should be looking for answers.”

“Ya’ll never catch me!” taunted Applejack, racing along a straightaway. “Ah know you can’t clear obstacles in tight spaces like Ah can!”

“That’s what you think!” countered Rainbow, who AJ had to admit was clearing the hurdles far better than she had back at the last Iron Pony competition. Of course, as their friendly rivalry had flared up when the duo had found the obstacle course on the Arno’s onboard gym facilities, they had to go for a few laps. With nothing better to do, Thorn and Thistle just watched from an elevated spectator bleacher bench.

“This is not what I had in mind when we were told to ‘search the ship’ y’know?” nickered Thorn. “As much as I would like to know why all the ponies vanished from the ship, being here makes me...uncomfortable.”

“No argument here,” agreed Thistle, who at this point was idly blowing strands of her own mane bangs out of sheer boredom. Neither of the two really cared about sticking around, but it was better than ending up vanished like the ponies who had still been on the Arno when it went down.

Finally, after nearly thirty minutes of maneuvering around the obstacle course that was the ship’s innards—as well as the actual obstacle course itself—the group finally made it to the engineering spaces, the place where they kept the magical receptors that kept the balloon inflated. Attached to it directly would be the first black box…

...or would have been, if the whole thing had been intact. As the crash had essentially snapped the ship in two, the engineering spaces were in the midship’s portion, and the result had destroyed the entire magical contraption. The room had partially caved in, and the large machine, a maze of pipes, tubes, crystals, gems and massive amounts of arcane power when active, now was a pile of broken metal, shattered crystals, and burnt everything—the whole of the space looked like the charred inside of one of Applejack’s cider barrels. And at the base of the totaled machine was the twisted, cracked remains of the black box, its metal and wooden case broken open, the recording crystals sticking out and the magic aura of the box no longer active.

Razz walked up to it and used a scanning spell on it, a fairly neutral spell regardless of magic alignment and thus not likely to affect it. “Great, looks like it’s damaged. Rarity, can you doublecheck?”

Rarity, familiar with the spell as well, scanned it and agreed. “And we came so far,” she sighed. “I’d hoped we’d find a clue as to what happened.”

“Well, fortunately there’s always a backup,” Rainbow told her. “After a failure of the main one on the Serene Velocity, they had a backup installed so that one or the other would always be intact in case of an emergency. After it worked there, they were installed on all of them. The Arno’s old enough that it would have needed to be installed in after steering instead of a dedicated control room, so we should look there.”

“Where’s after steering?” Sandalwood asked. When Rainbow looked at her, the earth pony admitted, “Hey, it’s not like I know a single thing about naval or nautical stuff.”

“I thought your dad was in the Navy?” asked Razz. “You said as much back at the lodge.”

Sandy nickered. “You think I had all that crap memorized? Just because my dad is an Old Saltlick doesn’t mean I know every last bit of maritime jargon. But on a similar topic: why are you so familiar with it all, Rainbow? You haven’t been Navy for that long, have you?”

“Same reason I am naturally fluent in Burroñeso—I’m just awesome that way!” the lieutenant replied with a grin.

“¿Es tu hablando en Burroñeso?” asked Sandalwood. “Okay fine, I’ll admit: I do know Burroñeso because my dad taught it to me.”

Rainbow facehoofed. “Look, can we just go now before Sandy starts talking about Daring Do stuff that I don’t know?”

“Well, you know what she always says,” chuckled Sandy as she started to walk off, “‘Another day, another dungeon!’”

“Uh, aft steering is the other way,” smugly pointed out Rainbow.

“Oh, um...right, I knew that! I was just...testing you! Yeah!”

Another few minutes, and they finally made it down to the after steering location. The trip had been long and arduous, but they finally made it down to the location where it had been. Surprisingly, it was still intact...and there was a knocking sound coming from within.

“Ah think we found somepony!” exclaimed Applejack, who then started pulling at the partially-jammed hatch separating one space from another.

“Yeah, somepony in the galley,” mused Rainbow. “Something isn’t right, though. Nopony would seriously try to put the freakin’ galley in aft steering, much less hide the backup black box in one of the messiest places on the ship!”

“Wouldn’t that make it ideal, then?” poised Rarity, who then lit up her horn in her brilliant blue aura. “I figure this second box will have the same precious gems just like the first box had, which is convenient as I’m certainly detecting those gems in here somewhere….”

The fashionista then seemed to aimlessly wander around with her horn aglow, leaving the rest of the ponies to wonder what she was really doing. They didn’t need to wait long as the proud unicorn needed but a few minutes to don a satisfied look and began striding toward what appeared to be the freezer. “Certainly an odd place to put something of such importance, but at the same time you could say a ship’s freezer is like a vault—keeping whatever is inside safe and anypony without the keys out.” She then dropped her satisfied smile as the freezer’s port hole suddenly caught her eye. A split second later she immediately began trying to magically rip the freezer’s locked door off its hinges, but while her magic was strong enough to handle dozens upon dozens of simultaneously levitated objects in her work or breaking into spontaneous choreographed song-and-dance sequences, it was not strong enough to have any effect on a locked steel door. “THERE’S SOMEPONY IN THERE!”

“That explains the knocking, at least,” commented Thorn, followed by a chuckle from Thistle. Everypony else shot an annoyed glance at the duo for their not-helpful contributions.

“Rarity, let me have a go,” stated Razz, lighting up her own horn. The peanut gallery of Thorn and Thistle immediately jumped back upon realizing the signature purple bubbled mist of dark magic. With a grunt, Razz shot out a dark beam at the door’s lock, then effortlessly ripped it right out of the door, letting it fall out of her magic with an unceremonious clang on the floor.

Rarity, meanwhile, took the opportunity to prove she was still useful and used her magic to throw the door open.

A half-frozen Coco Pommel promptly fell flat on her face in front of the other ponies.

Author's Note:

Happy Halloween!

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