• Published 5th Sep 2018
  • 1,237 Views, 226 Comments

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 16 – Not at the Moment

Author's Note:

6/8/15 - Steam Chat log record.

9:41 PM—BlueZudah: title ideasa?

9:41 PM—BlueZudah: *ideas

9:41 PM—Shinzakura: Not at the moment.

9:41 PM—BlueZudah: Golden Age of Apocalypse

Chapter 14: Not At The Moment

9:41 PM—Shinzakura: That...could actually work.

Golden Age of Apocalypse

Chapter 16: Not at the Moment

“That was…well, quite a party for just a welcoming bash!” gasped a worn-out Coco. After her unnerving encounters with Nineball and before him, a pony he’d identified as “Corner Shot,” the rest of the party had gone surprisingly well, all things considered. Of course, Rarity—having then noticed Coco having returned from the bathroom—promptly brought her into conversation with Mellow Brooks. Together, they negotiated a contract for some costumes for his performance troupe: the Four Footed PerFormers. Rarity had also told Coco that due to her existing load for ponies who wanted their finest clothes ready for the upcoming pool tournament in town, the newly-hired assistant would need to be able to handle most of the new orders. Having just come fresh off the Bridleway scene as a costume maker there, Coco was overjoyed at the chance to go back to doing what she loved best as well as helping Rarity.

“Well, that’s Pinkie for you, darling,” said a satisfied-sounding Rarity. “She throws parties like this every time somepony new rolls into town. Though, given Twilight and Raspberry chose to appear in the middle of the festivities along with two more princesses and three more ponies who Pinkie had never seen before, we’re lucky the party isn’t still going right now.”

“Oh, my, I don’t think I’d last partying that long!” the younger fashionista laughed.

“Indeed, Pinkie is a real sweetheart but she can be a bit…overbearing at times,” Rarity admitted. “Still, she’s a pony worth knowing, and I know the ponies that everypony should know!” The two walked on a little longer before Rarity announced, “Ah, here we are! Please, let me have the pleasure to welcome you to the Chateau de Rarity, where everything is chic, unique, and fantastique! And no, I'm not referring to just my wonderful shop downstairs, but to the whole manse, which I have endeavored to fit my needs and to allow my creative pursuits!"

Coco looked at the building which Rarity now fancifully gestured toward. In short, it looked like a perfect dream house, fit for a designer amongst designers. Following Rarity’s departure from Manehattan, Coco had looked up Carousel Boutique and found not only was it an up-and-coming, if rather small scale, fashion establishment, but it was also run solely by Rarity out of her own house.

After entering at Rarity’s discretion, the entire bottom floor—well, the immediately visible part, off to the side was what clearly looked like a tidy and not entirely too modest kitchen—was dedicated to Rarity’s budding fashion empire. An entire space the size of Coco’s extremely modest apartment in Manehattan filled maybe half of the room Rarity had lazily strewn about ponnequins.

The upstairs was, in stark contrast to utility, almost entirely just what to expect in a classy home in the mostly rural town of Ponyville. Outside of a large master bedroom and a secondary bedroom evidently dedicated to a filly who did not seem to be present, the upper floor did not seem at all out of the ordinary. That did not mean the guest bedroom—which was itself easily no smaller than the size of Coco’s Manehattan apartment—was at all understocked. If anything, it felt exactly like Coco’s old digs, complete with an attached, private bathroom.

“I know it’s not much, darling, but I hope you’ll find it accommodating,” said Rarity, the look on her face embarrassed, as if she were berthing Coco in a shoebox.

Instead, the fashionista got glomped by an overappreiative Coco as thanks.

“THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU!” blurted the grateful earth pony, virtually singing her friend’s praises.

“Oh, it’s nothing, Coco dear; indeed, I’d been trying to shove Raspberry Beryl in here for months instead of her constantly renting a room at the small bed and breakfast she lives and works at now. But now I think you’ll get much more use out of it, suffice to say.”

“Of course—this is fantastic!” Coco then strode over to the one window in the room and opened it, leaning out into the cool evening air and taking a big whiff. “Ahhhh…smells so much nicer out here, away from the big city!”

“Indeed, while I’m all for being at the center of cosmopolity, there are some things cities will never have that Ponyville is never in short supply of. For example, bath towels, which I made sure I had in ample stock before I left for Nightshade.”

“Oh, that’s okay, I bro—" interjected Coco, before realizing where all her luggage still was. Which was Nightshade. “Right. The guard still has my stuff.”

“And in due time I’m sure they’ll forward it here, but until then you are welcome to use what I have on hoof. Now, as much as I’d love to give you the grand tour, I—yawn—feel I need to retire for the evening. It will be a long day tomorrow.”

“I understand; after a party like that, I think I might follow suit.” A soft smile came onto Coco’s face as she once again said, “Thanks again for everything, Miss Rarity!”

“But of course, darling, what are friends for?”

Meanwhile, on the lower level, the largely unnoticed Opal played with her favorite toy: a stuffed pink mouse. She loved that little synthetic furball, with a capital L-O-V-E-D. But evidently, she found she loved it too much to the point it was tiring her out, and soon she was falling fast asleep, the beloved plaything in her forepaws.

A few seconds later, a fine mist floated over the feline before gradually slithering out a window left open by Rarity, as she always did when at home. After all, with Ponyville being the seat of a princess and this dwelling belonging to a member of said princess’ court, it would be arguable to say it was one of the safest places in town.

And that may have been a problem.

Heart of Oak our ships jolly tars are men!

we always are ready...steady...boys....steady!

we’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again

Heart of oak our ships jolly tars are men

we allways our ready...steady...boys...steady!

we’ll fight and we’ll conquer againnnnnnnn!!!!

The rallying cry of “Heart of Oak” was an unwelcome substitute for Trixie’s alarm clock. “What in Equestria is that racket?!” groaned the showmare, deciding that she might as well get her day going now that she had no chance of returning to sleep. Granted, she worried about getting addicted to waking up in a bed half the size of her stagecoach’s usable floorspace, partly because it had taken a long time to get used to the cramped quarters that came with a mobile, personal stage and she didn’t want to go through all that fun again, but mostly…she really did appreciate the kindness Princess Twilight was showing her by lending her a room in her…unique crystal castle here in Ponyville. While Trixie knew better than to call it the gigantic eyesore it blatantly was in front of the princess, it certainly was prominent enough that comments on how out of place it was were unavoidable.

We never see our foes but we wish them to stay

they always see us but they wish us away!

if they run we will follow...we will drive them ashore

for if they will not fight us! we can do no more

“And they said I was annoyingly loud!” proclaimed Trixie to nopony in particular. Seriously, who the hell are those ponies, thinking they can just shout loudly at the crack of dawn? I’ll have a word with the princess about this and we’ll see who is laughing then!

A second thought then came to the stage magician. What is a “men”?

“Those ponies,” as Trixie would learn were, in fact, both the cousins (How? Were they related to Sunset via Princess Celestia?) of Equestria’s newest princess to be as well as triplets who had been trained to be the most lethal individuals alive since birth. As far as Trixie cared at that point, they could sing all damn day and it wouldn’t be a problem. In fact, she’d learned that after going to bed, Twilight had brought not only the three “SIREN” girls (as they described themselves) as well as Sunset, but also Princess Cadence who apparently was in town for Sunset’s benefit.

She also found this out when the one apparently named Sonata held her at knifepoint for being “uncleared tango” (whatever that was) until Twilight repeatedly vouched for the unicorn as a guest. The earth pony gave her a smile and said no hard feelings, but Trixie was somewhat worried to ask what hard feelings would be, given the situation.

“So, um…” said Twilight, seated at the head of her castle’s monolithic dining table within the “small” dining room (and apparently small meant “seats 20 ponies”), trying to break the ice despite the situation. Also in attendance were Sunset, Trixie, Adagio, and Aria. The three other current occupants of the castle—Spike, Sonata, and Cadance—were currently engaged in what sounded like a giant war as each of them were trying to lead the effort to make breakfast:

“Trust me, hay pancakes are perfect for a growing alicorn mare!”
“Cadance, you know that Twi doesn’t like hay pancakes. What if we made bluegrass ones?”
“Are you two as crazy as oatmeal? I’m not giving my cousin bluegrass pancakes! What about steak and eggs?”
“Sonata, you are creepy!”
“Am not!”
“Are too!”
“Yes, Spike is right—that is creepy.”
“Look, not my fault you don’t have chorizo or tortillas here! Could’ve made breakfast burritos by now!”

Twilight, trying to rub away the building migraine she felt at the base of her horn, instead turned her attention to her friend. “Sunset, I’m sure mornings at your home aren’t quite as chaotic as this, are they?”

“Pff, I wish!” laughed the maize alicorn. “You’d have to strongarm my Spike into cooking anything that didn’t involve microwaves and sugar, and even then the end result probably would result in your stomach getting pumped for toxins. And Cady? Well, she and Shiny don’t live with us so having her try to barge in just to make the family breakfast isn’t a problem.”

Trixie’s mind desperately raced to understand the amount of names being hurled out of Sunset’s mouth that referenced things and ponies she knew, and yet apparently didn’t. “Trixie is confused: How does a princess work at a cafe?”

“Well, that’s because—"

“Hold on!” interrupted Aria, “Miss…Lulamoon, was it? Do you have security clearance from COMRENINTELCOM for that kind of PII?”

“Trixie does not know where your so-called ‘Com-whatever you called it’ is, nor why you think she has any idea what pee-eye-eye is.”

“Oh God are we really going into this again, Ari?” moaned Sunset, putting her face into her hooves.

“Sorry,” said Dagi, “but it’s part of our jobs, y’know, and—"

WE HAVEN’T EVEN HAD BREAKFAST YET! I get it, but normal people aren’t ‘on the clock’ every second of their lives—and after my grandmother’s actions you three should know what a ‘normal’ life entails! Furthermore, in terms of safety, this giant glass menagerie of a treehouse has three of the most powerful ponies who ever lived—yours truly included—in it, I’m fairly certain undead pirate robot ninja vikings are not going to sprout from the walls and attack with at least Twilight or myself being unable to suitably protect ourselves! I appreciate you girls taking your jobs seriously for my sake, but…you can at least relax a bit because this is Equestria and things are never DEFCON fuckzone zero!”

“…in all fairness it still could,” Aria insisted.

“Isn’t all the reconstruction around town due to a recent war?” Adagio pointed out.

“Yeah,” agreed Trixie, “Tirek recently rose to power, stole the magic from almost the entire population while waging war with the rest, and was only stopped when Princess Twilight and her friends used the magic of Harmony to literally disintegrate the centaur. The only places that escaped destruction were border towns, really—even Canterlot was hit harder than it was during the Changeling invasion a few years ago.”

The maize alicorn opted for the diplomatic reply: “ARRRGGHHH!”

Trixie had never felt so out of her element in all her life. So, when Twilight tapped her on the shoulder, she jumped a little.

“Sorry,” apologized the lavender alicorn, “but things usually aren’t this chaotic, it’s just that Sunset and her companions have been through a… difficult change in having to live together.”

“Y-yeah, I can see that,” meekly replied Trixie, dropping the third person self-narration.

“They’re going to be here for the next week, though, so I totally understand if you need to leave early.”

“You’re not kicking me out that easily, Princess!” Trixie retorted.

“Never said that; you’re a friend and I like having you here. It’s just that–”

“Dagi, in case you forgot, I buried Chernabog in the black hole in the fucking center of the galaxy! And that was before I became an alicorn!”
“Yes, but you can’t be everywhere, Sunny! And you literally destroyed your physical being doing that, too! Why do you think her highness asked us to back you up? Even your biological mother has guards, for fuck’s sake!”
“You want me to go in the kitchen and tell Soni you don’t want us around anymore?”
“Now that’s a low blow, Ari!”

“Nevermind,” Trixie said, wondering just how much weirder the side conversation was going to get. “I think I understand what you were going to say. In either case, I’ll still stay.” The unicorn then muttered under her voice, “I think you’ll probably need somepony sane around here.”

Just then, all the arguing on the other side of the table stopped at the ringing of a bell.

“Sorry it took so long, folks!” cooed a particularly food-splattered Cadence. On either side of her and equally messy was Sonata and Spike. In front of them, lit in an aura of Cadence’s magic, was a plate of rather delicious looking waffles with plenty of butter and syrup. “We had some…disagreements on what to do, suffice to say.”

“Besides, your sister-in-law makes me free food, too,” grinned Trixie, “so why would The Great and Powerful Trixie ever want to leave here, when the 4th Annual Blue Chalk Pool Masters tournament is about to kick off in town?”

If the previous day had been a torrent of concentrated party courtesy of Pinkie Pie, then the conflagration of celebrations had gone off this present morning, as the whole town was making no small deal of its honor of hosting such a prestigious sports event. Even for a journeyman’s travel stop where all kinds of faces and species normally came through town, this week promised to have many, many more. In addition to ponies from all over the country, there were a full spectrum of other species come to spectate, along with those who were more naturally gifted in actually using a pool cue: griffons, minotaurs, even the Everfree Forrest’s resident sea serpent, the one and only Steven Magnet, had come to spend the week in the river surrounding the town and enjoy the festivities. Likewise, there were more than a few sightings of the famous motivational speaker-turned-werewolf hunter-turned prince Iron Will among the crowds along with his very pregnant wife. The fairgrounds, normally set for a town fair, were now bustling with temporary tents for accommodations for this particular event. For a town that made its entire world stop when just Princess Celestia came to visit, having practically all the who’s who of the world present was an event of a lifetime...

...unless, of course, anypony actually tried to get their usual business done in the midst of such organized chaos.

“I’m so sorry,” profusely apologized Pear Blossom, “but I am just as surprised as you are that my pears have sold out so early!”

“I knew trying to shop for fresh goods all week was going to be a hassle,” Razz groaned, “but it’s only two in the afternoon and you’ve got no more pears whatsoever?”

“Well, I did also choose this week to debut some new pear based products, like perry and my husband’s idea of pear-scented candles—he wanted to name them ‘Perry-Air’ and they sold like hotcakes even though I only started selling them today.”

“That’s a bummer; sounds like those were things I would have liked to try,” Razz replied, crestfallen. Heelee, perched on his usual horn pedestal, looked even more morose as his favorite fruit treat wouldn’t be available for a while.

“Ah, I thought as much,” interjected the pear vendor with a smile. “Now, please note that I never said I sold all my stock, because I saved some of each specifically for my two best customers!” From behind the cart, Pear Blossom produced a simple brown bag, which she held out to Razz. The dark unicorn picked it up in her magic—thankfully, she noted, its signature “bubbly” aura no longer frightfully intimidating to the somewhat timid fruit vendor as it had initially been—and Beryl was delighted to find it was filled with a few pears, some bottles of what looked like golden cider, and green candles with images of pears on the sides.

“Wow, thanks, Blossom!” graciously thanked the unicorn. Heliodor, now pleased that his fortune of fruit was still intact, went one step further by plucking out a loose feather from his brilliant green-and-gold plumage and promptly fluttered over to put in in Blossom’s hair.

“Ah, merci, I am pleased you appreciate my gift to you. I already have done so well in sales today, plus some free items as at least a form of rewarding your loyalty as customers is something I feel is vastly overdue, so all of that is on the house,” the pony said with a gracious bow.

The unicorn and the vendor exchanged some more pleasantries before parting ways, with Razz teleporting the bag of pear-based goodies back to her room at the Retreat so it wouldn’t burden her in fighting the massive crowds filling the town marketplaces.

“Oh thank God!” suddenly came a familiar voice, and before either Razz or her feathered friend could comprehend it, they were no sooner out in the main thoroughfares then they were just as soon knocked back into the alley by a red and yellow blur. “The only princess in town who isn’t going to drive me batshit crazy by the end of this!”

“Uh…thanks?” asked a dazzled Razz. “Everything okay, Sunny?”

“I wish!” the princess-to-be just groaned. “I know my whole schtick in the human world was that I couldn’t get enough of having a close-knit family, but now it’s getting to the point where I could just kill somebody for a little privacy!”

“Or, you could just ask,” said Twilight, who effortlessly seemed to just phase into being out of the crowds to join the other two princesses in the alleyway. “Seriously, I know Cady’s being a little…invasive, but it’s only because she’s trying to make up for what she honestly thinks were her faults in what drove you from Equestria in the first place, Sunset.”

Sunset just sighed. “Yeah, I know, but…everything so far has just been so overwhelming to me. Like, come on, I fucking died just weeks ago—and my whole family had to watch! That in of itself is still something I’m trying to come to grips with, and it doesn’t help that everyone at home’s been a bit on the touchy-feely side because of all this.”

“You’re not the only one who died, you know: At least you didn’t have your friends accidentally vaporize the shit out of you to death like I did.”

“Or get ripped apart by some undead werewolf bitch on two separate occasions and successive back-to-back trials on being sentenced to death anyway,” added Razz. “For all that a princess is supposed to imply, apparently becoming one is a real pain in the ass.”

“And while I’ll leave it to Cady to tell you, Sunny, how she ascended was…not for the faint of heart,” finished Twilight with a slight blush of embarrassment.

Sunny nickered. “Fine, I’ll let her tell me the gruesome details later, but in all honesty your sister-in-law is just part of the problem. Between her and the whole death-ascendence thing, it’s grating having to deal with the triplets having their mindset far too focused on being my bodyguards—like, I have to figure that their trained-birth-killing aspect is drilled into their heads that they can afford to not protect me 24/7 like a porcelain doll, they’re legally also my cousins now but they sure seem more content on sticking to being G.I.Jane all the time. And that doesn’t even get into how the other timeline figures into this!

“And then I really don’t mean to offend about this but… Y'know, Twi...if I get my own castle? I'll have it imported from Luxembourg or something. Nice little French chateau. None of this Disco Club on a tree crap like you have."

Razz snickered. "Hey, Sunny, remember that Disneyland place you took me to? You know that Tarzan treehouse thing? Doesn’t the castle look like that tree had sex with It’s a Small World and this is the Lunadamned result?”

Now it was Twi’s turn to nicker. “Okay, seriously, even I think the thing is pretentious, but are you ever not going to make fun of my house?”

“No.”

“Plus,” interjected Sunset, “you are like, what, on the same level of power if not even greater than both my mother and my aunt?”

“And you’re even more powerful than me, as I recall,” Twilight responded.

“The point is, Twi, couldn’t you just magic that crystal eyesore into being your old treehouse? Though…then again, given said eyesore is not Golden Oaks kind of makes it less creepy how much my life as a human parallels your life here in Ponyville.” A look of concern briefly crossed the neophyte alicorn’s face. “Just remembered that I need to call my sister while I’m here. Eh, I’ll do that later; she won’t min—”

“Princess Twilight!” The shout came from the sky, and a second later, a member of her guards alit next to the group. “Excuse me, Your Grace and Princess Raspberry, but I have urgent business with her highness.”

Twilight had that “Oh, not again” look on her face. “Yes, what is it, Sgt. Cloudstreaker?”

The pegasus reached into his saddlebags and pulled out a clipboard. “Your highness, the Captain requests that you review the plans for the additional patrols for town, as well as the plans to augment the town’s watchguard in cases of issues arising from the tournament.”

Twilight sighed. “Yeah, I promised that I would,” she said, taking the clipboard in her magical grasp.

Just then, Mayor Mare came rushing down the street, a group of her own aides at her side. “Your highness? May I have a moment of your time?”

Twilight looked up from the clipboard, a weary look on her face. “Yes, Mayor? This wouldn’t happen to be about the reconstruction budget, is it?”

“No, your highness, that is well in hoof, thanks to you. But my concern deals with protocols for foreign dignitaries!” the earth mare replied.

Twilight winced. “Yeah, I did promise you that, didn’t I? I really need to get me a seneschal to help with paperwork.”

Sunset looked at her. “Doesn’t Spike help you with that?”

“He does, but this would be too much for him. Plus, he’s still a growing drake and my parents and I want him to have as normal a foalhood as possible.”

Interrupting the conversation between the two alicorns, Mare continued. “Your majesty, while I certainly understand that your office is being staffed in Canterlot while Town Hall is being run from your castle during reconstruction, I need to know the proper protocols our town must provide! For example, we have no idea on how to accommodate a dignitary from the river serpent realm–”

Without intending to, Razz chose that minute to make it worse: “Isn’t Steven Magnet one of the tournament referees?” the raspberry unicorn commented helpfully.

“See? This is the sort of thing I needed to know yesterday, Princess!”

Twilight sighed. “Okay, see Spike. He should be able to get you a copy as soon a—”

“Hey, Twi, got a minute?” Lyra then approached with a whole bunch of music sheafs in her hand. “Octy and I wanted to know if you wanted us to give you a quick overview of the music that you commissioned for the event?”

Twilight looked at her fellow alicorn and former protegée of Celestia with pleading eyes. “Help?”

“Sorry, only one Twilight gets to give me that kind of guilt trip,” Sunset apologized. “Besides, I need somewhere else to—” She never got to finish her statement as The Administrative Milieu of Ponies Wanting Things from The Princess™ continued down the path, dragging the poor lavender mare along regardless of what her plans were or even what she wanted.

“It’s times like this I’m glad I’m only given that much overzealous attention these days when I need to act as the Archmagus of Dark Magic,” admitted Razz. “Few ponies who see me regularly these days go gaga over being in the presence of a princess—which is good, while the hordes that would converge on me these days would want to praise me if nothing else, it kind of reminds me of the many times similar hordes instead drove me out with torches and pitchforks.”

“Didn’t that shit get old after a while for you?” asked Sunset.

“Yeah, but nowadays it’s less ‘ponies fleeing in terror from the reincarnated Sombra mare’ and more ‘fillies and colts wanting me to reveal my Sombra horn to see if they can perch on it like my phoenix’, if anything. Keeps the tabloids away from trying to ask about my love life, though.”

Sunset nodded. “Yeah, no offense, but your, er, ‘real’ form being seen romantically involved with anything with sentience sounds like something straight from The Onion or, more likely, the Weekly World News website.”

“I have no idea what those even are in your world, and I was in it.”

“It’s probably for the best—cultural differences and all, y’know? Still, can’t say Cadence isn’t feeling like one of those periodicals in my eyes right now. Seriously, we’ve really only been rekindling our relationship for less than twenty-four hours and you know what one of the first questions she asks was?”

Razz cocked an eyebrow. “If there was some human guy or girl in your life you were romantically interested in?”

“If it had only been that then I wouldn’t be making such a big fuss about it, but even after I answer in the negative, she goes and basically asks the same question again, except if there’s any stallions or mares I’m into!” Sunset paused for a moment to let it sink in.

“You’re lucky she doesn’t know about your Pinkie or you’d never hear the end of it.”

“Yeah, especially after you talked me into going out on a date with her,” Sunset groaned.

“You were the one that kissed her.”

Sunset groaned. “Please don’t remind me – I already have to live with that mistake, okay?” She sighed. “Look, I know Cadance means well, but if she’s trying to make me feel more at home here in Equestria, then she could at least recognize that of the three times I’ve come through the mirror, the longest of those trips was me pretty much landing here in Ponyville and trying to justify why I needed to kill you.”

“Are you saying you’re...into me, Sunny?” playfully asked Razz, batting her eyes in her best impression of Rarity. The bird on her forehead facewinged in embarrassment.

“Do you really want to invite the Wrath of Pinkie?”

The mulberry unicorn laughed. “Yeah, yeah, wouldn’t want her thinking I’m moving onto her territory. Besides, I don’t swing that way; at least I don’t think so….”

Sunset raised an eyebrow in response. “LGBTQ?”

Razz rolled her eyes. “You humans are weird.

“Thought you would’ve heard that while you were visiting. Basically, it means that you’re not sure what you are? The Q part means questioning.”

“Never really explored it, to be honest. Too busy spending most of my life trying to simply fit into regular society and then inevitably run for my life when everypony suddenly hated me equally.”

“Oh, yeah, right.” Sunset then cocked her ears and quickly looked around. “Oh, joy...look, we gotta move, I think I just heard somepony on the roof over there.”

Razz facehoofed. “Seriously, I don’t think somepony’s going to send assassins to kill us when—”

“Nobody sent these—I feel like they’re gonna kill me because they love me too much.”

Oooooooooooooh. Those assassins...I’ll take your word for it.” Razz then wrapped a foreleg around Sunset’s neck. “Fortunately, I know just where to go—hope you like pool!” Sunset didn’t get a chance to respond as Razz then quickly teleported both of them away.

“Damnit!” said Aria from what she’d thought had been the perfect overlook point on the alley after finally tracking down her wayward cousin; it had been hard enough climbing into position in this form. “Why can’t she just not run off when she thinks me or my sisters are eavesdropping? God, trying to be a bodyguard for a girl who is also a magic horse is completely FUBAR!”

Sunset looked around the tournament locale. "Wow, this place looks like an antique B-Dubs."

Razz looked at her friend oddly. "A what?"

"Buffalo Wild Wings. Rainbow loves it there, especially two for one nights."

"A WHAT?"

"Buffalo Wild Wings."

"A what." That second one came from behind Sunset, and she turned to see a bison standing there, the look on his face odd. "Excuse me?"

Razz grinned awkwardly at the bison. "Don't mind my friend—she's from out of town."

"I could do without the insults, you know."

Sunset sighed, and waved her wings. "Trust me: I'm from out of town."

Seeing the extra appendages, the bison finally realized who he was speaking to. "Oh, you must be the new alicorn they said that was from overseas! Ah, understandable then. In my part of the country, a 'wild wing buffalo' usually means a bison who talks out of his ass. It's a really insulting term."

"Oh. I did not know that. Sorry." Sunset facehoofed. "FML."

“Again, I understand you didn’t mean it, your highness, so no problem.” The bison waved and bid them both a good day, then walked off towards other entertainments.

“Good thing I didn’t mention Red Bull,” Sunset muttered.

“Already trying to get thrown off the throne?” Razz laughed as she changed the subject. “Um, this might sound a bit strange but, this is Table Rack’s pool hall, right? I’ve never actually been here before but I thought this place would have more pool tables and less regular tables and bartending.”

A minotaur cow walking around with a drink tray gave the mulberry unicorn a nod. “Heh, guess you’re looking to go spectate, aren’t ya? Don’t worry, you’re in the right place, this is just the bar area, the main hall itself is through the doors behind you.”

“Ah, excellent, thanks!”

Somehow spared from the majority of the town’s destruction during the Tirek War, Table Rack’s Pool Hall had, in the recent past, undergone an expansion and refurbishment to allow the formerly moderately-sized establishment to become suitable enough to host the greatest pool tournament in the country. Much was riding on the hall’s reputation, because it would serve as the economic engine to help get Ponyville back on its hooves after the near-obliteration of the town. Suffice to say, the pressure was immense.

As it was the first day of the tournament, most of the hall was filled with tables where two randomly chosen entrants were pitted against each other. Thus, room for spectators was in fact extremely limited and first day tickets were exorbitantly expensive—most ponies instead went to various businesses around town where a new commercially available technology called “television” was installed in the form of large, wooden boxes that held screens on the front. Magically enchanted to receive transmissions from on-site video cameras, what was effectively miniaturized and live broadcast filming was now available for the first time to allow more ponies to watch things like pool tournaments without needing to actually be at the tournament themselves.

In the same vein, however, freely making it possible for everypony to see the preliminaries for free also made it much more selective in just who was allowed in the pool hall during the prelims by being sold one of those expensive tickets. As Corner Shot stepped through into the ornately decorated interior and beheld the sea of pool tables and chairs before her, some tiny part of her consciousness was afraid that for whatever reason, her new friend Razz wouldn’t be able to uphold her promise to watch Corner cream the competition in these preliminaries. She then realized what Razz was, and then laughed at her own pointless worry.

As expensive as those tickets are, it’s not like an archmagus can’t afford them, she thought. Besides, given that she’s part of Princess Twilight’s court, I doubt they’d turn her down even if she showed up without a ticket and said she just wanted in. Heading to what seemed to be the the pool hall’s maitre d’, she checked in and was given her entry packet, complete with schedule and tournament number. Of course, the thing that was most important to her was the itinerary of her matches to be played in the tournament.

Well, well, well, there’s more names on this that I’ve faced before than I originally thought, and good ‘ol Nineball is in an entirely different bracket than me. Need to blow through that idiot North but no way Nines and I aren’t settling that old feud of ours over Las Pegasus in this tournament. Not when the spread of players is so generous to me like this. Though, if that’s who I think it is listed as my first opponent, this might get really ug–

“Hey, Corner!”

Corner’s ears perked up at hearing a voice she already felt could be picked from a crowd of millions. With more energy in her step, the pegasus quickly hurried to Table 9 where much to her delight was already being watched by Raspberry. As expected, she was with one of the royals, namely Princess Sunset Shimmer.

Wow, they do look somewhat similar. Not that I consider that such a bad thing…

“I don’t think you really need introducing,” said Razz, oblivious to the momentary gleam in Shot’s eyes, “but Corner Shot, this is Princess Sunset Shimmer.”

“Apologies, but I don’t remember if we met at that party last night or not,” said Sunset, extending a hoof and bumping it with Corner’s. “It was kind of insane, y’know?”

“Enh, no big deal,” chuckled Shot in reply. “Besides, I’m nopony really worth remembering—I’m just this pool player mare, y’know?”

“Wow, it’s only metaphorical bullshit but I can still smell it like the real deal!” rudely interrupted an approaching stallion. His coat was brown with a felt-green mane, a unicorn horn mounted above his chalk blue eyes. Appropriately, his cutie mark was shown to be two crossed pool cues over the 8 Ball. He had a look of both disgust and indifference as he adjusted his cravat and addressed the pegasus. “Then again, I already know your little song and dance of lies, Shottie.”

“You’re one to talk, Bumper Thumper,” spat Corner. Sunset and Razz immediately exchanged glances as they mutually agreed there was some clear animosity between those two. “Did you just come here to insult me or are you going to at least prove you can still hit a ball straight with a cue stick?”

“Oh, I don’t need to prove something as trivial as that,” said Thumper, smirking with a flair that immediately made Razz start to put her fur on end as, to her, something felt too familiar and uncomfortable about it. “After all, I can hit balls straighter than you.”

“You know, I normally hate to point this kind of stuff out, but did you notice we’re in the presence of a princess? Or are you that far gone?” scoffed Corner. “Then again, you wouldn’t see nobility if it slapped you in the face, being that you are one of Prince Blueblood’s toadies.”

“And once more you prove how easy it is to dismantle your false presentation, Shottie,” sardonically said Thumper. “Hanging out with somepony his highness was nearly murdered by when he merely sought to uphold Equestria’s own founding laws? No wonder you’re trying to bed her like you did m—”

Incensed, Razz lost her temper and stepped forward, intent on teaching the idiot some manners, but Sunset stepped in the middle of them all. “Razz, Corner, let me handle this,” she told them. Without waiting for an answer, she turned to face Thumper. “In case you’ve forgotten,” Sunset replied, “you’re here to play pool, not to harass my subordinate or her friend. If you care to make this equinal, by all means go ahead. Just remember that I am by far and away the strongest of the alicorns in terms of magic, and have been living overseas for years, learning all sorts of interesting—and painful for others—things. And if that’s not enough, you know who my mother is. I could go on but I won’t.”

Sunset looked at the stallion, eye to eye, her normally warm aqua eyes colder than the ice outside the Crystal Empire. “So if you wish to start something, by all means, go ahead. Either I will have you in the stockades within a second, or should I feel the need to intervene directly you will be a small carbon smear on the ground.” As fear set into his eyes, she concluded with, “Next time don’t bite off more than you can chew. You might just find that you’ll swallow it and choke on the results.”

At that reminder, Bumper blanched momentarily, but quickly regained composure. “Well, it appears you’ve made quite the friend, Corner. Maybe later, when they are done with your lies and deceit, they’ll roast you to a crisp, and I will watch and laugh.”

Any more clearly unresolved antagonism was halted when, randomly, a tiny, sky-blue holographic sea serpent with fabulous orange facial hair spawned above the table. “Hello, hello? This thing working?”

“Oh, good, the ref is here,” sighed Sunset. The discussion that had just ended was getting a little much for her to handle.

“Ah! Archmagus Beryl, Princess Shimmer!” responded the magical serpent upon noticing the spectators. “What an honor—I am Steven Magnet, though you can just call me ‘Steve’ for short if you wish, and I’ll be the ref for this round of the preliminaries.”

Following the instructions of Mr. Magnet—as well as learning he was physically still outside the building, his appearance in miniature over the pool table being through the use of a special scrying crystal made for his personal use—Corner and Bumper quickly set the table up for play.

“Now, if it’s alright,” said Bumper, “I would like to extend a hoof of generosity and let my opponent have the break shot.”

“Oh, um,” said Steve, caught a bit off guard at the slight departure from the rules. “I...guess that’s okay, if Miss Shot wishes to accept.”

“I readily accept,” snarked Corner, “it’s his funeral anyway.” Walking over to the waiting cue sticks, Shot went ahead and grabbed one, proceeding to fiddle around with it as expected to check it over. When she was done, however, she twirled it around in her hoof, before in one swift motion letting the rod slide down toward the top in her hoof, while the heavier handle end found itself firmly grasped in one of her wings. Her other wing soon followed suit, and for the first time Razz finally understood what Corner had meant the week prior with her claim of using “all” her limbs in that she played with her wings—the way Corner now twirled the cue in her wings just as easily as she’d done with her hooves, her total mastery of her feathered dexterity now came to bear. With practiced skill, she stood at the head of the table and carefully lowered her cue dead center on the waiting cue ball. “Now...let’s get to work,” she stated with finality, her wings pushing the stick held within them right into the white orb on the table. Propelled with great force, the white sphere smashed into its multicolored brethren, scattering them all across the table and signalling the game had truly just begun.

In a secluded location, two ponies discussed recent events. The whole world had shifted and they had control of the situation, or else all would be lost. Of course, that wouldn’t be the case, not as long as the Covenant of Shadows had things well in hoof.

“Yes, while it is regrettable that what happened in Nightshade has made things a bit…difficult, more so than expected,” said Neon Lux. “But now we have confirmation that the second Scion is located there.”

“But that also means we must consider Equestria’s forces in this matter, particularly their archmagus: Raspberry Beryl,” Tiny Dynamine told him. “In finding out this ‘Lockbox’ character’s piece in the puzzle, she’s also driven her away from the mindset she needs to be in order to even consider embracing her heritage as she should, rather than staying with whatever worthless life she leads now.”

“Oh, on the contrary, all that needs to be done to correct that is to make sure Raspberry is turned back towards the proper path. Once that happens, it’s almost certain she can convince her distant brethren to do the same.”

“And how exactly are we going to do that?”

Lux grinned. “As I told you a few days ago, I already dispatched one of our most capable agents into the field to accomplish that. I have every faith she will take care of the issue.”

Tiny, however, did not seem placated by the reminder. “Oh, that’s right…you did…only this could be an even bigger problem.”

“How so?”

Tiny sighed. “I had a vision a few nights ago…another has appeared in Ponyville who could seriously disrupt our agent’s attempts at making contact with Beryl. From what I understand, this mare is… very fond of the archmagus, and could become… unpredictable if our agent’s intentions are discovered.” A hint of a smile seemed to briefly play across the Oracle’s face. “With all of the forces in play, Ponyville is a powderkeg that could go up with the slightest sparks.”

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