• 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 1 - “The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same”

The Golden Age of Apocalypse

Chapter 1: “The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same”

The smell of fresh stacks of pancakes and muffins wafted into the nostrils of Raspberry Beryl. Moaning softly, she cracked open her eyes, proceeded to rub the little sleep molecules from them, and sat up…bringing something else with her head. Glancing up, she felt the pillow slide down her horn a bit, confirming that she had once again forgotten to make sure the protection spell had been set. Normally, unicorn horns weren’t actually that sharp at their tips, even alicorn horns which looked longer and pointier than the usual kind were in truth slightly blunted at the top. But Raspberry’s horn, being a product of Sombra’s meddling in his own gene pool, was decidedly a weapon for both magic casting and actual physical impalement.

“Seriously, how the heck did he actually sleep with pillows?” rhetorically asked Razz, none too happy to have totaled another pillow by accident. “He really must have had crystal pillows or something.”

Removing the punctured bag of feathers and fluff, Raspberry could only sigh as she examined the damage. It was a clean wound, almost perfectly circular in its bore. The unicorn could only shake her head in regret. She herself couldn’t cast the protection spell, given she hadn’t yet figured out how to make a dark magic replica version that wasn’t turning the pillow’s appearance into something from an ancient horror story. The alternative option of using a kind of sheath had come up, but the cloth ones she’d tried hadn’t even lasted the first night. Her own attempt at making a crystal sheath had ended poorly as it had been both uncomfortable and prevented her horn from channeling dark magic ironically enough, and the custom-made ones she’d sampled that were made from plastic and wood had felt really, really awkward as she would roll in her sleep, only to wake up to feel something hard pushing against what was part of her skull extruding from her forehead.

Tossing the ruined pillow into the marked corner of her closet for all pillows that had befallen her horn, Razz hoped the day wouldn’t be marred by such a bad beginning. Though, really, the fact she was even standing here, in her own room, was something to be happy for, and glancing out the window simply reaffirmed that things could be a lot worse than just impaled pillows.

As she trotted over to the frame, glancing out at the skyline of Ponyville, the once quiet and low-key town was slowly being turned away from humble beginnings into a much larger center of population. Where the central town library, known as Golden Oaks, once stood high above the simple homes and businesses, the great tree was gone along with a sizable portion of the old businesses that once stood in the town center – the fact Raspberry’s own home, the Traveler’s Retreat bed and breakfast, had been spared in the midst of Tirek’s rampage, was nothing short of fortune given how the mad centaur had specifically targeted her on account of her dark powers, and Golden Oaks was gone because he’d targeted the home of Twilight Sparkle.

Instead, an even greater, grander, and in all honestly a far more gaudy crystal tree sat about half a mile from the town, the new castle of Princess Twilight Sparkle. And where simple shops and homes once stood within the town now rose moderately sized apartments akin to those in Manehattan or even Fillydelphia out of sheer necessity to provide housing for those displaced in the wake of Tirek’s wrath…and the ongoing conflicts against his equally insane followers.

On top of all those changes Razz had to deal with, after her forced “vacation” to the human world, the time dilation between that world and Equus meant she’d spent the greater part of a year – eight months, give or take a few days – away from home. And not only had she been believed killed like her friend Pavane Bayan, leaving her adoptive parents Cashmere and Ascot in mourning, but Sunset Shimmer actually had died saving everyone in the human world. Somehow, Princess Celestia had known about it the moment it happened, plunging the whole country, if not planet itself, into a slow spiral of decay as one would expect from basically the one pony who controlled the sun not exactly being motivated to do the best job she could do as her child was taken from her.

For several months Celestia thought her child was dead before learning that no, she simply resurrected into an alicorn princess herself. But even though Celestia had known Sunset had in the end lived, the effects of three months of a weakened sun during the harvest season meant a particularly rough winter, with diminished food stocks nationwide, a housing crisis, and lingering chaos – of a murderous kind even Discord disapproved of apparently – from maniacs as deranged as that stupid “Covenant of Shadow” Razz had helped put an end to some time ago. It was now supposed to be spring but with all the logistical nightmares going on with the government, Winter Wrap-Up had been canceled and there was still snow melting on the ground.

But we’re all still here, she thought, not trying to diminish the price paid by ponies whose lives had been lost protecting hers and the rest of the country, but more praising the fact that in the end, pony kind had still emerged victorious over Tirek. And Sunset Shimmer had also played a role, though more indirectly, by stopping that insane Divine Right guy and the demon who had once possessed Sunny herself.

Glancing over to the shelf – a bit dusty given the months she hadn’t been around to dust it – she picked up the newest addition in her black aura and brought it close. In the picture, eighteen human girls were packed together in front of a big castle that vaguely looked like Castle Canterlot, in a frame done up like a postcard with an overlay reading GREETINGS FROM DISNEYLAND, USA! in the upper left hoof corner. The oddest detail was that there were three girls who had the exact same hairdo, and two of them looked virtually identical if it wasn’t for the fact one was six inches taller and decidedly more “built” than her counterpart. But all the girls in the image had been important to Razz, meaning as much as she hated being in a world where mare equivalents had to deal with some real unpleasant stuff once a month and wear that horrible invention known as a “bra,” she didn’t regret the experience.

Well, okay maybe a little, but given everything Razz had suffered as a result she was entitled to it.

“Razz, honey!” called out Cashmere from the other side of the bedroom door, “Are you up?”

“Yeah, Mom!” called back Razz, putting the picture back on the shelf. “I’m up, I’m ready!” It was time to face a new day – like Equestria, Razz had endured her own war of sorts and neither were going to have to face a horrid trial like that again anytime soon.

“What do you mean there’s a secure checkpoint to get into town?” asked the red unicorn from his spot on top of the stagecoach.

“Sir, in case you aren’t aware,” said one of the guards at the checkpoint, “but in addition to the constant raids by dissident groups in the wake of Tirek’s defeat, there have been reports of changelings stepping up their infiltration attempts to use Equestria’s current weakened state to their advantage. With Ponyville and the surrounding land being established as the domain of Princess Twilight Sparkle, additional precautions have been set up to ensure the safety of those who reside here.”

The unicorn snorted. “Pardon my skepticism, but I doubt you’ll find trouble coming from a band of traveling performers.”

The guard merely raised an eyebrow. “You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you how wrong you were. And that’s not including the fact Ponyville is deceptively small—its central location does make it a well-traveled hub for all sorts of folks now that there’s sustainable train routes running through here. Though the new apartment buildings certainly don’t make it feel that small anymore.”

Suddenly, a mustard-brown pony poked his head out from the coach. “Certainly you guard types haven’t banned mere traveling performers, have you? Ponies need simple entertainment now more than ever, I’d argue.”

The guard sighed. “As long as your troupe doesn’t do what Trixie Lulamoon did the last time she was here, you’ll be fine.” The looks of worry on the faces of the ponies both on top of and in the cart were not promising to the guard, or the guard’s friends who subtly readied themselves to act. “Now, anything you’d like to declare before we search your wagon?”

“Well, uh…” began the earth pony, “not sure how you didn’t notice, but…that’s Miss Lulamoon’s coach behind this one.” He gestured behind him and as the guard moved a bit to his right, he too didn’t know how he’d missed seeing the second cart hitched to the first one. Going off of its design, its occupant was all too obvious. “Look, she said she was just coming through Ponyville in the direction we were going and offered a little extra space in her coach—these things are kind of cramped when you try to fit more than one pony in them—so we didn’t see the harm.”

The guard sighed again. “Ok, look, just…just get everypony out here so we can do our thing, then provided you aren’t trying to smuggle in a changeling or take over the town by throwing the mayor in a cage, we’ll let you go, alright?”

Following the oddly specific request of the guard, the five ponies from the two carts were assembled and lined up side-by-side in short order. Along with the red unicorn and the mustard earth pony, there were two bat ponies—a bat stallion of dark gray coloration and blue-green mane and a bat mare who bore passing resemblance to Fluttershy given the mane style choice, and…Trixie Lulamoon in a bedrobe.

“Trixie demands to know the meaning of this!” demanded Trixie, taking off her eyemask and throwing it into her coach before turning to face the guard. “Do you not know who you are inconveniencing here?!”

“Yeah, we do,” deadpanned the guard. “We’ve got orders to arrest you on sight if you try removing a pony’s mouth again.”

“You what?!” exclaimed the male batpony.

“Oh yeah, that…” Trixie sheepishly admitted. “Well, er, Trixie isn’t in town to make more trouble for that Sparkle pest, not like last time!”

“That’s ‘Princess Twilight Sparkle’ to you,” the guard grunted. “And believe me, I’m just looking for an excuse to arrest you. Don’t make it any easier for us, if you know what’s good for you.”

“Mel, who did we end up dragging behind us for the past twenty miles?” the red pony asked of the earth pony.

“Why, ‘The Great and Powerful Trixie’, of course,” grunted the earth pony, “as if she didn’t keep reminding us every hour, right?”

The side discussion went unnoticed by the increasingly irate Trixie herself—a condition brought on by not having eaten her daily breakfast of Pinesnax brand snack crackers—as she kept arguing with the guard.

“Honestly, this whole business about changelings is silly!” she exclaimed. “You have no reason to think there’s a changeling who would ever try to step foot into this town!”

“Ma’am,” calmly replied the guard, having been trained to deal with the kinds of ponies who would do exactly what Trixie was doing now. “We’re just trying to make sure that what you said is true—if there isn’t any sign there’s a changeling with you, we’ll be quick in the search and then you can be on your way.”

That didn’t satisfy Trixie. “I know changelings can disguise themselves to look like regular ponies,” she exclaimed, “but the way you’re all acting, it’s like I could just fire a spell to remove a changeling’s disguise and immediately find one!” Then, without really thinking about it, she quickly turned, fired that exact spell at one of the bat ponies, then turned back to face the guard and pointed to where the bat pony had been standing, all without actually seeing what happened. “See, does that look like a changeling to you?!”

An almost bemused smile came across the guard’s muzzle. “Yes, actually.”

It wasn’t at all what Trixie was expecting. “Really, now? How can you not—“ As she turned to look where her hoof had actually been pointing, she stopped mid-sentence as—against all odds—where she had fired was now a very embarrassed looking changeling. The other three ponies from the acting troupe all looked very uncomfortable as they stood around it.

“Uh…ta da?” said the changeling, cringing. The other bat pony facehoofed in disbelief.

“Oh, I’m sure there’s going to be quite an interesting story about this one,” chuckled the guard, motioning for his friends to help him secure the suspects. “But first, I might as well read you all your rights….”

“Wait, you want my help for coming up with ideas for dresses?” skeptically asked Razz. She’d been invited over to Rarity’s for tea—but given how Rarity was seemingly close to simply dragging Razz and Heliodor off involuntarily as she had the previous Nightmare Night, it hadn’t taken long to get to the heart of the matter. “While I’m flattered you turned to me instead of, say, Fluttershy and her reportedly freaky knowledge of sewing, I’m no good at dress design. Gem work is my forte’ and after giant monoliths of gems nearly killed everypony, I wouldn’t think gem-encrusted anything is still hot on the market scene.”

“While true, the gem market is down considerably, the truth is I need design inspiration for Sunset’s upcoming coronation. And for that I would benefit from having Sunset around. Only, she’s not. But somepony who looks like her, could physically have her presence for me to, ah, work with as it were.”

Razz looked unamused. “Y’know, I was hoping that impersonating Sunset that one time because we happen to share mane styles would be limited to just once. I’m not a changeling, you know.”

“Well, yes, but nopony needs to know. It’s not like I have my own personal changeling—appealing as that concept is in theory—but it also would just be short term for me to get measurements of things.”

“But aren’t unicorn mares usually almost cookie-cutter in our measurements? To the point we just look like we swap colors and manes all the time?”

“Yes, but you try finding somepony other than Sunset with your mane for me to measure.”

Razz blinked. “You need to measure my mane?”

“Well, of course darling. I always take everything into account for maximum fabulosity!”

“You do understand that A, Sunset is an alicorn now and thus not only taller than me, but also B, has wings now and thus Twilight probably would be a better comparison?”

“Yes, but I already have measurements for Twilight post-alicornization—unless you’re going to tell me Sunset changed her manestyle, my original reasoning still applies.”

As Razz sighed in disbelief, she looked around the surprisingly untidy interior of the residential workspace, she noted an absurd number of order slips tacked upon the wall—next to the already overflowing corkboard with orders pinned to it. “Pardon me for asking, but…why all the orders for dresses?”

“Huh? Oh, yes, those,” Rarity quickly glanced back and saw what Razz was seeing. “There’s that billiards tournament coming to town in a few days, and so many ponies want dresses repaired or new ones commissioned—no, I know that look you’re giving me, darling, I assure you I have it under control.”

Raspberry kept up her deadpan stare unabated. “That many ponies want to look good for a pool tournament?”

Rarity nodded. “With parts of Ponyville still being rebuilt—to say nothing of the nation itself—we could all use a little levity right now, darling. I know you weren’t here for the worst of it, but for a while there, Raspberry, dear, it was touch and go.” The curly-maned unicorn then sighed. “That being said, I do have quite a lot of commissions on my hooves. It’s times like this I wish I had somepony to help take some of the workload.”

“What about that one mare who quit her job in Manehatten for your sake?” asked Razz. “The way you mentioned she was acting, working for you seemed like a dream job.”

Coco Pommel? asked Rarity, “Yes, having her would be a windfall indeed, but letting her take on the job for making Bridleway costumes would do far more for her career than taking her on as an assistant here in Ponyville.”

Any further discussion was cut off when the cries of Razz’s pet phoenix Heliodor were heard outside.

“Y’know, I was wondering where he’d been,” mentioned Rarity. “He’s so attached to you that it’s kind of strange to not see him in the same place.”

“Blame being on Earth for that one,” laughed Razz as she headed for the door. “While he enjoyed flying around the human world, he was in a lot more danger there than here, so he’s taking the time to readjust to this world.” At the door, however, Razz found Heliodor was not the only one waiting, as after the green and gold avian settled on her horn—his favorite roost—she noticed the guard standing at attention. “Oh, um, at ease, soldier?”

“Archmagus, your presence is requested at the royal garrison,” replied the guard, wasting no time to get to the reason for his presence, though briefly nodding in acknowledgement of Rarity, the other noble in his presence. “There was a group of ponies claiming to be a troupe of actors who were stopped at a checkpoint outside of town, one of them was found to be a changeling and they were all brought in for questioning.”

“That’s…uh, good work. Yes. Very good work,” stammered Razz, not sure what she was supposed to be saying or doing. “But is there a reason I needed to be notified?”

The guard cleared his throat before giving an answer. “One of them claimed that he was an acquaintance of yours and insisted that you be brought to talk to him about the matter.”

“An acquaintance?” repeated Razz, scratching her head. “I’m sorry, but there really isn’t anypony who comes to mind that I’d consider an old acquaintance from before I came to Ponyville. Out of curiosity, what is this pony’s name?”

“Rough Edge, m’lady. He’s a red unicorn and—” the guard never got to finish his sentence as Razz suddenly bolted forward and held her face close to his with her front hooves.

“Rough Edge? His name is Rough Edge?”

“Y-yes, m’am! Apologies for asking, but I thought you said you didn’t have any—”

“I didn’t think he’d remember me after all these years!” she exclaimed, before realizing she was probably going to make the guard die of embarrassed asphyxiation. Letting him go, she recomposed herself, noting in the corner of her eye a bemused Rarity watching from inside the boutique. “Yes, well, sorry for that. This was…unexpected.”

“I presume you know this Rough Edge character, then, Archmagus?”

“I only knew him briefly, but I wouldn’t be the mare I am today if it wasn’t for him…if he is the stallion I met ten years ago. Take me to him immediately.”

In one of the basements in the Canterlot palace, Marimba Rondo, Castellan of the Princess’ Hooves, walked in, her hooffalls echoing on the tiles. She looked around at this hallowed place, a massive room with a huge reflection pool in the center of it. Along the walls, black marble cladded everything, and on those were etched countless names. And by the far wall, there were fifteen marble statues, painstakingly carved to have the finest details of life.

The names on the walls were the countless members of the Hooves who over the years had given their lives in the process of their duties. But the statues had an even greater sense of honor: those were reserved for Hooves who had given all to save the nation and its subjects, mares who deserved to be honored for their actions and whose names deserved to be shouted from the highest towers. But that was not the way of the Hooves, and these reminders in this, the Chamber of Memory, were the only signs of the deeds of the dead.

Marimba walked towards the newest statue, that of her friend, Pavane Bayan. Pavane had literally been killed by the hooves of Tirek in a successful attempt to send Raspberry Beryl to safety. Moreover, she’d done this duty—as she’d done through her life—without the need, for she had been exempted from active duty by the Princess herself. Yet, Pavane Bayan—or truthfully, Princess Pavane, a minor princess of Equestria, had chosen to do her duties, as did her mother before her and so forth and so on.

That of course, was of no comfort to the grieving stallion seated by Pavane’s statue. Marimba could do nothing for him, save to fulfill Pavane’s final request. “Milord? A moment of your time, if you would.”

The stallion turned to look at her. “Hello, Castellan,” he said. “I wish I could congratulate you on your promotion, but I know the price was too high.”

“You honor me, milord,” she commented, reaching into her coat pocket and producing a scroll. “I know I cannot take away your pain, but I hope this will help the healing. I know that’s what Pav would have wanted.”

He nodded, accepting the letter in his magical grasp. “Thank you, Castellan. This means much to me.”

“I know. And your sister did too, milord. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to meet with the Princess.” Nothing more to say, she departed, leaving the heart torn stallion to his grief.

Author's Note:

Yeah, Rough Edge.

And you people all forgot about the one time he got mentioned back in Rise of the Furball, didn't you?:trollestia:

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