• 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 26: Awaiting the Return of Royals

Golden Age of Apocalypse

Chapter 26—Awaiting the Return of Royals

“The hell are we going?” hissed Corner Shot as she tried to not stumble behind Barkeep.

How he seemed to just glide over the debris in the thick underbrush was beyond her—sure, she’d been trained to be super-agile on the ground like nopony else, but that was only if the ground was favorable and easy enough to predict. Of course, she also hadn’t been able to predict that this contact of the Covenant’s would take her from the seedy bar she found him in and lead a difficult, hour-long trek into some dumbass forest in the middle of the night.

“What’s wrong, missy?” Barkeep asked, the normally gleeful albeit creepy pony regarding her with a certain psychotic wariness. “Ain’t runnin’ out of faith, are ya? And after we had such a nice talk on the matter too!”

“Running out of patience, more like,” Corner replied with a little edge in her voice. There was only so much of the stallion’s particular brand of batshit crazy she could tolerate, and they’d been walking together for what felt like hours.

To Corner’s dismay, voicing her displeasure only served to slow them further, as Barkeep stopped in his tracks and turned to her with a wild eyed-glare. “Oh? Would it have pleased ya if we hid the entrance a little closer to town? Maybe put up some nice, easy to follow directions?” Barkeep was still wearing his patented facsimile of a friendly smile, but there was a layer of psychotic rage that seemed to be simmering just under the surface. Corner shifted a wing to allow easier access to her knives...just in case.

“Oh I know! How about next time, we write a big ol’ message in the sky that says, ‘Any guards that feel like fuckin’ up somepony else’s shit swing yer dicks over this way!’” Barkeep eloquently said before continuing to lead the way through the trees.

“Yeah yeah, I get it. You don’t want anypony stumbling across our hideout so you made getting to it fucking suck!”

Barkeep glared back at Corner but did not stop pressing forward. “Partially, yes, but there are also…other dangers. Like what yer about to see!”

“What are you—" growled Corner, before suddenly falling into what she’d thought was solid turf. Her wings flapping madly, she managed to quickly get out of the nasty, slimy water. “Dammit, what the hell is this shit? It’s sticking to my fur!”

“Oops, forgot to tell you about the local water quality,” Barkeep giggled. “But consider yourself lucky—I was talking about what’s in the water.” Pausing for a moment to allow the fuming Corner Shot to catch up, he turned farther than before to face her and cracked a grin. “You think you’re as dangerous as a shark because you play pool? Lemme learn ya somethin’, missy: this place is home to things that eat sharks, so watch your steps. Pity you can’t fly worth a damn or else it wouldn’t be much of a problem.”

Dearly wanting to snap back at the rude pony—or more accurately, snap his neck—Corner instead took the insult and trudged in her damp humility as Barkeep led on. Between bad puns, point-blank exploding rail cars, having to support herself while staying well ahead of the guards combing the countryside for her hide, her encounter with her old mentor, and now a disgusting bath of what she guessed was swamp water mixed with a constant stream of insults, all Corner wanted was to clean up and catch a nap without worrying for her life the whole time.

“We’re here,” suddenly said Barkeep, the abrupt halt nearly making Corner run right into his backside—she didn’t, thankfully, or else she’d never hear the end of it from anypony. As she looked at what apparently was the entrance to the Covenant hideout—when she’d inserted herself into Ponyville, the Covenant had been planning to move in, so she herself hadn’t ever seen this place before—it was a rock outcropping in what vaguely looked like a circle, flanked by curved, parenthetical-shaped spikes on its sides. To anypony who somehow wasn’t exhausted from traveling this far into the jungle from hell, it would just look like some interesting, but naturally carved, rock faces. But to somepony as well versed on a certain figure in Equestria’s history, there was no mistaking it was anything but natural—it was the mark of King Sombra.

While Corner looked over the subtle masonry that had gone into the landmark, Barkeep approached one of the spikes jutting from the circle, tapping on it with his hoof in a numeric pattern—two taps, five taps, three taps—before putting his hoof back down. Immediately, part of the rock dissolved into a perfectly rectangular slit, which Corner could only presume had another pony on the other side looking through with narrowed eyes. Barkeep was of course blocking her view as he squint-stared back through the peephole.

“How was your trip to Istanmule?” whispered the pony behind the rock.

Barkeep sighed and leaned casually against the rock right up on the slit, likely giving the poor stallion within a good whiff of his breath. “Listen, bud… yer job’s pretty simple, wouldn’t ya say?” Corner couldn’t see the other stallion, but she assumed he was nodding desperately. “So is it too much to ask for you to use this week’s Sombradamned question before I PULL YOU OUT THROUGH THIS TINY SLIT?!”

“Oh, uh, crap…let me try again.” The voice then cleared its throat. “From where does the light shine brightest?”

“‘Only from where the depths are darkest.’ Now, was that so hard?” came the reply, and the shift from insane fury to calm faux-friendliness was so jarring that Corner had to shake her head.

A second later, the entire rock face dissolved away, revealing a small passageway. Barkeep immediately walked forward, Corner following suit. Her opinion wasn’t too high about the décor, but for better or worse, this was her home for at least the next few days. And worse still, she found herself wishing she was back in the simple, welcoming atmosphere of the Traveler’s Retreat. At least it didn’t have a main entry lined with gaudy dark crystal walls.

Of course, Corner also quickly came to believe that what she’d just used was only a secret side entrance, given it was too narrow for more than at most two small ponies to walk through abreast. Upon entering the hideout itself, it was immediately obvious it was an underground outpost that could easily accommodate around three hundred ponies at once—not the full roster’s worth of ponies as far as the Covenant was concerned, but certainly the majority of it—and there had to be a much larger entrance somewhere else.

“Take care to not get yourself lost,” Barkeep suddenly said without warning. “The magic imbued into these passages allows them to shift and change where they lead, or if they lead anywhere at all.”

“Some sort of invasion defense failsafe?” idly asked Shot.

“No, it was just put in place because making the majority of the ponies who reside here get lost every damn day is totally everypony’s idea of fun.” A moment later the guide added, “That was also sarcasm.”

“Uh, I figured.”

“Good, at least you aren’t as brain dead as several of the new recruits. Scraping the bottom of the barrel, if you ask me. Like that chucklefuck at the entrance there—wouldn’t know faith if it penetrated him both ways! Anyway, this is where you’ve been summoned,” Barkeep said as they approached a relatively large opening. Moving through, she found herself in what must have been the main atrium, a large dome-esque room that on the far end had a large, rising rock structure as if some kind of giant dais-slash-podium.

“Ah, so you’ve finally returned, Corner Shot,” came the voice of a specific pony Corner was not too happy about hearing. From the sounds of the other pony’s voice, they weren’t too keen on seeing Corner, either. She didn’t give a damn. He turned to the crazy-eyed stallion who’d guided her here. “Thank you, Brother Barkeep. You can leave us.”

His name is actually Barkeep? Really?! Corner mentally exclaimed.

The stallion in question bowed with a flourish and said, “As you wish, Father Lux,” before turning around and leaving.

Now left with her leader and his inner circle, Corner studied the stallion that they had apparently chosen for the role. The robed onyx colored stallion stood and regarded her with an air of pompous superiority that would have fit perfectly on the Canterlot nobles that embodied the very corruption they were fighting. Suffice to say, he wouldn’t have been Corner’s first choice to be the Covenant’s new leader. Unfortunately, the pony that would have been her first choice turned out to be a deserter, and was now dead by her hooves.

“Lux, was it really necessary to have that creepy Barkeep fucker send me on a milk run before letting me come back?!” Corner asked with no shortage of indignation as Neon Lux approached.

“I had hoped that killing your traitorous mentor would give you some idea of how fragile your position in the Covenant is. Make you return to us with some humility,” Neon Lux said with a disappointed sigh. “Alas, now we’ll need to find some other way for you to restore our faith in you, Sister Corner.”

Corner couldn’t stop herself from rolling her eyes. “Look, Lux, can we not do thi—" she began, only to be cut off when he spontaneously smacked her face in one clean swipe. The sharp reverb of the noise made upon contact rang out through all of the hideout, letting everypony there know what had just happened. Corner tasted copper on her tongue; the asshole had drawn blood this time.

“You disappoint me, Corner. You were given a simple assignment, but not only do you manage to completely fail in your task, you go and make a big spectacle of it by letting yourself get captured! At the same time, you’ve exposed the fact that the Covenant is still around to our enemies and—"

“They already knew about the Covenant, you dipshit!” angrily retorted Corner, who long ago had reached her limit of his pompous bullshit and ego. “And no, I couldn’t have prevented them from learning about it: somehow the changelings managed to get their own agent in before I even had a chance to start my mission!”

“Your mission began when you entered Ponyville, where you were supposed to watch Raspberry Beryl like a hawk! You were supposed to bring her understanding toward realizing the role she plays in destiny as one of Sombra’s Scions, but all you’ve done is drive her farther away! The Covenant took you in as a mere newborn, we’ve raised you as our own your whole life, and this is how you repay us? By making it even harder for us to even get one of the Scions here?”

"Well, I made more progress than you did, moron—I found out who one of the last Scions is!"

The ponies who had gathered around the developing scene gasped. Lux’s face of disapproval did not change, save for an eyebrow raise of skepticism. “Oh, did you now?”

“Yeah, heard it from Raspberry herself—apparently I’m the third Scion!”

For a solid minute, there was dead silence, nopony daring to break the tension until Lux finally broke it himself.

“You’re even more of a self-deluded idiot than I thought,” growled Lux. “Do you actually believe that you can crawl back to the Covenant with empty hooves and the best you can do is say such blatant bullshit about how you are meant to be vaunted as one of the blessed inheritors of King Sombra’s legacy?!” He suddenly reared, horn aglow, and bellowed, “It is clear you need to be retaught your place, Corner Shot, and that is something I am only too willing to—"

“—do absolutely nothing for fear of retribution if she’s telling the truth, hmm?” interjected another mare’s voice. Caught by surprise, Lux windmilled his forelegs but couldn’t stop himself from tumbling over backwards into an undignified heap. Shaking her head in annoyance, Tiny Dynamine materialized out of the shadows coming toward him and Corner.

In truth, Corner wasn’t sure what to think of the Covenant’s oracle. The white unicorn mare was certainly mysterious and what was more, she was practically an outsider to the Covenant. As far as Corner knew, she had come to Neon Lux one day claiming to be an agent of King Sombra’s will. Indeed, she seemed to know a great deal more about the Dark Lord than anyone living, and her prophecies had thus far been spot on, especially pertaining to the Scions. In truth, it was very likely she was the reason the Covenant had chosen Neon Lux to take their leader’s place when old age claimed him, and a part of Corner resented Dynamine for that alone.

“Personally, I find it unsettling that you are so willing to convince yourself somepony who has dedicated her life to our Covenant, our mission, would so willingly make such a claim in the face of her failures…” Tiny Dynamine told Neon Lux in a serene, patient tone. “Which really may prove to be to our greater benefit.”

But right now, the oracle had spared her what would no doubt have been terrible punishment, and Corner was grateful for that much.

“M-my thanks, Oracle Dynamine,” said Corner, letting the tension out of her muscles now that she no longer needed to act on a split-second notice.

“B-but Prophet!” stammered Lux as he got back on his hooves. “You cannot truly suggest that she is a Scion!”

“I’m sure she has good reason to think so—the only Scion we even know of apparently told her outright, and I assume that Raspberry’s justification involved the Alicorn Amulet, which we also have known was in her possession for a while now?” Corner nodded vigorously, to which Tiny smiled. “Excellent! This is then a situation to our liking.”

“How?” Lux asked. “Because of Corner’s failure, Raspberry Beryl was driven even further from our cause, knows of our existence, and has no doubt gone and made sure we can not ever hope to get to the second Scion, either!”

“You think too short-term, Lux,” chastised Tiny. “After all, ponies are still herd animals, so what do herd animals do when they feel threatened? Why, they’ll take the most vulnerable members of the herd and put them in the same, one spot they feel is safest. Which, in our case, means they’re going to move Raspberry, the second Scion, and the Alicorn Amulet to Canterlot, the same place where we have reason to believe Sombra’s mirror has been contained for months now.”

“So, my actions just caused them to put all their eggs in one basket?” inquired Corner, whose mood seemed to perk up a little.

“Better—no doubt with so many aspects of the prophecy in one place, the only two missing are the latter two Scions. One of whom we have with you, Corner, and the fourth and final one is due to make an appearance soon enough. Most likely during the upcoming coronation for Sunset Shimmer.”

“Bah,” nickered Lux. “It’s like we get some new princess every few months at this rate. Our liegelord’s long-awaited return can not come soon enough so we can end that nonsense once and for all.”

“Quite,” concurred Tiny. “As for you, Corner Shot, you clearly have had a long and troublesome journey, but there is still much you need to help do. First, however, I shall have one of the acolytes show you to your quarters, it will do no good to explain anything if you’re on the verge of passing out.”

At the moment, Lockbox and Razz were on on one of the many private balconies of the palace. Given their current argument, it gave them more than a bit of privacy, though in retrospect, Razz began to wonder if it wasn’t so much privacy the two needed as a referee.

“Let’s go over this one more time, alright?” asked—or rather, seethed, Lockbox.

“Uh, I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” cautiously ventured Razz.

No, I INSIST.”

Razz carefully eyed the wild, uncontrolled dark chains that were now whipping about all over the balcony. Thankfully, the only things they seemed to be interested in attacking were each other, but given their behavior seemed to be tied directly to the attitude of their mistress, it was a matter of trying to keep Lockbox from going overboard.

“Fine, have it your way…” sighed Razz. “First, Corner Shot turned out to not only be a professional pool shark, but also an elite assassin working for a Sombra worshiping cult.”

“Go on,” intoned Lockbox, who creepily looked right at Razz with the ends of all her dark magic chains now like snakes waiting for the chance to strike.

“And…she escaped the heavily guarded prisoner escort train and as far as anypony knows, she’s back with the Covenant.”

And?”

Razz cringed. “And when she was captured before she finished trying to kill Sunset Shimmer’s cousins, I kinda, sorta, revealed she was the third Scion.”

“YOU CELESTIADAMNED IDIOT!” bellowed Lock, her eyes now lighting up intensely with dark magic, the chains shooting out and entangling the helpless Beryl. “I can’t believe you told somepony who clearly was dangerous, that you knew was working for some very, very bad ponies who has sent her to get you in the first place, that she was the descendant of the crazy dipshit they worship! Why the hell would you even do that?! If I didn’t know better, I would choke the life out of you until you understand just how—"

*crack*

With horror, Lockbox realized that during her rant, she’d unintentionally turned her back to Razz, whereupon the chains funneling her anger…had cleanly snapped Razz’s neck. As evidenced by the very dead look on the unicorn’s face, the legs hanging limply from the air as the chains still were wrapped around her neck, and the all too present memory of the whole choke the life out of you comment.

“OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT!” panicked Lockbox, her anger immediately gone and with it the chains down into the floor before vanishing. “I am in so much shit right now, oh holy shit…” Suddenly, she screamed as one of Razz’s limbs suddenly raised into the air, followed by a horrible strangling like noise. Like an actual zombie—not to be confused with the “fake” zombies Lockbox made from volunteers back home in Nightshade who were not remotely dead—Lock watched as the limbs slowly gained back their firmness but Razz’s head kept drooping down with that vacant expression. Then in an instant, Razz’s head snapped back with an audible crack just as sickening as the first.

“ARRGAGWGAEGA AWG-OH JEEZ!” said Razz, who in a split-second went from gargling nonsense to speaking like she hadn’t just had her spine severed. “And here I thought I’d figured out what it felt like to die in all possible, horrible manners of fatality short of decapitation.”

“What…what the fuck?!” stammered Lockbox.

“Huh? I thought I told you about my insane healing factor—just another one of Sombra’s little ‘gifts’ to me, though admittedly it’s come far more in handy than not.”

“But you’re not…well, not angry at me?”

“Well, normally, yes, I’d be absolutely livid, but you were really going off the deep end and I hadn’t figured out how to calm you down fast enough. You’re just lucky I’m the only pony alive who has both immunity to most forms of death and an understanding of how uncontrollable dark magic can be.”

“Most forms?”

“We theorized that decapitation, burning me to cinders or completely disintegrating me might do me in, but trust me, I’m not in the mood to find out,” Razz said flatly.

“Yeah, you could say that again,” said Lockbox, rubbing the back of her head. “Anyway, where were we before you dropped that bombshell on me?”

“Ah, yes! Here, look.” Razz motioned for Lock to come back inside to a table where several of Sombra’s works were laid out. Taking one in her black aura, Razz brought it to the forefront, opened it and rapidly paged through until thrusting a hoof to point at a particular place. “I don’t need to explain to you about werewolves, right?”

“Given I make them, not really—wasn’t it the brainchild of some disgruntled ex-guard pony and Sombra to make a bunch of ponies into wolves, originally?”

“Yeah, or at least that’s what Sombra himself apparently tried to convince himself of.” Behind her head, Razz levitated the tome How I Did It, opened to the section where Sombra claimed to have come up with the idea of werewolves as a corruption of the word ‘war.’ She suddenly slammed the codex shut and let it fall to the floor, jabbing her hoof at the first book again. “Evidently, the non-self-glorified version according to this old journal of his indicates it wasn’t his idea, or really even Sable Loam—who apparently just wanted the transformation to be a one-way deal, if you can believe it.”

“You’re kidding,” Lockbox replied, walking over to read the old journal. Written in smudged, ancient runes—showing that Sombra was already well into his corruption of dark magic by that point—the actual message written was somewhat unclear. But it did credit somepony else with the suggestion of ponies having the ability to turn between pony and wolf at will, mentioning some connection with the moon. Strangely, where the name of this third party should have been, it wasn’t written in runes, but in some strange curvy writing entirely alien to Lockbox. The only thing she could tell from the writing was that it was written with a feminine hoof. A shaky, feminine hoof. “You have any idea what this says?”

“Not a clue,” said Razz, shaking her head. “But I have my suspicions, and have some experts coming up who might be able to help us.”

Lockbox eyes widened. “Experts? But what could—" The wide eyes then narrowed. “Raspberry Beryl, this sure as hell better not be involving the two ponies I think you’re about to tell me are on their way right now.”

Disarmed, Razz could only sheepishly grin with an audible squee.

Applejack looked around Canterlot. All around the town, there were signs that they were gearing for something big. Several planning teams were walking around, and even though Canterlot was usually a city known for its bright and clean environments, there seemed to be something more militant about it this time around, even more than the two times that Applejack had been for prior celebrations of this caliber. It was almost as if the preparations for Cadance’s wedding and Twilight’s coronation paled in comparison to what was being planned for Sunset’s festivities.

“Look, Twi, Ah know y’ wanna make sure we’re covered an’ all,” Applejack said, turning back to her conversation with her friend, “but fer land sakes, what yer talkin’ ‘bout is probably playin’ with fire!”

“Look, AJ,” replied Twilight, more than a bit exasperated at having to keep arguing with the farmer. “Given what happened before, I can’t say I disagree with that assessment, but we are wading into unknown territory here. Besides, would you rather that I think about it while I still have my head bolted on straight, or would you prefer Celestia think about it. Remember, she locked down the whole of the city on potential rumors of an attack during Cadance’s wedding.”

“Well, she did turn out to be right about that one,” the farmmare noted apologetically, “even if she herself – an’ the rest of us – didn’t quite believe ya.”

“Then there was the time that she ordered the Navy to fly a four-mile perimeter around the city, had the Guard, the Army and the Guild on standby and reportedly even had several select members of the Hooves standing by in the crowds in case fighting broke out in the streets!”

“Didn’t know about that one, but Ah’m glad it didn’t happen.”

“And so now we’ve got another big event coming up and so rather than go into panic mode, I want to make sure we have experts on-hoof to make sure that we’re planning properly.”

Applejack groaned. “Yeah, but why them? No offense, but––”

Twilight cut her off. “They’re the only ones we know about, namely because they’re so open about it, and…after what we’ve dragged them through in the past, it’s only fair they get to be part of this.”

“What are ya—"

“Bacon Cheeseburger.”

Applejack blanched. “They did not tell you about that!

Twilight laughed. “They didn’t. You just tend to avoid going to Burger Princess by almost any means necessary and I overheard Sandy mention something about Lyra ordering from The Meatery some time ago—before it moved to Las Pegasus, that is—so given the time frame I could only assume.”

“Look, Twi, Ah’d appreciate it if ya didn’t mention it again—just thinkin’ about that dark part of mah life is makin’ mah stomach queasy all over again.” She then looked up from their place on the palace grounds. “And that’d be mah stomach hittin’ the ground—here they come now.”

The music could be heard before the chariot touched down. Clad in ridiculous looking sunglasses and naugahyde jackets, the two ponies disembarked in synchronized steps. One of them had what looked like a brand-new 8-track player strapped around her barrel—8-tracks having become the most recent development in Equestrian portable music technology—and the player belched a kind of music that Twilight’s encyclopedic brain could only define as “funky” in nature.

Or at least that was the feeling of the moment until one of the ponies accidently overstepped and caused the other pony to trip, which in turn made the first pony fall on top of them and hitting the STOP button on the 8-track.

Looking at the pile of ponies and sunglasses, Twilight could only sigh. “A classic introduction from you two, huh?”

Lyra chuckled. “Of course, you were expecting anything less?”

Sandalwood groaned. “For the record it was her idea because she got the music player yesterday.”

Lyra laughed. "Hey, I just wanted to look like a bad motha—"

Sandalwood looked at her. "Shut your mouth."

Applejack gave an “Told you so” look at Twilight, to which the princess merely returned a “Don’t even start with me” glance.

After Lyra and Sandalwood had picked themselves up, the minty colored unicorn asked “So, what exactly are we here for?”

“I’ll give you the full version later, but for now you two are, for better or worse, the most knowledgeable ponies about humans and whatever you can do to help would be much appreciated.”

Lyra grinned. “Sure, we can do that—on one condition, which I feel would be better discussed in privacy.”

“Hoo, boy,” nickered Applejack as the group of four headed inside. “Ah can already tell this one’s gonna be a doozy.”

“Oh, come on, AJ,” said Sandy, “you and I were werewolves—what Lyra and I want is insignificant in comparison to having to deal with that shit.”

Twilight sighed. “It involves you two being brought into disclosure of some of Equestria’s greatest secrets and humans. Given you two know Sunset’s secret, if it’s anything to do with sending you over to the human world the answer is still no.”

“Nah, if I had to guess there’s another version of me in the human world,” said Lyra. “One who is obsessed with trying to prove unicorns exist or something. My presence might cause a temporal implosion of space and time.”

“Ya say that like ya don’t think unicorns exist,” Applejack skeptically pointed out, completing her sentence with a raised eyebrow.

“No, I say it because obviously if she thinks unicorns exist, then she’s right. The same way Sandy and I were always right about humans!”

“She does have a point,” chuckled Twilight. “Anyway, if it’s not sending you over to the human lands, what do you two want in return for your help?”

“Well, it’s obvious—to us, at least—that with Sunset Shimmer’s coronation coming up, she’s going to bring over the humans she considers family. Sure, we got to meet Sunset beforehoof, but just because she acts like a human doesn’t change the fact she wasn’t originally one to start with. But her family? True, 100% humans! And Lyra and I want to meet them!”

“And then go to the human world after you and the other princesses say it’s okay to do so!” blurted Lyra, with a Pinkie-wide grin.

Applejack just shook her head. “Do either of ya know how Sunny even gets her family and herself back here to Equestria?”

“Well, yeah! She…uh…” Lyra’s grin faded as she realized that important question hadn’t been asked when Sunny had in fact been held captive at her house she shared with Sandalwood. “How does she travel between worlds?”

“Might as well show you, then,” said Twilight, abruptly leading the group down a series of side halls. How the alicorn knew the layout of the confusing palace was beyond the other three’s capability to understand, but upon approaching one of the lesser-used royal ballrooms, the absurd numbers of guards at the ready made it clear Twilight had navigated correctly. With a curt nod to the guards, who nodded in turn, the foursome were unchallenged as Twilight opened the ballroom doors and let everypony inside.

Lyra and Sandalwood immediately were awestruck at what they saw. The extravagantly luxurious décor of the ballroom, with its perfectly polished floors and grand tapestries went utterly ignored, for their focus was only on the object in the dead center of the room.

Mounted on a round base, lined with upright horseshoe relief carvings, was a large, vertical mirror frame also in the shape of an upturned horseshoe. The lavender frame was lined in segments of alternating single and paired burgundy-hued raspberry beryls, encircling the perfect, reflective surface of the mirror mounted within. At the top of the frame was a periwinkle spire-like shape rising from the highest point of the horseshoe curve, atop which was mounted a simple circle carving of what looked to be a rearing earth pony.

Twilight gestured to the mirror. “Ladies, this is The Mirror of Queen Platinum.”

Sandalwood looked at it, and spoke, as if reciting from memory: “Made by Starswirl the Bearded towards the end of his life, the mirror was supposedly originally made for Queen Faust before her disappearance as well as her daughters. The mirror was stated to somehow end up in the hooves of baroness and later self-declared queen Carnelian, who founded the Unicornia Dynasty. The mirror, however, was best known under her descendant Queen Platinum, who claimed to use it to punish the worst lawbreakers of her realm, and the mirror was said to sentence them to ‘an unbearable punishment beyond the pale of unicorndom’.”

“Where’s that from?” Lyra asked.

Annals of the Ancien Regime, by Prof. Dusty Artifact,” Sandalwood told her. “It was one of those books I suggested you look at but you didn’t because you said it didn’t have a direct correlation to humans.”

“Okay, so color me wrong,” the unicorn sighed.

“See? Told you that it’s best to keep an open mind and a well-rounded set of ideas,” Sandalwood said, patting her friend on the withers.

“Well, Mysteries of Mankind: The Secret History of Ponykind’s Most Elusive Legend, by Dr. Wilde Goosechase and Prof. Pseudoscience, only theorized that this mirror existed!” Lyra stated, shrugging off her momentary embarrassment as she got back into the swing of things. She turned eagerly to Twilight. “Is it true that the mirror portal actually works?”

“Wellllll…” drew out Twilight. “Yes and no. Yes in that, yes, it does work, but no in that it’s highly restricted in who can actually use it.”

“But didn’t you say Sunset Shimmer and her human family will be coming through?” reminded Sandalwood.

“Yes, but she can allow them through—the mirror requires anypony going through it to have a security charm put on them in order to pass through. We can’t have anypony just using it willy nilly, after all.”

“Yeah, but still!” Lyra then whipped out a clearly well-used notepad out of nowhere and flipped through a few pages. “This means eventually I can go to all the places I’ve heard about and meet all the humans mentioned in the research books! Places like the Empire State Canyon, the Specific Ocean, Bumfuq-Egypte, and meet people like The Rolling Tones, Dr. Indiana—he’s like Daring Do, only real!—Able Ham Lincolt, and—" Lyra did not get to finish her sentence as she promptly fell to the floor, fast asleep.

“Sorry, but we don’t have time to listen to her go through the entire list,” apologized Sandy, withdrawing her hoof from the pressure point on Lyra’s neck. “And before you ask, yes, I know how to put a pony to sleep with pressure points—I do massage aromatherapy, it’s kind of my job to know.”

As the tan pony heaved the unconscious body of her companion onto her back, Twilight gave into curiosity and looked at the page left on top of Lyra’s notepad. Two organized, separate lists, with each entry having little side reminders or notes next to them:

“While Ah don’t think it’d be a good idea,” said Applejack, looking over Twilight’s shoulder, “Ah would be curious to see what Sunset would say if she saw this list as Ah’m guessin’ these aren’t exactly ‘accurate’ for the most part.”

“I can’t say if most of these are accurate or not, but I’m pretty sure nopony on the human side invented hands,” chuckled Twilight.

“That’s what I kept telling her!” snorted Sandy. “Though now, given Lyra’s out for the count, maybe you could tell us where our rooms are gonna be so I don’t have to carry her all over the castle?”

After almost a full week of sleeping on stretched sheets of homespun that were charitably described as ‘cots,’ the rather simple bedding Corner had been given in her quarters was absolute heaven for sleeping on. Or at least until she felt a hoof rudely prodding her chest repeatedly.

“Unnnhhh…” she groaned, not wanting to leave her comfy spot. “Wha…what do you want…”

“You have been summoned to the main atrium by Oracle Dynamine,” the cloaked acolyte said, then without another word let himself out of the small apartment-sized cavern. Corner was sure she’d heard him give a nicker of annoyance before actually leaving, no doubt because the majority of Covenant members in the hideout apparently didn’t even get their own private rooms—instead, they shared bunks almost like the crew of a sailing ship. But given her role as one of the Covenant’s elite assassins, she’d gotten the equivalent to a first-class hotel room in comparison…if the MerryTrot’s idea of first class lacked running hot water.

However, she knew whatever the oracle wanted her for, it was now higher priority than her own needs…well, second highest priority. Her tired eyes from the night previous hadn’t noticed the gift waiting for her on the small bedside table, but now rested she smiled in recognition. Three stacks of dark metallic-green blades, ten to a set, expertly crafted into the shape of feathers and lay waiting to be set in their holsters. How they were made was unknown to Corner beyond it involved unicorn smiths versed in advanced metallomancy—what that meant she had no idea but it sounded cool—and further relief she didn’t even know she could have surged through her body as she counted each knife she put back in her wings. Though it took maybe an extra minute, each wing being returned to full capacity meant she was truly back on top of her game again. She could don her signature cocky attitude for real once more.

“Well, well, well,” intoned an unamused Lux, who waited alongside the Oracle in the atrium, around an inexplicable large X on the ground made from duct tape. “Looks like Sleeping Beauty finally joined the living.”

“Yeah, yeah,” replied Corner, who used her limited flight abilities to simply glide down to the floor. “What’s with the giant letter of tape?”

“That is where the device of His ascension will be placed, once we get our hooves on it,” said Dynamine, indicating she was about to launch into a long explanation. “As the so-called Elements of Harmony had their six parts, so too does Sombra’s key to resurrection. But only four ponies are needed, the other two parts are entirely in existence for only this purpose—The Doorway of Sombra, which through its mirrored surface he will emerge whole once more, and the Alicorn Amulet, the most powerful dark magic charm ever created. The four Scions gathered here, their inherited essences united, will channel through the amulet and be fed into the Doorway. Then and only then shall He come to reclaim Equestria once more!”

“So hold on,” interrupted Corner Shot, “based on what we know, it seems all of the Scions may in fact be mares, right?”

“The chance is likely, yes.”

"So, he's looking for a harem or something?"

"Lord Sombra's ways are complex and not for the average pony to know," Lux said solemnly.

“Uh-huh…” said Corner, ignoring Lux. “So…what exactly would gathering them all together, with the amulet and the mirror, then doing the whole ritual song and dance number accomplish? Because unless Sombra’s walking out of that mirror with a new body as part of the package, he’s gonna be kinda useless just as a ghost.”

“Have you forgotten that even without a true physical form anchoring him to the mortal plane, he was almost able to successfully reclaim the Crystal Empire single-hoofedly, to the point it is said merely being near the Crystal Heart again allowed him to reform his flesh and bone if only briefly?” Tiny shook her head in disappointment. “It is disturbing how little faith you have in the Great King, Corner. His magnificence transcends the mere need for a physical form.”

Corner sighed. “Well, forgive me, Oracle, but even if he is able to hang around like a ghost, isn’t it kind of necessary for him to take a physical form sooner or later or else his spirit will still dissolve into the ether or whatever you unicorns call it? Unless you’re expecting the Crystal Heart to fall from the sky right into our laps, to give him his body back, without something for him to reside in after we summon him is going to make actually bringing him back for the long term a pointless endeavor.”

“I trust in that event, he will simply choose one of the Scions to be a new host body instead,” simply replied Neon Lux.

“Lux, I just said all the Scions are probably girls, remember?”

Lux chuckled. “Yes, it isn’t the most pleasing of circumstances, but for one of Sombra’s caliber he would have no problem simply reshaping the body to something more suitable. After all, you are of his blood, and that means his own essence lies within you.”

Corner raised an eyebrow. “He’d give a mare a sex change if it was to get a new body?”

Lux nodded. “In his ancient writings, the king spoke of his first mentor in the ways of dark magic: a bison shaman he simply called ‘Master Vega,’ whose final lesson to the young Sombra was how to move his spirit from body to body and even exist temporarily without one. I’m assuming the need to…alter…the gender of the host body was part of those teachings. And as for the Scion who may need to play host for our king, it would be the greatest honor to serve as his vessel.”

Corner cringed a bit at that idea—personally, if it came to that, she would nominate whoever the fourth Scion ended up being, as the prophecy made that one out to be a total nutcase drowning in tragedy. But more realistically, Sombra would most certainly go for the most powerful of the Scions, and even though they were no longer on good terms, Corner was not sure she could let Raspberry Beryl get turned into the very individual she’d been trying to prove she wasn’t all her life.

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