• 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 3 - In the Shadow of Humanity

Golden Age of Apocalypse

Chapter 3: In the Shadow of Humanity

Once everything had been settled and Versatile the changeling was officially recognized as not a threat (somepony had originally suggested harmless, but Twilight felt that was too insulting a word for a fellow sapient being) the guard returned to their duties while Raspberry and Twilight led the caravan of performers off to the Traveler’s Retreat.

“This all started because Edge lent me his room for a night,” said Razz. “It’s only fair that—given I work at a bed and breakfast—I repay the favor with interest.”

“Is there going to be enough space for all of us?” asked Brook. “I recall hearing the guard talking about some big event coming to town in a few days and how hard it was to find rooms for anypony coming to be a part of it.”

“Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, only the Retreat and the Orchardview Hotel survived the attack on Ponyville, so we’re far more booked than usual,” Raspberry explained. “But I’m sure that we’ll find something to accommodate you—I’m not letting you down, Edge.”

Twilight looked at Raspberry. “I wish I could offer them space, but my spare bedrooms are hosting Town Hall and other government functions while those buildings get rebuilt,” the alicorn told her.

“No sweat,” Rough Edge said. “I’m sure that we’re well in Razz’s capable hooves.”

“Sorry, dear,” said Ascot to his adopted daughter, “but we’re full up!”

“Full up?!” Razz asked, surprised. “What about the extension that you and Mom started to work on after the extreme cold started letting up?”

“Only the first floor and three rooms on the second have been completed, and we had to give those up to several ponies wanting to attend the pool tournament,” Ascot explained. “The problem is, with the overly cold winter, building materials couldn’t be delivered on time. It’s put the rebuilding of Ponyville back several months, and obviously the priority went to those apartment buildings, because ponies can’t keep living in tents forever.”

“But if we’re one of only two hotels in town, they had to know that we’re overloaded!” Razz cried.

“They did, but we figured out how much the average would be for this time of year. We went well over that.” The elderly pegasus chuckled and added, “Things have gotten so busy, ponies are even staying out in Berryville and commuting just to see this event. Suffice to say I’m with you on that; never knew billiards was such a popular sport!”

“And I guess life won’t go back to normal anytime soon?”

“Not with everything going on right now,” Ascot told her, “And while you missed most of it, life hasn’t been what used to be normal for months, Razz.” He then pulled out a date book and quickly flipped through it. “As it is, after the tournament, we’ll have another group of ponies coming in from Canterlot to assess the damage, so at this rate, we’re booked solid for at least a few weeks!”

Razz sighed. “I don’t know if they’ll even still be around by then, but if we really are booked through for half a month or more, nothing to be done about it, right?”

“Not entirely, Cashmere and I have been running this ol’ shack for a long while, back when stage coaches like those were far more common for both traveling performers and simple passenger traffic. Here, take this,” Ascot then reached under the desk and pulled out a semi-rusty set of keys. “The storage building in the back used to be a kind of shelter where ponies could put the coaches when they stayed here. I figure if you move some things around, it could still fill that role for that coach there. I’ll send out Light Fixture later to get the utilities working, too. Not the same as a room, but...since they’re old friends of my little filly, they can stay there while they’re in town, no cost.“ He didn’t get to finish as Razz hurriedly ran around the desk to hug her adoptive father.

“It’s more than enough, Dad,” she said in thanks, kissing him on the cheek before taking the keys and heading out, quickly greeting a green pegasus with a pool cue hairclip who was presumably coming to check in.

Mare, those pool playing ponies really take it to heart, she thought.

“Ah, yes, the 4th Annual Blue Chalk Pool Masters tournament!” Twilight chirped to Razz as the two made their way back to the main door of the Traveler’s Retreat. They’d already helped the Four Footed Performers secure their coach in the rear building and left them be to unpack and unwind, though Twilight did invite them to dinner at the castle. “According to the documents I read, the founder and organizer of the event, Blue Chalk, was the best pool shark of his time and although he’s retired, still is a major public figure in promoting the sport.”

“You know way too much about everything, you know that, right?” laughed Razz as she spied her bird coming back from his evening hunt and stopped walking briefly so he could perch on her horn.

“It helps that most of my family plays pool,” Twilight sheepishly admitted. "My father's actually got a pool table at my parents’ place. Dad's honestly not that good—Cadance is the best player in the family.”

Raspberry laughed. “So the love alicorn’s the pool expert,huh? Somehow, that makes sense.”

“Yup. She used to play Shiny often to bet who would pay for their dates,” Twilight replied with a giggle. “In any case, Dad loves the game and explained a few things here and there growing up. And last but not least, it’s the first year it’s being held in Ponyville, so as the local royal I had to be informed about it. With so much of Equestria in ruins from the war, I need to find a way both to improve morale and to spur rebuilding.

The unicorn nodded in agreement. “Still, in all honesty, it’s pool. Sure, there’s Table Rack’s Pool Hall in town, but is that really going to be enough interest? Are ponies that knowledgeable about that kind of thing?”

“It’s one of those subjects you tend to learn by being around,” explained Twilight. “Ponies with special talents relating to the sport are actually pretty uncommon, truth be told. It's mainly a diamond dog and minotaur sport in origin, since they tend to have better means of grip than pony hooves, though not by much.” As an aside, she said to Razz in a softer tone, "I don't know if humans play it, though. You'll have to write Sunny for that answer, though it wouldn’t surprise me if humans played something similar."

“I’ll have to borrow your cellphone when I get a chance, so I can give her a call,” Razz told her as an aside. “Still, they seem pretty focused, like pro hoofball players or something.” She opened the door and then asked, “So you mentioned you needed to talk to me about something?”

“Yeah. I got an invitation from Celestia earlier this morning and she wanted me to talk to you about it directly.” Twilight sighed. “They’re having the dedication ceremony for the Pavane Bayan Memorial Park tomorrow. Did you want to go?”

Razz froze in her tracks, then looked down at the ground, as if she was ashamed to look anywhere else. “She died, Twi. She died and it was my fault.”

“It wasn’t your––”

“IT WAS!” Raspberry screamed. She looked up and tears started to pour down her cheeks. “Tirek took my powers, Twi! She fired two explosive crossbow bolts at him and it did nothing—nothing—because he took my powers! She was killed because of me!

Twilight put a wing around her friend. “No, she wasn’t. You were victimized, Razz, and Pavane did everything to protect you. Remember, I knew her, and she was the kind of mare that gave her all to protect those who needed it. Trust me, she wouldn't want you to cry about it—your trip to Earth ripped your magic from him, which helped us to win!”

“Yeah, I guess,” she said in a tone that indicated she didn’t believe it. “But I didn’t know you knew Pavane.”

“Yeah. She’s actually a minor princess like you, though she gave up her title to join the Hooves,” Twilight explained. “I grew up with her, Octavia Melody—that's how I know her—and Pavane’s brother. Granted, I wasn’t as close with them as I should have been, and that’s one thing I’ll always regret. Still, Pavane was a wonderful mare.”

“Of course I’ll go, Twi—I owe it to her to make up with Blueblood.”

“Wait—you know Blueblood’s her older brother?”

“She told me before she died. She said she knew he and I had bad blood between us and she asked me to make up with him. I’ll be honest, I really don’t want to, given how he treated me. She claims that’s just an image he displays, because of the nature of his duties at the palace. But frankly, I don’t believe that, and I’m only going to do it just for her sake.” She sighed. “Look, can we change the subject? Anything else we need to talk about?”

Twilight nodded but she didn’t smile, and Razz instantly knew she was in for round two. “Well, it’s about your ‘unique’ powers.”

“Oh, please!” chuckled Razz, trying to bring some levity into the situation. “Like I’m nothing special because the blood of a mad king makes me able to survive losing my windpipe. Twice. Totally a common power, as is being able to cure lycanthropy!” She grinned, then added, “Or did you mean the human magic that Sunny bound to me when I’m in human form?”

“I didn’t know about that,” Twilight commented.

“Long story; remind me to tell you about it later. Anyway, you were saying?”

“There’s only one pony with both the affinity and immunity to dark magic like you, Razz. Personally, I’m glad you’re the only one: Can you imagine the chaos that would come if there was somepony else out there with powers like yours?”

“You mean like Tirek?” Razz flatly reminded her friend, involuntarily shuddering at how the monster’s mere presence and hunger for what scrap of power she’d held from him, as well as the fact that he’d literally murdered Pavane.

“Tirek wasn’t a pony.”

“Yeah, point,“ Razz admitted before taking a deep breath. “Still, Twilight, I’m basically Sombra without an obsession with crystals and stairs. I don’t think anypony could do what I can. Well, unless they had some sort of dark magic artifact.”

“That’s actually exactly what I wanted to discuss,” Twilight said, taking a brief look around for prying ears before gesturing for Raspberry to come closer. “What do you know about the Alicorn Amulet?”

Raspberry tilted her head quizzically before answering, “Mostly just rumors. Some dark artifact that can supposedly give the wearer power to rival an alicorn, but at the price of their sanity.”

“That sounds about right, and I can tell you from experience that it is no rumor.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Raspberry muttered in disbelief. “How do you know?”

“I had an encounter with it a few years ago. Before we met.” Twilight then raised a hoof to answer the question she knew was on the tip of Raspberry’s tongue. “And before you ask, it’s safe. I left it in good hooves.”

Raspberry gave Twilight a glare indicating the news didn’t make her feel any better. “I’m the Archmagus of Dark Magic, it’s my job to know about as many of these things as I can. Why didn’t you tell me about this sooner?!”

At that, Twilight’s purple cheeks turned pink and the young alicorn rubbed the back of her neck as she grinned sheepishly. “Would you believe… I forgot?”

Raspberry’s glare turned deadpan. “Unbelievable.”

“I’m sorry, between our trip to Lonesome Dove, the war with Tirek, being out of my mind with grief about your death, trying to save the world before it died from Celestia’s depression and trying to keep things running here in my landholdings, I’ve been just a bit busy,” Twilight snarked.

Letting out a calming breath using a technique that Twilight herself had taught her, Raspberry said, “It’s okay. At least I’m learning about it now before somepony tries using it again.” She then gave Twilight a smile to show there were no hard feelings before continuing. “So, you said you had an encounter with it?”

Twilight nodded. “Yep. I got to see its powers first hand…thanks to her.” The alicorn then gestured to Trixie, who had been waiting the whole time with her cart.

“Finally!” the blue unicorn exclaimed. “Trixie does not like having to wait! Princess or not!”

“Whoa, some kind of ‘thank you’ would be nice, given we just got her butt out of jail,” drolled Razz.

“Trixie needs to learn humility before Twilight puts Trixie back in the stockade,” Twilight replied, and Trixie’s ears drooped in shame. Twilight turned back to Razz, but spoke in such a tone that her words were still clearly directed at the showmare. “Perhaps she can work on that while she tells you all about her takeover of Ponyville.”

“Tell who what now?” inquired Trixie, suddenly no longer boastful and abrasive.

“Why, you’re gonna tell Archmagus Raspberry Beryl, the Crown’s Archmagus for Dark Magic, a.k.a. ‘that pony who does dark magic all the time’ all about the Alicorn Amulet.”

“Do I have to?” Trixie asked.

“Yes. And given that I have a meeting with Mayor Mare in ten minutes, you’re going to be spending all your time with Razz here until I get back,” the alicorn said, disguising what was clearly a command with a faux-friendly tone.

“Do I have to?” Raspberry now asked.

What Trixie had to say about the Alicorn Amulet left Raspberry lying awake in her bed for what must have been hours. The azure unicorn clearly was slightly uncomfortable in retelling her misadventure into revenge through use (or rather abuse) of a powerful and dangerous dark magic artifact, though at the same time the fact Razz was able to relate to some of Trixie’s feelings on the matter probably didn’t help.

But it was how the Amulet operated that left Razz wondering. According to Trixie, using the Amulet had been initially a great power surge—like the ultimate sugar rush of magic power—but quickly over time she became more and more dependent on it, like an addiction to caffeine. In time, it began to drive a clear wedge between her sanity and herself as she increasingly started to feel detached from what she was doing. One particular example somehow involved her declaring her eternal distrust of wheels for no discernable reason. At the same time, she described the magic as being in a deep, spacious well hidden inside the Amulet, easy enough to get to, but when drawing it out it was like pulling it through some kind of painful filter. Like a broken wire net meant to catch something or, more likely, serve to imprint upon the magic user in some way but over the centuries this purpose broke down. Needless to say, Trixie swore to never use the Amulet again.

As for the Amulet’s current location, apparently the last known individual to possess it was the local shaman-slash-alchemist Zecora. A zebra who made her home just inside the boundaries of the Everfree Forest, Razz was surprised she had yet to meet the mare who had once been treated as much as an outsider as the dark unicorn had herself, at least initially. The odds of her having it were unknown, as both Trixie and Razz had noted when they’d read about the Amulet that it seemed to have some uncanny habit of “wandering” between users, as if it was continually changing hosts until it found the proper one.

And why is it the Alicorn Amulet? Razz pondered. After all, the two magic types were often confused for some reason—why anypony would think dark magic and its obvious appearance was at all related to magic inherent with the grace of alicorns was beyond her. She herself was the strongest dark mage alive and if she ever became the latter there probably would be riots. Especially since Sunset Shimmer’s recent ascension, the mare in question had yet to be officially recognized as the “Princess of Seekers.” Yeah, and I’d be the “Princess of Evil Horn Bubbles” or something.

She turned to her side and prepared to try and get some real sleep. Twilight and I will see Zecora in the morning. Maybe then we’ll get some answers.

Then came her recollection of Pavane, that brave warrior mare not much younger than her, and how she essentially gave her life to save both Razz and her pet phoenix. That Pavane would never see another bright day within Equestria again, and that so many rotten and wicked ponies lived while purehearted paladins like Pavane did not haunted Razz to no end.

Raspberry ended up getting no sleep that night.

The next day, after a quick breakfast, Twilight and Razz headed off to visit the local zebra. The mulberry-colored unicorn looked much worse for wear. “Rough night?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah. Between everything that Trixie told me about the Amulet and the nightmares I had because of Pavane’s death, I didn’t sleep well at all. Worse, Luna didn’t come into my dreams to help me get over the death, which I guess means that it’s too soon,” Razz replied with a yawn.

“Sorry to hear that.”

“I’ll live. I’ll be dead tired, but I’ll live.”

“Anyway, you’ve seriously not met Zecora yet?” asked Twilight.

Razz shook her head, swinging the green avian on her forehead’s extrusion side to side. Heliodor didn’t seem to mind. “Nope. Well, maybe, back at the party on the Apple farm after I cured everypony of lycanthropy, but she might also have been out of town at the time since I distinctly recall you mentioning her not being there.”

“Ah, right, that must have been the week she went back to her native lands to take part in her tribe’s annual blessing rituals. She even offered to take me next year, now that I’m officially a national leader, and I’m sure she’d love to bring you as well, Princess.”

“Look, can we drop that already?”

“Sure thing...Archmagus.”

“Now you’re pushing it.” Razz groaned at the repeated joke between the two; it had been stale during their trip to Lonesome Dove, and in the months since, had yet to get any less dull. Ignoring it, the mulberry pony drolled, “If I go at least I’d go as the Archmagus for Dark Magic. At least that way they wouldn't worry about me not being on the leash.”

Twilight laughed. “Trust me, Razz, if the Crystal Empire ponies were willing to welcome you with open forelegs with your coronation merely a week or so after the stunt you pulled at the trial, the Zebra Tribes won’t have any problem with you. If anything, they’d probably treat you like the avatar of the spirit of shadows and darkness, which you have to admit describes your powers fairly accurately.”

“So, would they call me the Twilight Princess, then?” asked Razz, bashfully batting her eyes. “We’d be the perfect pair: Princess Twilight and the Twilight Princess!”

“I would think it less confusing if you kept to your name,” suddenly came a new voice, one Razz couldn’t recognize the accent of. “Because multiple royals makes speech hard to frame.” As the unicorn and alicorn looked off to the side of the path, they were soon joined by a black and white striped pony the likes of whom Razz thought the most unique individual she’d ever met...or at least the most unique since her return from the human world. Her mane was almost like a copy of the rigid crest of a royal guard’s galea helm though it still was the same colors as her coat. A tail wrap sat at the base of her long, thin tail, and what looked like a very abstract sun marking sat where a normal pony’s cutie mark would be.

“Ah, just the mare we were coming to see!” chirped Twilight. “Razz, this is Zecora, the local alchemist and spiritual consultant. Zecora, this is Raspberry Beryl. You seem well aware of her accomplishments and titles already.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Raspberry Beryl,” said Zecora, holding out a hoof. Razz took it and the two mares shook in friendly greeting. “I hope you weren’t coming due to more peril?”

Razz chuckled. “Well, if you know how to get rid of giant crystal trees…”

Twilight in turn nickered. “Someday I’m just going to have that damn thing painted brown...but criticism of my house aside, I’m glad to say we’re not here because we need your help saving the town again.”

Zecora smiled. “Ah, as everything is as it should be, would you two care for herbal tea?”

For the next hour or two, the two princesses and their host zebra friend chatted over tea and a light dish of tofu balls in sauce, which Zecora stated was a unique cultural dish from her heritage called neerb. Razz couldn’t help but suspect she’d had this exact meal at some point before, numerous times in fact, in various cities in her travels years ago, but did not voice her thoughts on the subject lest she anger her host. Plus, Heelee seemed to think it was decent enough from his spot on a table near the wall, which was quite impressive given it meant a bird of prey was willing to eat non-meat protein.

“‘Shame our paths have never crossed before your afore your fears of life as dross. I understand fear of losing home and no desire to forever roam,” said Zecora, before taking a sip of tea. “I once had issues with the town, but now their acceptance is of renown.”

The dark unicorn nodded in agreement before sipping her own tea. Zecora’s penchant for speaking in rhymes had struck her as strange, as indeed had everything about the zebra’s abode. But part of that was the idea that maybe, somewhere, there was an object of extreme danger she was more familiar with instead.

Feeling that it would be better to broach the subject of the amulet given their longer relationship, Twilight cleared her throat to indicate they were getting down to business. “You might find it interesting that Razz has been given a commission as Equestria’s first Archmagus for Dark Magic. Due to her expertise in the Left Hoof Path and her considerable skill at dark magic, Celestia tasked her with handling and disposing of materials and artefacts that are far too dangerous for the average pony.”

Zecora instantly knew what Twilight implied was the reason for both her and her companions coming to visit, beyond a friendly chat over light snacks. Curiously, she smiled a little as an old memory came to the forefront of her mind. “Of her powers’ extent I am much aware; once her dark form did I stare. Once in the Everfree did I see a pony with dark colors – darker than me.”

Razz immediately blushed. “Let me guess,” she replied meekly, “that pony was wearing a cloak and you were feeling your fur stand on end?” Zecora nodded, to which the mulberry unicorn chuckled. “Yep, what you probably felt was the perimeter of the warding field I’d always set up around that shelter I kept in the ruins. Long time coming, I know, but sorry for that. Things were...different for me then. Though I hope whatever you were doing in the ruins wasn’t cut off from you all on account of me being overkill with privacy.”

Zecora shook her head, admitting, “Your field was effective and filled me with fear, and never again did I tarry near.” The elder zebra’s blue eyes seemed to harden slightly as did her tone in what she said next. “But what you seek? It is no mere toy. The best option for it is simply: destroy.”

“I’ve spoken with Trixie Lulamoon, the last user of the charm. Since then, Twilight told me that you’ve had it in your care for safeguarding.”

“The amulet’s gaoler I truly be,” replied Zecora, nodding her head slowly. “But what are your plans if I give it free?”

With a stoic expression upon her face, Raspberry’s response was nothing if not full of conviction: “Part of my duty as the Archmagus of Dark Magic is to remove all dark artefacts from the world, so that it may not threaten the Empire nor Equestria. Even if I didn’t have this duty, I feel that it’s my responsibility as the Head of House Sombra to redeem the family line by doing so.”

“And this she would prove with all intent? This is a truthful precedent?” Zecora asked Twilight.

“We took a huge chance by having two archmagus positions,” Twilight admitted, “and an even bigger one given that the vicemagus was given neither once I had to give up the title of Archmagus of White Magic.”

“Oh? Something I should know?” Zecora asked.

“Not really. I’m not really privy to discussing my replacement in White Magic at the moment, but as for the Dark Magic replacement, Celestia completely has faith in Razz,” Twilight explained. “Razz has done everything she could to prove that she’s not the monster her ancestor was. She’s a trusted ally, a valued member of my court, but most of all—she’s a wonderful friend.”

The zebra smiled. “If you trust her to that amount, then I cannot your opinion flount”

“Thank you, Zecora. But I have admit I’ve always been curious: where did you put that amulet?” The alicorn laughed as she added, “Don’t tell me, it’s replacement for the doorstop ‘amulet’ that broke in dealing with Trixie. Pity it was the one you got as an apology gift from the proprietor of Doorstops and Refrigerators.”

Zecora shook her head."The amulet as doorstop is a dangerous idea indeed—it would cause much harm and problems of which I have no need."

Twilight nodded her head as if expecting more."So...then?"

"Until I decide its final fate, it’s serving as a paperweight."

Razz raised an eyebrow at the idea of a powerful dark magic artifact being used as a paperweight. “For realzies?”

“For what?” Twilight asked her.

Raspberry did a doubletake. “Guess Soni rubbed off on me,” the unicorn sighed, without explaining further.

Instead of answering—for the lack of not knowing a word to rhyme with realsies—Zecora got up and retrieved a small brown chest sitting on top of a copy of last week’s Ponyville Express. She then turned to face the seated magic users and slowly opened the box, clearly wary of what lay within.

Within the chest sat an amulet made primarily out of silver, its metallic gray shine partially tarnished though nearly not as much as it should have been for a piece of jewelry potentially dating back centuries. Taking up most of the middle of the triangle was a deep-set ruby, a multi-faceted diamond shape. Sprouting from the top of the central triangle were a pair of wings with finely crafted indentations to mark the feathers, though they could easily be mistaken for knives, sheathed in a red base form as if unnaturally grafted onto where the wing bases would be. Centered between the wings was the neck and head of what could only be described as a stereotypical evil unicorn with a horn overcompensation. The angled, angry eyes of the alicorn seemed to glow with arcane energy, the central diamond ruby even more so with the same energy—a force that seemed to whisper wordless promises of power, of greatness…

Dark magic.

More dark magic than Razz had ever seen contained in one place. Well, that wasn’t quite true. To any other pony, it would be unimaginable power at their hooftips, but to Razz, it was a grand, but not the largest, pool of miasmic power she’d encountered. That dubious award belonged to Razz’s own internal wellspring of the damned stuff. Regardless, though, the amulet came horrifyingly close.

Even more concerning was that almost as soon as Razz understood that, the amulet seemed to respond to her presence as it started to glow. Heliodor started to twitter nervously as the amulet’s radiated energy rapidly increased in its radius.

“Uh, Razz?” asked Twilight, having been front and center for the shining example of why rapidly charging dark magic energy was a bad thing, “Wh-what’s going on he-”

With athleticism borne from both her upbringing being more in line with that of a hard working earth pony, as well as the slight boost of power from the taint put into her blood by Sombra a millenia ago, Razz shot across the small, one room interior hut and physically slammed the chest shut. She then ripped it from Zecora’s hooves and pitched it through the conveniently open top half of the front door. An action done none too soon as the chest bounced off the ground before hitting the arc of its trajectory and promptly exploded. The Amulet, now positively charged with its own magic, unleashed a ground-shaking beam of dark energy into the sky. Had Razz not thrown the amulet out so fast, the arcane blast of energy and the mystical force it propelled would have made short work of Zecora and her hut.

The four all instinctively huddled together in the far corner of the hut, the levitating amulet centered in the door frame, unleashing its power without a host in the exact manner its own mythology said it could not. For a few frightful seconds, they watched in shock until the amulet just spontaneously stopped its beam and its flying, dropping to the ground with an anticlimactic, muffled clang.

“Wh-what just happened?” asked Zecora, who had been shocked enough that her rhyming tendencies were temporarily unavailable.

“Nothing good,” said Raspberry, who dreaded finding out the aftermath of the beam. “It reacted immediately upon detecting my presence. Which can only mean it had been intended to do so by its creator...by Sombra.”

“You mean, the whole bit about it moving from host to host,” said Twilight, “it’s been trying to find you?”

“Of course it has,” Razz said somberly. “I’m the only pony with his power, aren’t I?”

“Look, I think we’d best call it a day,” Twilight, visibly shaken, told Raspberry. “We still need to get back to Ponyville, check in on your friends, and see Rarity about dresses for tomorrow’s funeral.”

“Yeah,” Razz said as she looked out at the noontime sky. What Twilight had mentioned wouldn't take more than a few hours, tops. Still, given what they witnessed, the dark unicorn couldn’t fault her alicorn friend from reacting that way. “The sooner we get this thing under wraps, the better.”

Standing from a relative safe spot—relative meaning that nowhere was really a safe spot at the moment, both Celestia and Luna oversaw the reconstruction of some of the poorer southern districts of Canterlot. Truthfully, neither of them needed to be there at the moment, and their presence was probably more of a hindrance than a boon for the construction workers, but there was a method to their madness: by being there, they ensured the populace that their goddess-princesses would not let their ponies down. At the same time, with them being present, it meant that they were safe and this would calm anypony who had seen or heard about their defeat at the hooves and hands of Tirek.

It also helped calm the populace by seeing Celestia out in the open - after she had quote unquote ‘taken ill’ following the defeat of Tierek, in reality plunged into a depression at the death of Sunset Shimmer, seeing that the head of the nation was on the upswing promised prosperity again for all. Even if, Luna admitted in her mind, the majority of the post-Tierek problems like the weather which had destroyed crops and delayed much needed construction had been because of Celestia.

But as they watched a pegasus help a unicorn install an I-beam on a building that was to end up as a low-income apartment complex, Celestia looked with an even, almost placid look. To her sister, that was a huge clue the sun alicorn’s mind was elsewhere. “Bit for your thought, sister?” Luna asked.

Never taking her eyes off the workers, Celestia said softly, “It’s all I can do right now to keep calm in the face of the fact that I failed our loved ones yet again.”

Internally, though, Luna was having trouble keeping calm about the matter for more than just that reason. That doesn’t justify the fact when you felt Sunset’s death, you basically made a dormant volcano erupt and subject the country - neigh, the world - to a year of near starvation because you cared more about your own daughter’s death than the well being of a country shattered by war! These apartments should have already been built but because of your inaction, too busy weeping in your room sealed off from the world, the pegasi couldn’t deal with the weather and so everything was delayed further! Luna then sighed, adding in her head And the worst part is I don’t think you’ve learned a thing from this whole affair, either!

The white alicorn, oblivious to her sister’s inner monologue, moved her head next to the younger one in a movement that seemed like a friendly aside, and she whispered, “Prince Treasure all but exploded at me yesterday and it took his wife Princess Bossa to prevent him from striking me.”

Luna looked at her sister with mild surprise, though to the public it looked as if the night alicorn was merely reacting to a joke. “Surely, he didn’t! As much as I do not wish to disrespect Pavane’s memory, her death was several months ago.”

“He meant to, Luna. And I don’t blame him, especially since the memorial dedication must have brought her back on his mind. His daughter was killed, and it was my fault. I didn’t do enough to protect her. I’d thought I could do so and allow her into the Hooves, but that was folly. I should’ve declined her service and asked her to remain as a princess.” Celestia had a brief look on her face that made her appear as old as she was. “And you can’t say I didn’t do enough, Luna. She wasn’t just some soldier who promised her life for me. She was family.”

Luna nodded. “And I will say again, Celly: it wasn’t your fault. It was that damned bastard Tirek’s. Remember that his brother, Scorpan, warned us that he would try again, when we were at our weakest. And somehow he had plenty of time to plot this new scheme. You were certainly busy these centuries cleaning up my messes, so if anypony should be at fault, it should be me.” The night alicorn then shook her head. “From what I knew of Pavane, she was the kind of mare that wasn’t meant for an office job or to prance around as some sort of trophy princess. Even if you’d turned her down, maybe she would have found a way into the military, or maybe she would’ve become a mercenary in some far land. Either way, she gave her life for her nation, and as a princess, I daresay there’s no fine––”

Celestia looked as her sister suddenly stopped. “Lulu?”

Immediately, the night alicorn took off like a rocket. “OUT OF OUR WAY!” she bellowed, with Celestia following close behind. Without warning, what could only be described as a beam of pure dark magic had roared through the sky and smashed its way deep into Castle Canterlot. Luna quickly calculated in her head where that beam had been going and the magically enchanted doors—designed to open themselves for such an occasion of Celestia needing to race through the halls—barely could react in time to the alicorns flying at breakneck speed through the ivory halls.

However, due to Celestia’s larger size, the elder sister quickly overtook the younger, and by the time she arrived at the wreckage of what had formerly been a magically enchanted vault door layered with protective spells from both Celestia and Raspberry Beryl, the door had been punched through. In fact, the center of the door had been cored sharply enough that, in addition to the hole carved into the center, the whole construct had been ripped from its galvanized and ensorcelled hinges. The remains of the shattered portal lay scattered all over the inside of the vault, except at the same time a very visible cone of clear space was left around the sole object within, several feet separating the debris field from it.

But it was Celestia’s emotionless face, staring at the back of Sombra’s mirror, that filled Luna with the most dread. As the princess of the night gingerly hovered over the broken vault doors, finally noticing that what appeared to be the back panel of the mirror having just fallen flat on the ground, whatever transfixed the elder alicorn was not immediately visible.

“Celly, what is the matter?” Luna asked, joining her sister on the opposite side of the mirror, only receiving the motion of Celestia raising a forehoof to point at the back of the vile furnishing. Luna finally looked at the same thing Celestia was, and what was now revealed to her made her blood run cold as she read the deeply ingrained, ancient text:

Deep shadows etched upon the door, his image now becrowned
The truth revealed, the worlds now bridged, the spell now held aground
Black tidings stir, legacy calls, dark heritage resound
Blood calls to blood, lines now astir, with powers now renowned

The first is called, the wanderer, always searching for home,
Cast far aside, tossed far away, destined to quest and comb,
Footsteps will lead towards bastion and citadel adome,
Dark powers now unsheath themselves and ever curse the loam

The next now comes, the dark smithy, with metal strong as blades
Her vast secrets, hidden within, buried within the shades
Allays with beasts unnatural within a realm afraid
And all stand as great sentinels for mysteries deeply laid

The third moves swift, like lightning flash, faster than eyes can track,
A storm of steel, a hail of death, downburst of ruin and wrack,
Master of death, of silent kills, hunting without a pack
A thousand daggers now unleashed, a murderous attack

The last is key, is tone, is sound, a shattered melody,
Broken by love, betrayed by self, a damaged canary
This one was hidden by time, fruit from a long-gone tree,
A mind so disillusioned it becomes psychotic spree

These four: Scions, dark legacy, called now and thus command,
Take up stations and move on towards your struggle great and grand
Licorns broken, pinions ripped clear, strong bones ground into sand
My children—go, your quest awaits…
...on Canterlot’s grave, stand!

Author's Note:

7:12 PM—Shinzakura: If only so Sunny can make smartass comments about it.

7:13 PM—Shinzakura: "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."

7:14 PM—BlueZudah: XD

7:15 PM—BlueZudah: So, for GAoA the crystal treebrary should be Twi's home?

7:15 PM—Shinzakura: Yeah

7:16 PM—BlueZudah: k

7:16 PM—Shinzakura: that can be one of the running jokes for TGAOA—nobody likes Twi's castle.

7:16 PM—BlueZudah: oh, I intend to

7:17 PM—Shinzakura: Hell, I can see this conversation.  First what Sunny said, then Razz joins in: "Hey, that Disneyland place you took me to?  You know that Tarzan tree house thing? Twi, this kinda looks like that...if your sister-in-law had a seizure and barfed all over it."

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