• 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 4 - Those Fluent in the Language of Love…and Cheese Sauce

Golden Age of Apocalypse

Chapter 4: Those Fluent in the Language of Love…and Cheese Sauce

Five friends from Ponyville found themselves standing in the middle of what had been the most secure vault in Canterlot Castle. Indeed, the mysterious beam of dark magic originating from the Alicorn Amulet had done quite a number on it the day before. Now, the vault was little more than another room in the castle, albeit with a very large contingent of guards standing vigil. A large group of the castle’s maid staff worked on cleaning up the mess—many of whom, the ponies in the know suspected, were actually the Princess’ Hooves.

“As much as Ah still hate the bastard fer all the harm he indirectly caused to mah family, in addition to everythin’ else downright evil he did,” grumbled Applejack, “Ah have to hoof it t’ him: he was one crazy-prepared sunuvaharridelle.”

“Yes, well, I can’t say these lines are flattering of his skills as a poet,” said Rarity, lightly trotting around to glimpse the back of the mirror. “Honestly, I could write something better than ‘The last is key, is tone, is sound, a shattered melody/ Broken by love, betrayed by self, a damaged canary’. At the very least, I wouldn’t make it sound like every bad romance novel’s female lead during their ‘woe is me’ period.”

“I’m sure you know all about going overboard with ‘woe is me’, Rarity,” snarked Rainbow, inciting a chuckle from everypony who had come from Ponyville—except Rarity, of course, who only tried to hide her blush of embarrassment with a fashionable pout.

“Ah’d say th’ skill of writin’ rhymes is probably much stronger in you than me, Rarity,” said AJ, placating the alabaster unicorn. “Still, even if Sombra wasn’t a songwriter like Musica Allegra or th’ like, the meaning comes across a little too clearly for comfort if Ah must be honest.”

“I’ll say,” huffed Pinkie. “It sounds like some crappy fanfiction writer tried to be all mysterious with fancy words and stuff!”

“Ladies?” asked Raven, the earth pony scribe worried about yet more insanity going on in the castle. “Is there some way you can explain what just happened?”

“Well, I’m not as versed in magical theory as Twilight or Raspberry, but I’d be glad to give it a shot,” Rarity said. With the other two at the service for Pavane, it left her to be the magical expert of the group, by dint that she was the only unicorn present. “Insofar as I can tell,” she said, looking around the room, “it appears to have been some sort of triggered enchantment. Based on what Raspberry and Luna said, perhaps some dormant function in the Amulet was triggered?”

“The Alicorn Amulet?” Raven asked, worry creeping into her voice. “I thought that terrible trinket had been sealed away for good following the incident in Ponyville that Princess Twilight reported?”

“Actually, she’d given it to Zecora for safekeeping,” Applejack joined in, “and Ah guess she figured that with Zecora’s remote location, it was the safest place for the dang-gummed thing.”

“Which probably means that since Raspberry is more qualified for the job,” Rarity added, “she and Twilight likely went there to take custody once more. I don’t think anypony had planned for Raspberry’s presence near the object to cause, well, this.”

“But why did it know to shoot toward Sombra’s mirror?” The others turned to see Vice Captain Arrowswift enter, the muscular mare clutching her helm beneath a foreleg. “Apologies for being so late, but I just came back from a military meeting with Admiral Tumblehome. Frankly, I think I’d rather face Tirek armed with toothpicks,” she said with a weary smile. “Would somepony update me on what’s going on?” Raven proceeded to do just that, and a few moments later the vice captain was up to speed.

“So with that in mind,” Arrowswift asked, “What’s the current status of the Amulet? I’m going to guess that Archmagus Beryl isn’t just walking around town with it like fashion jewelry.”

“Oh, it’s in a safe place temporarily,” Pinkie cryptically replied.

Meanwhile, at a particular residence back in Ponyville…

“You think Pinkie was telling the truth about this thing being made by humans?” asked Lyra, reaching out to touch the ancient medallion, sealed within the super-secure confinement of three layers of Zip-Loc bags, the topmost of which was emblazoned with DO NOT OPEN ON FEAR OF NO MORE PERSONAL PINKIE-RUN BIRTHDAY PARTIES EVER. AND I MEAN IT. REALLY! SUGAR ON TOP!

A tan hoof quickly slapped the mint green one away. “Don’t touch it!” warned Sandalwood, “it’s apparently corruptive with dark magic or something.”

“So…only you can touch it because of that hairy problem from a while back?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” the aromatherapist sighed. Inexplicably, Sandalwood’s brief exposure to lycanthropy and subsequent curing had made her slightly immune to dark magic, albeit only insofar as she could stand closer to it and not be sucked into its seductive aura, unlike Lyra. She still couldn’t wear it, but it looked kind of ugly anyway. She was far more interested in what was written on the vertical faces—it looked almost like human writing. Probably wasn’t, but if Pinkie was telling the truth….

“Yeah, wish I could say the implication is that the human who wore this thing—allegedly—was naturally immune as well, but I can’t. Regardless, go get some parchment and quills; I think I can actually read this…”

Nopony saw reason to question Pinkie’s statement, since they certainly didn’t know where she stored it away and sometimes it was best not to question Pinkie period.

“Moving on,” Rainbow sighed, already growing bored of this whole situation.

Fluttershy spoke up. “Look, we know that the Amulet and the Mirror were both crafted by Sombra, and based on this, um… poem, both were created with a higher purpose to fulfill. Razz explained that the Amulet never stayed in one pony’s possession for very long before moving on, so based on that we can hypothesize, it’s been looking for somepony in particular. Based on Raspberry’s own origins, perhaps she’s the one it’s been searching for?”

Pinkie grinned. “Wow, Flutters, nice analysis!”

“Indeed,” Raven agreed. “How did you come to that conclusion?”

Fluttershy blushed and squeaked something.

“What was that?”

“It was in one of the books I borrowed from Rarity.”

Rarity turned whiter than normal. “You don’t mean th––”

Fluttershy nodded. “It was the part where Shadow Spade is looking for the Malt-Tease Phoenix, just before Dusky Eyes invites him up to her apartment for drinks and….” Fluttershy blushed hard enough that her coat started matching her mane.

“I...see,” Raven and Arrowswift deadpanned at the same time.

“Please, ah, continue?” Raven asked.

“Sure,” the pegasus said, glad to have that spotlight taken off her. “Looking at the poetry, I think it’s about Razz in some way?”

“Duh, why didn’t I think of that!” Rainbow commented. “In Daring Do and the Silver Scepter of Stallionia, there’s a riddle of the ancient King of Stallionia and his four heirs, each sired by his four wives who he then sent out after his kingdom became buried in an avalanche.” Rainbow walked up and peered at the mirror. “But if that’s the case that means….”

“It means Razz may not be the only one out there with the same abilities and heritage,” Applejack stated for them all.

“That’s rather…disconcerting, to put it mildly,” admitted Rarity. “But assuming she’s one of these Scions—one who presumably doesn’t want to stand on Canterlot’s grave, either—then we’ve got a bit of a head start.”

“But what about the other three?” pointed out Rainbow.

“We have no proof that any of this is real,” Arrowswift advised. “It could be just a false alarm. Sombra was a master of manipulation and disinformation, so much so that some of his methods are standard training procedures at the Agency.”

“They are? And how would you know about that?” Rainbow asked.

“I was briefly in the Agency before I found that I wasn’t the right kind of mare they needed. Fortunately, the Agency Director allowed me to transfer my commission to the Guard.” Arrowswift looked at the others in the room. “Still, this is something we may need to bring up to the Princesses and Archmagus Beryl. We could be facing a new problem. Tirek nearly did us in—I don’t need to tell you we’re not prepared for a follow-on crisis.”

During her time on Earth, Raspberry had picked up on a few things in their culture. One of them seemed oddly poetic and something she wondered if Equestria should adopt. Despite not having any control over the weather whatsoever, it always seemed to rain whenever there was a funeral. During her time in the human world, she’d seen enough of human entertainment to get that it was a commonplace thing. At another time, she would have wondered why the weather teams allowed it, but now given her limited knowledge of human cultures, she understood that rainy days seemed to be a leitmotif for human funerals.

Ponies on the other hoof, tended to like clear, sunny skies for their funerals, as if it was a sign that life moved on and that their loved ones were now with Queen Faust in the Great Pasture beyond. That was the reasoning, anyway. The truth, however, was that funerals were somber affairs, and as she stood, tears streaming down her cheeks at this one, she had to wonder if for once, humans were more in touch with how reality was than ponies were.

Fortunately for Razz, this was no funeral, though to her, it certainly felt like one. Truth be told, she’d been to Pavane’s cenotaph already and said what she felt needed to be said, but now, being here, it felt as though the wound had been ripped open all over again, the open sore of emotions exposed to the ugly air of sorrow.

At the moment, she and Twilight stood in what was now called Pavane’s Park. At one time, it had been the royal preserve of the Blueblood cadet branch of House Platinum, expansive landholdings belonging to the storied unicorn clan. Somewhere over the years, it had become an unofficial park where families and individuals enjoyed their time. And now, with the formal consecration of Pavane’s Park, and its rising spire of a statue in the center, it would always be both public park and memorial for a brave mare. The image of Pavane, wearing a mixture of both her royal attire and battle armor, made her look regal and commanding, strong and sure, kind and powerful. Just as she was in life.

Razz hated the statue the moment she saw it. It was an idealization of a mare who was her friend and in time, if left unfettered, this was what history books would know of Pavane Bayan. Not the sweet mare who did her duty, but the “unstoppable juggernaut who gave all for Equestria”, etc. etc. etc.

“For what it’s worth, Archmagus, I dislike this just as much as you do.” Marimba Rondo, the Castellan of the Princess’ Hooves, said softly. “This...this isn’t Pav. Not the Pav I knew. This...this is a figurehead. A necessary one, I have to admit,” she sighed, “but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

“Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to come, Mari,” Twilight told the Hoof leader. “I know that rebuilding the Hooves has to be an issue.”

“Pav was my friend, Lady Twilight,” Marimba said softly. “It was my orders that brought her to her end, and it is my burden to carry until the end of my days.”

“Not just you,” Razz sighed.

“Please don’t do this to yourself,” Marimba told Razz. “Nopony blames you for what happened, Lady Raspberry. You almost died as well, and ponies know that. As it was, you lost nearly a year of your life due to the dimensional weft and weave between where we are and where you went. You have suffered more than anypony living, I would argue. Nopony should dare to blame you for this.”

“Somepony does,” Razz told them, then pointed a hoof back at herself. “Me.”

“Nopony does, Razz,” Twilight told her, wrapping a wing around her friend. “Trust me. Right now, everypony is dealing with the loss. You’re not the only one.”

The princess pointed to where a disheveled stallion sat on a bench by the statue. It took a second, due to the stallion’s unkempt look, but Razz eventually recognized Blueblood, and the look of utter emptiness on his face surprised her—she didn’t think he had any trace of anything aside from his supersized ego within him. He was alone, as if he wanted to be that way, solitary in both body and spirit. All of him looked destroyed, but it was his eyes that reflected it the most, a bleak look that made him seem as though if he were only to close his eyes and keep them that way, it would make all of this go away.

“From what Celestia tells me, at one point or another, somepony from his family comes here: their father, Prince Treasure; their mother, Princess Bossa Nova, or their younger sister, Princess Cauda Melisma. They’re completely distraught right now, but I think it hit Blueblood the worst,” Twilight pointed out. “But I also can assure you that not a single one of them blames you. On the contrary—they see it as pride that Pavane did everything she could to try to save you. Just as you are, she was a hero, and nopony will ever forget that.”

“I would rather have her here, Twi,” Razz mourned.

“Razz, I knew her quite well,” Twilight explained, her own cheek fur soaked with tears. “We weren’t the closest of friends, given how I was as a filly, but we did get along. You should talk to Cady, though; after she was adopted into the royal family, Cady told me that Pav insisted on learning all the Bitalian dishes she grew up with, and her tortelli cremaschi was even better than the palace chef’s. Shiny once joked if Cady wasn’t around, he’d have married Pav just for her cooking skills.”

Marimba again looked at the grieving stallion and added, “But in the end, nopony will ever put blame on you for what happened. And if anypony does, I suspect they’ll have to answer to Princess Bossa—she still keeps in shape, even if she retired from active duty with the Hooves.”

“Thanks, but that still doesn’t make me feel any better,” Razz replied.

“Then perhaps I can.” The two mares turned to see Octavia Melody approaching them. “Archmagus Beryl, I have a request, if I may.”

Razz, not entirely familiar with Octavia Melody, couldn't help but do a mental comparison with the one she did know. Namely, Sunset’s cousin, who was likely this pony’s counterpart in the other world. “I think this is an odd time for requests, Miss Melody.”

“I, on the other hoof, think it’s a great one: Prince Blueblood would like to invite you to dinner tonight to discuss...well, what Pav wanted. And since she was my best friend it’s just about all I can do to not shatter from crying, I offered to host dinner at my place tonight since it’d be neutral ground.”

Raspberry was hesitant. “I don’t know….”

“I do. Pav and I grew up together, and so I sort of grew up with Blu as well. I know him better than just about any mare in this world. And I give you my word that nothing untoward will happen, Miss Beryl. I vow that on Pav’s name and I know he would as well.” Octavia looked at her and said, “Plus, I’m making tortelli cremaschi tonight—it was her favorite dish.”

“Can I come then?” Twilight teased.

“No, but I’ll have Blu bring you some tomorrow, okay?” The sheer fact that Octavia Melody, a minor noblemare, was about to use a prince like Blueblood as an errrandcolt was shocking to Razz, so much so that it briefly overwhelmed her dour mood. “Of course, in return, do you think you could arrange to have some wine sent from...where Archmagus Beryl has been? I would fancy a try.”

The fact that Octavia Melody mentioned Earth without mentioning it sent Twilight’s hackles up. “I’m not entirely sure that’s wise, especially given––”

“Trust me, I think the novelty will be not so much in the wine,” Octavia said, “but in the distraction. In case things go south, as it were.”

“Okay, I see your point,” Twilight noted. “I’ll see what I can do.”. She looked at Razz, adding, “So, you going?”

What could she say? Steeling herself for the worst time ever, she figured that if the worst came to, she could explain to Celestia why she had to blow up part of Canterlot later that night. “Sure. What time?”

A wave of child-like giddiness welled up within the cloaked stallion as he stood before his followers. He looked down at his onyx hooves and found that they were shaking. He reached up and brushed a hoof through his neon green hair to try and calm himself. I haven’t felt like this in years!

Just the other day, Neon Lux had resigned himself to a life of mundanity. He had his secret society and his followers, sure enough, but he had genuinely believed then that their glorious destiny would not come to pass until after his time. That his descendants would reap everything that he and his had sown. Everything changed when his loyal advisor, the Oracle they all looked to for guidance, came to him late that afternoon with two simple words: “It happened.

That very mare stood beside him now; she deserved the glory of this moment as much as he did.

“My brothers and sisters,” Neon Lux’s voice boomed through the dark cavern, his neon pink eyes scanning the faces of every pony gathered. “Just the other day a great prophecy has been fulfilled! Oracle Tiny Dynamine, if you may?”

Lux turned to the mare at his side, and with calm, cool confidence, she strode toward a dias at the center of the chamber. Runes and gemstones automatically lit up in a progressive manner with every successive hoof step. By the time she reached the top, the dais—as well as the cavern itself—was lit up as if the sun itself now sat at its center. What had been poorly lit crags and stalagmites before now gave way to the shadows moving out of the light, revealing that it was no simple cavern that these ponies were now inside, but an ancient meeting hall. On the wall behind Dynamine was what looked like the word PUREHOOVES hastily crossed out with red paint—plans to put up a more appropriate sign for the new tenants was already budgeted.

“Now is the time to wake the sleeping shadows,” Tiny Dynamine proclaimed. “For too long the Sun Tyrant has stood almighty above all others!”

“HEAR! HEAR!” the small crowd of ponies cheered.

Timing it wisely, the Oracle threw back her hood. White fur coat, her mane and tail a blend of orange and pink, with a cutie mark an unusually ornate butterfly colored a sea-green tint peeked out from her cloak’s covering. From her vantage point, the unicorn looked over the captivated audience, her blue-green emerald eyes twinkling in the light.

“It is exactly as I have seen it in my dreams: One of the Scions has awakened the Amulet,” Tiny Dynamine continued. “Now, the strings of fate that tie the Four together begin their pull. Our time is nigh!”

The massive crowd of followers let loose another cheer, and started to chant their Oracle’s name. A few paces behind her, Neon Lux’s earlier jubilation began to waver. They really do love her, he thought with some disdain. She is invaluable to our cause, but she’d better not forget her place.

“But!” Tiny declared, “I am just a prophet. I may guide you all, but I cannot be the leader you deserve. Our acting leader is the one among us who best embodies everything that our true master is.” She then gestured down to the stallion who had addressed her by name earlier. “Neon Lux, come, take your rightful place!”

With a smug, satisfied grin, Lux ascended the stairs and took to the dais as Tiny stepped back. “My fellow conspirators, our time standing idly by, watching from the shadows is over.” He then gestured to one of the mares in the front row, reserved for their higher-ranking members. “Sister Chrysoberyl, send someone to fetch our wayward Scion. It’s past time we freed her from her shackles and brought her into the fold.”

With a grin, the mare Chrysoberyl nodded. “Of course, sir. Should I send her?”

“Yes, excellent idea. It is well past time the two of them meet,” Lux replied with a grin of his own, before returning his attention to the crowd at large. “Brothers and sisters! After centuries of inactivity…it is time for the Covenant of Shadow to rise again and bring about the restoration of Equestria's true ruler!”

The noise of approval was deafening: “HAIL SOMBRA!

At the moment, Razz had to wonder repeatedly if she’d stepped into some kind of weird parallel dimension where Sombra was good, the Flim Flam Bros. were just and Trixie was so down-to-earth she’d become the Alicorn of Humility. She then closed her eyes, counted to ten, and opened them again.

Nope. Still here, Razz thought. “Here” was Octavia Melody’s townhouse in the trendy Hymnsburg district. At the moment, she was seated at the musician’s table, a recently-eaten bowl of tortelli cremaschi and an untouched glass of California red wine in front of her. Where the hell Octavia had managed to get a bottle of Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Santa Barbara on short notice, Razz wasn’t sure and she didn’t want to find out via drinking it.

And seated across from her, in a strangely-relaxed mode, was Prince Blueblood. He was currently swirling his wineglass and joking—joking!—with Octavia Melody, who was cleaning up in the kitchen.

“Octy, my compliments to the chef. Who’d you actually have cook this, by the way?”

“Blu, you’re lucky I love you like a brother. You do know that rat poison is tasteless, right?”

“Since when do we exterminate rats? I thought pest control just teleported them out of the town.”

“Would you please stop being stupid for a few seconds? Just maybe even one single second? For me?” She grinned. In response, he merely shook his head and chuckled.

That’s it. I’m dead, Razz reasoned. The truth was that Divine Right must’ve killed me, Sunny, and the rest and this is just all the afterlife or the delusions of a dying mare, right?

“I take it you’re not a fan of wine, Miss Beryl?” Blueblood asked and the smile fell from his face. “It was never personal, you know. It never really was.”

“Pardon?”

He sighed. “Let me ask you a question, Miss Beryl. How many mares have I slept with?”’

An eyebrow shot up on her face. “What?”

“Well, you slept with me that one time,” Octavia said cheerfully. “Of course, your sister was there, too; we were just foals and we took a nap together on your parents’ bed.”

“Octy…” he groaned.

“Fine, spoilsport.”

“The truth is that I haven’t done the deed with anypony. All the news you’ve heard is a lie. All the ‘charming and eager’ young mares hanging around me? The majority of them are agents of the Agency, assigned to play a role. Alternatively, when I need someone I know, her,” he said, pointing to Octy. “Once in a rare while, just to provide plausible deniability, I take an actual willing mare or two and ply them with enough drink to make them think they’ve had the night of their lives, when in truth, it was nothing of the sort.” He waited for a second for the earth mare to say something, and a look of surprise came onto his face when she didn’t. “You’re actually not saying something snarky?” he asked her.

“Playtime’s over,” Octavia scolded him. “This is what Pav wanted, Blu.”

“I know.” He turned back to Razz. “The truth is that I’m not the snobbish, stupid playcolt the public knows. I’m actually one of the senior officers in the Agency, though my specialty is dealing with crimes amongst the aristocracy. Between me and Fancy Pants—he and his wife are Agency officers as well—we keep tabs on nobles that would take advantage of their fellow ponies. Ponies like Baron Wormwood, who built substandard housing for the poor so he could skim on profits; or ones like Duchess Highfalutin’ who is, sadly, a distant cousin who actually believes that the ancient dynasty of Unicornia should supplant the alicorns. Fancy is able to work the nobles he keeps track of by being the pony everypony should know. I do it...by being the buffoon whose only worth is being the relative of some of the most powerful ponies in all of creation.”

Razz’ answer was succinct. “I don’t believe you.”

Octavia left the kitchen and joined them at the table. “If he really was who you think he is, would I dare to risk my reputation being around him? I’ve worked hard to be where I am, and every day I’m around him risks that. But I do, because he’s the closest thing to an older brother I have. I’m an only child, and Pav was my best friend, so I’m around Blu a lot. I know him better than any mare, and I know he’s not what the public says he is.”

Raspberry looked at the gray mare. “I wish I could believe you, but there is a mountain of evidence suggesting otherwise. The trial, for example.”

The prince groaned. “Not one of my better moments, I’ll admit. I’ll say it again: none of it was personal. I was there doing a job, because I had to. However, as you know, there were several in attendance at the trial, including one noblemare who we suspect was recently involved in some rather...unsavory business. Now, if I had suddenly been competent at my job, I would’ve been compromised and that’s a fatal thing in my line of work. Instead, Auntie hoped I’d do my schtick and that it would be enough to cover me. My fault was in not finding some way to apologize to you afterwards.” He ran a hoof through his mane. “Believe me, Twi gave me an earful when we talked about it.”

The mulberry unicorn blinked in surprise. “Wait—Twi knows?”

“We grew up together, sort of. Plus, she’s Auntie’s student—how could she not know? She’s just honorbound not to tell anypony the truth. Which, of course included Rarity the night of that rather disastrous Gala that one year. There were no agents available, Octy was preoccupied in performing that night––”

“I swear I’m going to get back at Pinkie for that shit,” Octavia grumbled semi-seriously.

“—and Miss Rarity had the misfortune to be fixated with me. I took that ball and ran with it for all it was worth. And speaking of that, I did apologize to her the first chance I had to see her again. Needless to say, she’s now in the know as well. And so, now too, are you.”

Raspberry looked unconvinced. “I’m still having a hard time believing any of this. I wouldn't even be here if I didn’t owe Pavane.”

“I wouldn’t be reaching out to you if it wasn’t for my sister.”

She looked at him, and his eyes started to water with tears. “I loved my sister, very dearly. She was only a couple of years younger than I, but we were very close, and now knowing that I’ll never see her again tears a hole in my heart like you cannot imagine. Even with your background, Miss Beryl.”

Raspberry was momentarily taken aback by just how genuine Blueblood’s entire demeanor had become. It was like she was looking at a completely different pony from the one at her trial. If he really was just making all of this up, then he was very good.

“I’m sorry that your family background makes it hard for you to trust males who seem like one thing and do another. And I’m sorry that my duties require me to be, well, a donkey’s ass. But spycraft is, as your friend Bon-Bon will tell you, a messy business that you have to hide from all but a few, even if it means loved ones or those you wronged. Because one miscalculation means that it’s all over and it all ends in smoke and fire.” He took another drink of his wine and shrugged.

“I’m not sure I can forgive,” she admitted.

“I’m not sure I can forgive myself,” he told her, “but I’ve learned to live with my duties. Reluctantly, but I carry on. And so must you, Archmagus.” He offered a hoof to bump. “Will you take the hoof that is offered?”

Ten minutes later, as she walked towards the palace and the room she was currently billeted in, she wasn’t sure whether her response had been the right one or if any of it was right.

But I guess I at least get the luxury of hindsight, she told herself. I’m not sure he gets that privilege.

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