• 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 7 - Royal Duties

Golden Age of Apocalypse

Chapter Seven: Royal Duties

“Extra rolls of fabrics?” Rarity asked, looking between the rows of fabric on her worktable and the unicorn before her with trepidation. “Why, Raspberry dear, I cannot use these precious reams as mere bandages, you understand?”

“Rarity, I wouldn’t ask if the need isn’t so desperate,” Razz replied. “Twi already got word that they’re short on gauze there.”

“I see. Well, if I must part with them…hrmm….” The ever-fashionable unicorn paused in thought. “Very well, you’ve convinced me. I shall become a famous nurse in need, like Nightingale, ne pas? I shall heal the wounded with grace and style, giving each tender care and tasteful bandages!”

Raspberry blinked. “Uh, what?”

Rarity just tut-tutted her friend’s confusion. “Oh, don’t be so dismissive, darling. After all the commotion you made running around town earlier? As well as the rumor mill mentioning something about a passenger airship going down without a trace? Anypony can figure out what you’re doing.”

“But why the extra rolls of fabric if you’re saying you want to play nurse?”

Rarity just gave a deadpan stare to her friend. “Because if you don’t bring me along,” the fashionista said in sweet tones, “I will make it...difficult...for you when you return.””

“Don’t worry,” Razz chuckled, “but I’m not taking you for your medical knowledge, or lack thereof. The real reason I’m taking you is because I may need a second unicorn there, and you’re good at fine-grain telekinesis, which may be useful. Though if you already seem to know so much, why do you really have such a dire need to go to a small, sleepy town like Nightshade?”

In response, Rarity magicked up a beautiful evening gown with shades of blue and black laced with a sparkling silver thread. "It's a part of my new Nocturne line, dear. Luna simply insisted that I should design something based on nights and shades, and I assumed, well, this charming town must know something about that, correct?"

Fortunately, before Razz could make a snarky comment and thus get in trouble for her sense of humor, a knock at Rarity’s door saved her.

“That’s probably the others,” Razz explained.

Rarity opened the door, revealing Applejack and Sandalwood.

“Rainbow will be along in a bit,” said Applejack, “she’s going over some stuff with the troops—probably how to be 20% more military.”

“Yeah, that’s to be expected,” said Razz, before turning to Sandalwood. “But why are you here?”

“I overheard from AJ and RD that you all are planning on going to Nightshade and I want in,” answered the aromatherapist.

“Uh, why?” Razz raised an eyebrow. “This is, honestly, kind of a situation I’m dealing with for Twilight, and could be dangerous so—”

“I just let that insanely dangerous dark magic thingamabob into my house—and I heard from Zecora just what it almost did to her own house—so I think I deserve a little favor. Doubly so since as you may recall, I got turned into a werewolf myself so it isn’t like I haven’t dealt with my own issues.”

“So, you want to cash those in by coming along for the ride to Nightshade?”

“Yeah, been meaning to go visit my cousin Amaretto but then the war happened.” Then with a tone of biting sarcasm, Sandalwood added, “It’s kinda funny how ponies don’t really spend money when the national economy is kind of in the toilet and the whole town needs rebuilding because some asshole the size of a mountain razed half of it to the ground.”

“You have family in Nightshade?” asked Razz.

“Yeah. You make it sound as though that’s shocking.”

“Well, if Pinkie was here,” commented AJ, “she’d most likely say this Amaretto fellow is your distant cousin!” She put her hoof on the part of the map in the middle of the room, hooftip placed above a tiny town near the edge. “Seriously, in terms of pure distance the only pony Ah know of that lives farther than there is that A.K. Yearling gal.”

Sandalwood raised an eyebrow. “You’ve visited A. K. Yearling’s house?”

“Oh, what a story that was…” sighed Rarity.

Razz sighed. “Okay, okay, you can come along, Sandy—who knows, having another earth pony could be helpful.”

At this point, Rainbow came in, carrying two packs emblazoned with the Shooting Stars squadron emblem. “Sorry I’m late but I just got finished with my meeting with Colour Sergeant Lightfighter. Oh, man is she a weird one, with a capital W-E-I-R-D.”

“How so?” Sandalwood asked.

“Let’s just say that I just met one of your human ‘conspiracy theorist’ types, and she’s in the Guard. And worse, if the information you and Lyra had was incomplete, hers borders on completely made up. She says her soul name is ‘Jane the Michellson’, whatever that means, and she’s in love with a human guy she’s never met called ‘John Apple-Bee’ or something like that.”

“Yeah, that is weird,” Sandalwood agreed. “As far as I know, human names aren’t much different from ours, but then again, the collective of ‘theorists’ has their weird ones. As in, weirder than Lyra. What made her bring that up, anyway?”

“She’d heard some rumor that Ponyville is a secret research base for humans, so secret that not even Twi knows. So she thought she’d take an here to ‘uncover the secret’.”

“So why didn’t she speak to me or Lyra?”

“Well, duh, clearly you two are keeping the whole secret to yourself because you’re secretly humans yourselves!” Rainbow cried. When Sandalwood gave the pegasus a nonplussed look, Rainbow groaned. “Yeah, no kidding. And ponies say I have no military bearing.” With a shrug, Rainbow elected to leave it at that. “Anyway, I’m ready to go.”

“I’ll be ready soon,” Rarity advised. “But I see our dear Raspberry is not. Why exactly aren’t you packed, darling?”

“I don’t need much,” was all the dusky unicorn replied with.

“But won’t you need your robes of station, as well as some other items? I’d advise you attend to that before we leave.” There wasn’t much choice in the matter as Rarity all but shoved Razz out the door. Once Razz was out of the house, Rarity sighed nostalgically. “Seems like it was so long ago that the poor girl was all too eager to get out of my house when she still traded in gem forgeries.”

When her adoptive daughter had come back and informed her of her sudden travel plans, Cashmere hadn’t thought much of it. Or at least not until said daughter had come back out of her room with what looked like a saddlepack equipped more for a day trip than what could potentially be an entire week away from home.

“Razz, dear, aren’t you a little, erm…underpacked?” the older mare asked with concern.

“Underpacked?” asked the unicorn, who quickly glanced to Helee to see if he knew what was going on. He shrugged, indicating he didn’t. “I don’t think so. I have everything that I need, and anything else I can pick up along the way.”

Cashmere gave Raspberry a firm look. “Are you sure? Show me what you got in there.”

“Well, uh, okay.” Razz then took the pack off with her magic and, one by one, began pulling the things she wanted to bring out. “Let’s see…okay, there’s the prescription ointment for my leg injury that I need to put on after every time I wash up, there’s at least four days’ worth of Heelee’s favorite trail mix in case he can’t go hunting for food for whatever reason, well-stocked first aid kit with plenty of bandages, water canteen, my archmagus robes because Rarity insists I look important…oh, I am forgetting something!”

Almost instinctively, Heliodor realized what was missing as well and flew back into Raspberry’s room. Cashmere smiled, but also expected Razz to follow suit. She did not expect Helee to simply fly back out of the room, his talons cradling a toothbrush and toothpaste. Razz quickly took the dental implements in her magic and stowed them away in her bag, then rewarded her pet with a few scratches under his chin.

“Ah, excellent, thank you Heelee!” Looking at her mother, Razz replied, “Minuette will never let me hear the end of it if I’m not brushing three times a day!”

“I…um…” Cashmere was at a loss for words. Somehow, something didn’t seem right to her that Raspberry was going on a trip with just a toothbrush, first aid kit, water container, bird food, and medical ointment. “Don’t you need, like, at least a towel or a blanket or something else?”

“Not really,” answered the younger mare. “I mean, yeah, summer is just leaving and the air is getting slightly colder by like, a degree lower than usual but…” Razz took a deep breath as memories of harder times flooded her mind again. “No offense, Mom, you don’t know the kind of shit I’ve had to live through—believe me, even the author of all those wilderness survival books at least has a special talent in that field. Though, what a cutie mark consisting of a bear drinking yellow fluid out of a bottle has to do with survival is beyond me, but that’s besides the point. The truth is-“

Before Razz could continue, she found her muzzle shut by the elder pony’s hoof. With compassionate eyes, Cashmere finished for her daughter. “The truth is that you’ve lived through that kind of stuff without any idea of how to survive beyond maybe throwing up dark crystal walls, but you know how to keep yourself warm at night, know at a basic level what you could scrounge up for safe eating, stuff like that, yes?” The mulberry unicorn’s blush subsequently made Cashmere chuckle. “Honey, I get it, the past decade will never be anything but memories of hardship for you, but you tend to keep rambling on about that stuff all the time. This isn’t the past anymore, Razz. Just because you can make do without something as simple as a bed roll or a coat—which you are going to take with you because Faust help me I don’t know if my heart can take that kind of worry—doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do without. You’ve lived with so little for so long, I’m not sure you realize how often you push away what is now available to you in fear that if you need to flee, those things would hold you back. Your father and I even had to bribe you with a job in order to sway your decision to take more comfortable lodgings here!”

“And you had to bribe me with being the kind of parents I spent all that time looking for,” said Razz, laughing as well. “Almost hard to believe it’s nearly been a year since I’ve been able to call the Retreat my home, even if for the past several months I was...”

Cashmere reached out and took Razz’s face in her hooves. “The important thing is that this is your home, honey. You are part of our family, there is no arbitrary amount of time you need to be around for that..”

“Well, to be frank, I still technically haven’t even met your biological children, either. They must think of me as a horrible kid sister.”

“I do believe you are right, my dear, and that is something we will need to fix as soon as possible. But before that, I need to fix your underappreciation for basic traveling luxuries!”

“No, really, you don’t have to, Mom…” said Razz, blushing.

“Oh, but I must. That’s my special talent, need I remind you?”

“Mom….”

“A princess must compunct herself at all times, as I believe your friend Rarity is so fond of saying? Just because you’re a minor princess and the Archmagus doesn’t mean that you can get by with only minor necessities. Plus, you are a member of Princess Twilight’s court, so you have to look good for her sake as well, right? Obviously that means more than just your archmagus robes—it means looking healthy and hale enough as well.”

“Yeah, I guess….” Razz only blushed harder in embarrassment.

With a satisfied smile, Cashmere nuzzled her daughter before walking into the latter’s room, Razz following behind and secretly hoping that when she left, there wouldn’t be more than one article of luggage following in her wake.

The attack had been sudden and, for all that she knew, unprovoked. One moment, the Seabiscuit Arno had been flying on course and on time to its destination of Canterlot; the next, the once-clear blue skies had become blotted with a thick cloud of changelings.

Ponies on deck had either run for cover within the hull—which frankly wouldn’t have done them much good, she knew, despite the fact she herself had done exactly that but for different reasons—or prepared to make a stand on the weatherdeck. It didn’t matter: the changelings never went below the keel of the massive air vessel beneath which the airship hung.

No, they’d gone for the giant balloon itself. While reinforced both physically and magically to be impervious to normal weather phenomena like lightning strikes or hail, without royal guard-level wards the membrane of the balloon inevitably gave way after only a few minutes of unceasing aggression by the bugs.

Fortunately, the balloon was compartmentalized internally, so that if one section suddenly was penetrated, it wouldn’t cause the entire thing to deflate and drop a giant wooden boat full of screaming ponies to the ground and instantly kill both them and anything unfortunate enough to be beneath. However, the airship would still go down, the intention behind the sectioned design being the remaining sealed sections would allow for a controlled, smooth descent to a safe location.

Unfortunately, the design did not account for more than one section being punctured, especially not the three largest which the changelings somehow had known to go for. With the largest portion of the balloon’s contained air pressure released, the airship had gone into an uncontrollable fall—not outright straight down, but at a rate too fast to avoid a very rough and bumpy impact landing.

She’d been knocked out when the bottom of the airship had made contact with—judging from the sound of lots of breaking branches—a dense, forested area that by acting as a giant leafy cushion probably saved the lives of everypony on board.

Temporarily.

To her horror, the growls and snarls of a large number of predators rose all around the fallen airship, but it wasn’t buzzing or anything remotely insectile. It was the sound of something far more dangerous in the “brutally murder you with claws and teeth and then eat your corpse to the bone” sense. She could only have been out of it for maybe just a few hours, but already she got the sinking feeling she was the only pony still alive.

And whatever was out there was looking for her.

Applejack had ridden on trains before, plenty of times in fact. But somehow, she was having trouble wrapping her brain around how fast she was going now.

“So…why is it only five hours to the coast,” she ventured, “but it took us like two days to get from Ponyville to Appleloosa?"

Rainbow shrugged as she replied, "Weren't we being pulled by ponies back then?"

Razz said nothing, but her unique experience as having been human not too long ago had given her a perception on technology other ponies did not. I didn’t notice it before but…humans don't even have steam engines. Except for that Disneyland place, and that was clearly meant more for entertainment than transportation. Does that mean Equestria is like Disneyland? Can't be, Disneyland doesn’t have some French madman imprisoned.

Meanwhile, Applejack kept trying to make 2 and 2 voltron into 5. “Wait, if we were being pulled by ponies then…why were we being pulled by ponies? It was still a steam engine wasn’t it?”

“Darling, it was a steam engine insofar that it was providing a source of heat for the passenger cars,” said Rarity. “Only in the past few years was it possible for steam trains to be able to pull long distance trains faster than ponies and provide power for things like heating and running water for the bathrooms.”

“Y’know, it’s kind of funny if you think about it,” piped up Sandalwood. “No matter how far technology advances, magic is still predominantly a deciding factor in major events in our lives. When Tirek was stomping around and sucking out everypony’s magic like it was going out of style, it seemed like the only place he didn’t hit was the settlements in the southern plains and the unexplored west.”

“Huh, too bad you didn’t hide out back at Lonesome Dove, Razz,” Rarity commented. “Your old hometown might have been the safest option in hindsight.”

“So Raspberry was in Ponyville during that whole calamity?” Sandalwood interjected, finding herself picking up a discussion point from hours back. She immediately turned to face Razz with a ‘what the hell were you thinking?!’ expression plastered on her features. “No offense, but…seriously, what the hell were you thinking?! I don’t know how Tirek didn’t end up sucking your magic down his gullet like everypony else’s, but didn’t you think it might have been smarter to be as far away from him as possible?”

“Uh...he did,” Razz admitted glumly. “In the end, I only managed to get away from him because...because…” The thought of Pavane’s death nearly being in vain brought back the pain of guilt Razz felt over the young mare’s death, causing her to start sobbing gently. Rarity immediately wandered over and took the weeping unicorn in her embrace.

Sandy, for her part, looked down in shame. “I’m sorry, I...I didn’t realize…”

“Hey, that’s all in the past now,” Applejack said, giving Raspberry a sober, somber look. “Trust me: It don’t do you any good to spend yer days dwellin’ on the folks you lost.”

“Well, remember, it was just practically days ago for me!” Razz shot back. “For you, nearly a year went by; for me, it was just a few weeks!”

The look on Rarity’s face was sympathetic. “We understand what you’ve lost, darling, but Applejack is right: you have to move on, even though you should do it at your own pace. Nopony will rush you on that, I assure you. But even you know that dwelling on things that cannot be changed is counterproductive.”

“Wait, what?” asked Sandalwood, confused. “Razz told me she had to go somewhere all this time, but now you all are saying she jumped through time now?”

“You’re right,” Raspberry said, giving her friend a confident nod as she wiped the last of her tears away - and conveniently being able to ignore Sandy once again trying to pry into the details behind her year long absence. “In the end, Tirek was defeated and everypony got their magic back. Which means I’m back to looking like a Nightmare Night monster without my disguise.”

“Maybe Ponyville should start celebrating Nightmare Night every day,” Rainbow suggested with a teasing grin. “That way you won’t have to always use a glamorie to fit in!”

Raspberry gave her friend a good-natured shove. “C’mon, Dash. Even Ponyville wouldn’t let monster ponies run around every day of the year!”

Even from a vast distance away, Castle Canterlot was not hard to spot so long as one did not try to observe it from a location northeast of it. The only area from which its tall and majestic spires were hidden from view behind the peak of Mount Canterhorn. The capital—both the castle and the less precariously perched city itself tucked into the relatively flat plateau beneath it—stood as a beacon, a central landmark for all of Equestria’s domain as the heart of its government. The perch from where the “benevolent” princesses oversaw everything they ruled over and twice daily moved the very skies between the respective periods of day and night.

But it also was a reminder of how separate the various pony species were: no matter how much they believed in harmony, something as simple as physical location reflected where individuals stood in their place within society. The lowliest all lived on the ground, if not in the ground, and the most common of those peasants were named after the very dirt they were meant to till. Then there were the pegasi, who mostly lived exclusively in their great, vaulted cloud cities—the fact they were the most aggressive overall when compared to the others came as no surprise by default. Next, the unicorns always thought themselves better than the rest, hence their preference for living at high places both in the metaphorical and literal sense—centers of economy or near the mountains if not directly on them. Lastly, there were the alicorns—the few, the most privileged, the worshipped.

Chrysalis scoffed. In her time pretending to be Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, she’d learned that the royal bedchambers were all located in parts of the castle that was closest to the Canterhorn’s summit. Even at the top of the world, they sleep above even the wealthiest commoners, she thought.

Right now, the changeling Queen stood on her own private balcony that overlooked all of her own conquered domain in the southeastern badlands. A far cry from what she’d once known, even further from the lofty peak of the country’s capital she’d all but had firmly in her hooves. What she had deserved after all this time, only for it to be taken away because of love.

Disgusted, Chrysalis turned to sulk inside her chambers, having unintentionally reminded herself of yet another thing she hated about Canterlot. Or rather, what her last defeat had reminded her of consistently over the past two years: how much she hated the concept of love. It was ironic, given that as a changeling she needed to feed off that emotion just as much as the swarms of drones did, and that she’d even impersonated the very embodiment of that emotional concept to the point of pretending to love the most repulsive of suitors.

“How the hell could anybody have fallen in love with some bore like Shining Armor?!” she openly complained to nopony in particular. While she’d planned on mind controlling him from the start as there were too many potential flaws in her disguise to assume the guard captain would not notice them—his twit of a meddling sister having caught on almost immediately had proven as much—it had been near-maddening just to try and have casual conversation with him. Sure, he’d been extremely attractive for a stallion, but…as unfamiliar with the term as she was, Chrysalis could only describe the now-prince consort as a “nerd” for how much he did so very many weird things in private. She was even fairly certain it might have been a social taboo punishable by mental institutionalization for him to own something called an Ogres and Oubliettes set, his insistence even under mind control that Cadence had grown to like playing with tiny metal miniatures much in the way babies would had also made the changeling royal consider the prissy pink princess might have been a nutcase, too. Seriously, how is getting one’s character killed repeatedly by something called a “nothic” supposed to be fun?!

She was so busy ranting about how maddening actually being married to Shining Armor might really have turned out, the nonchalant changeling waiting at the bedchambers’ door almost went without notice. The changeling had no real reaction in part due to Chrysalis raving about the topic of Shining Armor and Cadance was a near-weekly affair to the day since the changelings were repulsed from Canterlot. Of course, he made the mistake of zoning out and paid the price.

“What do you want, drone?!” Chrysalis angrily bellowed upon noticing one of the hive waiting to speak with her.

“A-Apologies, my queen!” he quickly spoke, his stance going rigid in a nanosecond. “But our spies report that a group from Ponyville has been dispatched to investigate the downed pony airship. They will arrive at the nearest town in about two hours.”

“Just as I predicted.” Finally having something to take her mind off of her hated sort-of-but-not-really ex-fiancé—compared to her previous engagements, at least Shining Armor hadn’t actually been her legal husband under any pretenses, false or otherwise—Chrysalis immediately resumed her usual, far more formal behavior. “I assume that ‘the six’ are accounted for in full in that group?”

The changeling shook his head. “Only three of them have been seen on the train—no sign of ‘the pink menace’ or Princess Twilight Sparkle, but-“

Chrysalis, displaying only mild interest in her servant’s report, suddenly rounded on the smaller changeling with renewed vigor. “What? Only three of them? At that, not even the two most dangerous of that sextet?”

“No, my liege, there are five ponies, the three already mentioned and an earth pony—a tan mare, reportedly a bit bigger than the average—who we are still trying to learn more about, and more worrisome it appears that Ponyville’s other mage has gone in Twilight’s place.”

The false alicorn raised an eyebrow at hearing of the other princess. “Ponyville has two archmages?” she scoffed. “What, did Celestia’s prodigal daughter show up after all this time, to grace us with her presence?” Chrysalis wasn’t stupid—indeed, she had several subscriptions under fake names to all the major newspapers which were flame-faxed right to her doorstep. None of the printers ever seemed to realize where the papers were going. They sure loved to harp on and on about how great the formerly exiled Princess Sunset Shimmer was. It rubbed Chrysalis raw to the core, given that—

“No, your majesty,” the drone said, interrupting his liege’s train of thought. “This mage is, strangely enough, a dark magic user: Raspberry Beryl, a member of Princess Twilight’s court and a minor princess of the Crystal Empire. Our early intelligence indicates she’s a bit of an odd one in that she randomly appeared out of nowhere around the time of last year’s Nightmare Night and was put on trial—”

“For grand treason on account of dark magic use, yes, now I remember hearing about that,” mused Chrysalis. “She even almost killed those damn alicorns—all four of them!—but somehow went soft at the last minute and now she’s a princess? I don’t recall hearing that happening.”

The drone nodded. “It was right before Tirek’s bloody war, but during the incident of the trial, it was revealed that this Raspberry Beryl is the only known living member of the formerly-thought extinguished ancient Crystal Imperial bloodline, or—”

She’s the one ponies are talking about as the descendant of Sombra?!” In a flash, Chrysalis had lifted the changeling up in her magic and whipped him around such that he was less than an inch from her muzzle, her eyes suddenly those of a slightly-crazed individual. “This Raspberry Beryl, the one you said is on this train, is the direct blood descendant of King Sombra?!

“W-We’re certain, my queen!” stammered the helpless minion, worried that the wrong answer would result in his immediate banishment from life. “She’s not Princess Sparkle, b-but there’s nothing—” He was cut off as he was unceremoniously dropped. As he looked up, the slightly unhinged grin on his queen both pleased and unnerved him.

“There is nothing to be done,” said Chrysalis. Instinctively, the changeling knew this was more than a statement, it was a command. Her features returning to normal, she snapped her gaze down to the grunt changeling trying not to shrink away in fear. “Have our spies keep observing the group, but their orders are now only to observe—under no circumstances are they to attack as previously ordered.”

“It will be done, your high-“

“THEN GO DO IT, KNAVE!”

Within a blink, Chrysalis saw the prostrated insect vanish, no doubt at exhaustive speed as failure to prevent the original ambush plans from taking place would instead ensure his own demise. And how these changelings just loathed to fail their queen. But she didn’t care. Her unhinged smile returned as the news he had brought was the only acceptable alternative to her original goal of springing a trap on Princess Twilight and company—the preordained descendant of Sombra was now moving into position instead.

“And so…my little game begins…” she said aloud to nopony particular, her grin widening. Then she began to chuckle. Finally, she broke out into loud, maniacal laughter. The situation was better than she could have ever hoped or planned for, and with it the possibility of achieving the one thing she had come to believe was forever put out of reach.

The fact her existing plan already was instantly adaptable to the new change of priorities only made it all the better.

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