• Published 24th Feb 2016
  • 3,525 Views, 273 Comments

Phantasmare - Emperor



The Alicorn Amulet tainted Trixie. Over time, she recovered, yet it haunts her still. Exploring Equestria, Trixie is determined to finally achieve Greatness and true power, no matter what. In Phantasia, a mare shall defy destiny.

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Eldest: Manechester

The advent of the railway had brought prosperity to Equestria, as it shrank the distance between the great cities. Between Canterlot, at the centre of the Equestrian landmass, and Baltimare to the east, a pony once had to trot for several days or run at near-top speed for a full day. With the train, the trip could be made in an afternoon.

When the train was originally built, the Canterlot-Baltimare route had been one of the easiest to construct. Though one of the few mountain ranges in Equestria, the Foal Mountains, were located east of Canterlot, a great plains sprawled south of the range. It was through these plains that the tracks had been laid down. With little change in elevation and few rivers to bypass, it was one of the smoothest rides in the land.

As a consequence, however, several of the smaller villages that once dotted the walking route to Baltimare and then between Baltimare and Fillydelphia to the north fell by the wayside. Though they survived, relying on agriculture and the odd mine, they were no longer visited by tourists. As such, their names fell out of the popular consciousness of ponykind.

Red Wings sighed as the rolling hills they had crossed over gave way to flatter lands. Though he had exalted in his flight shortly after leaving Dodge Junction, he eventually tired out. All the adrenaline in the world could not make up for the fact that he was out of shape when it came to flight. Part of that was from not having been able to fly at all, but his new wing also felt unfamiliar to him at times. The sensation of the phantom wing had not disappeared, making for an odd feeling when it overlapped with the burning aches of the wing that now existed there.

It was not a feeling that he would have traded for what had come before, though. Life as a one-winged pegasus was something he had little desire to return to.

“What is the next town on the map, Noire?” Iceheart asked from beside him.

“Well, let’s see. We already passed Reneigh earlier,” Noire answered. “This map is outdated by a couple of years, but I doubt there has been any new villages founded in the area since then. That would leave us with Manechester in a few hours.”

“It looks like about four hours to sundown,” Red Wings said, taking a look at the sky. “I think that means we’ll have to stop somewhere close by or even in Manechester for the night. Besides, I can feel it. What about you?”

“You mean that premonition, correct?” Iceheart asked. “Yes, it is odd. I cannot fully understand what it is communicating to me, but I can feel that it wants us st to stop soon. I think our journey northward ends in Manechester.”

“I still don’t like it,” Noire scowled. “We’ve been wandering around on our own volition since Trixie and I left Whinnychester. We went to the Crystal Empire and up to your fort, then we went down to Dodge Junction and met Red Wings here all on our own. And now suddenly, we get some sort of gut feeling shared between all four of us that tells us to go north? It practically smells of a trap.”

“Well, that’s true, but I think whatever is doing this to us probably has enough power it could have done something worse than that already,” Red Wings said. He had been nervous early on about being too active in the group’s discussions. He felt like a fourth wheel to the group. Trixie and Noire had been fillyhood friends and had spent some time together in Whinnychester as well. Even though Iceheart was a new addition to the group, she had still spent at least a week more in close contact with them than he. That she had commanded an entire fortress of ponies before leaving, and was over a thousand years old, also intimidated Red Wings.

It didn’t help that as the lone stallion, he as the odd one out in the trio of mares.

Fortunately, the other three didn’t begrudge him for that. It did make for awkward sleeping situations, however, such as the first night they camped out and they realised they needed to get two tents instead of one.

Red Wings shook his thoughts off and continued. He had gotten better about participating in their conversations now. “Whatever it is, if it was something dangerous to us, I think it probably could have hurt us well beforehoof. I think it’s trying to...guide us, maybe?”

“Guide us? To what, exactly?” Noire retorted, punctuating it with a snort.

Red Wings fumbled for an answer for a few seconds, before he finally struck upon one. He was surprised nopony had thought of it in the week they had been walking. “Trixie seems to have a talent to restore ponies in some way, be it spiritually or physically.” He gazed over at his left wing, still having a hard time believing it was actually there. Trixie had, however, also restored his will to live his life again, doing more than simply surviving day to day, and he owned her for that as well. “Maybe whatever entity is pushing us forward knows about something in Manechester that could use our help?”

“That...maybe,” Noire grudgingly admitted. She was antsy now. Red Wings could tell, because she immediately hopped into the air and lightly flapped her wings to stay aloft. He was jealous of her for that. The restoration of his wing didn’t mean he automatically had the stamina to stay in the air perpetually. Trixie had healed his wing, but the muscles that beat his wings had atrophied through years of disuse.

It would take several weeks at a minimum before he could finally fly on a full-time basis again. His wings itched to be flapped at times, practically on the boundaries of painful, and all Red could offer was cursory flaps that would achieve no lift. Having gone for so long without two wings, he desperately desired to be in the air all the time. Over the years, however, Red Wings had developed the capacity to delay gratification for a greater pay-off. He could hold out doing serious maneuvers for a few months longer, being glad that he was simply able to fly at all.

“What is up with Trixie, anyways?” Iceheart asked, changing the subject. “She has gotten quiet over the last few days.”

Red Wings looked ahead several hundred paces, to where Trixie was walking by her lonesome. It was true. Trixie had been a boisterous pony, a unicorn who he genuinely enjoyed spending time around. Then, suddenly, she had become silent and moody. Red Wings had noticed the mood shift, but he hadn’t offered his opinion up. After all, he had only known Trixie for a few days. He didn’t know what she truly was like. Perhaps this was her default personality, and the outgoing Trixie he had first met was the exception instead of the norm?

“I don’t know,” Noire admitted. “She’s gotten all aloof on me, too. Trix has been practicing her magic, but she hasn’t told me too much about what she’s doing. I’ve seen her create water in some of the dry creek beds we’ve passed by earlier, but I don’t know if that was regular conjuration or if she was using her talent of illusions.”

Red Wing surmised that it was more likely the power of illusions that Trixie was using. He recalled the expression Trixie had once had when he was talking about the river valley in the Badlands, and how water once flowed through there. She had been in deep contemplation at the time, and Red Wings thought he knew what it was now: her wondering if she could do the same as the Changeling Queen of old had done, and bring water to the valley once more. If her power to trick reality into thinking ‘this is the way things must be’ was capable of restoring a wing from its nub, then surely the same could be done to restore water to an arid land.

But he still felt like the odd one out, and so Red Wings decided not to speak up.

“I have noticed Trixie has been getting quieter, but also more contemplative over the last few days,” Iceheart said. “Maybe she already knew what we just realised, and is anticipating that something will occur in Manechester that requires her to perform her magic again? The last two times she did big things with her magic left her exhausted. It may be taking a toll on her such that she dreads doing it a third time.”

“Fourth,” Noire corrected. “She did the same with me before we left her home. Yeah, maybe that’s it. It would be just like Trixie to clam up when she feels the pressure is on her. I know she’ll pull through like the last three times, but I’m not going to let her stay quiet about it!” Still airborne, Noire quickly flapped ahead of the other two, chasing after Trixie, leaving the other two behind.

They were silent for a few moments, before Iceheart said, “Are you alright, Red Wings?”

“Hmm? Huh, oh, yes,” Red Wings said, startled out of his reverie. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Iceheart tilted her head slightly to look at him before she said, “I was worried you might tire out quickly with your wings. I have no doubts you could easily do week-long treks like these on a regular basis, but even if you keep your flying to a minimum, those are muscles that still have not been exercised in a long time.”

Red Wings flushed, and he was thankful his pigmentation prevented others from seeing him blushing. “Yeah, I’m alright. It is tiring, but I’ve been careful not to go for too many minutes straight or too much time in a day, and I’ve been slowly building the amount of time I fly every day. Thanks for asking, though.”

“You are welcome,” Iceheart said. She paused, removing a canteen from her saddlebags to take a quick gulp of water with. “It is good to have you with us.”

Red Swings swallowed. He was uncertain why he was so suddenly shy with even simple words, and all he could settle for was a simple nod.


In her lifetime, Noire had met a few ponies who claimed to have an internal compass. She never got tired of ridiculing them after they got lost, especially when she was on a training mission and the pony in question happened to be leading her squad. Noire herself always relied on an actual compass and a detailed topographical map, two trusted tools of all Royal Guards.

While Iceheart also had military experience, and more of it, the Crystal Earth pony had been mostly stationed at a single fort, making periodic expeditions out into the northern wastes, but never going outside of a small area. Trixie had traveled to more locations and covered more pure distance than Iceheart and Noire put together, but she had nearly always followed the road, rarely planning out her destination ahead of time outside of large annual events such as The Greatest Outdoor Show in Equestria.

It was for this reason that Noire had taken on the responsibility of looking at the map every night to see where they were going. The premonition that had struck all four of them a week ago in the Badlands had told them to go north, instead of west. The problem had been that they hadn’t know how far north to go, and the precise angle of travel. Because of this, they had opted to walk north, instead of taking the train from Dodge Junction, looping around, and hoping they made landfall near where they needed to go. Noire just hadn’t expected that it would take more than week, in which they had journeyed past Horseshoe Bay, past Baltimare, and to only a day’s walk south of Fillydelphia.

The gut feeling seemed to be subsiding, however, and so Noire suspected they were at last at the end of their long trek. Now she just needed to figure out whether Trixie believed the same.

“Trix, wait up!” Noire called out as she flew ahead, finally touching down besides Trixie. The shortgrass that grew up on the great plains of Equestria always felt ticklish to her hooves after spending a moderate amount of time in the air, but she shrugged off the weird sensation. “We’re almost in a village called Manechester.”

“How long?” Trixie asked gruffly.

Trixie’s tone of voice took Noire off-guard, and she wrinkled her muzzle at it even as she said, “Two hours or so.”

“OK.”

Noire raised an eyebrow. “Are you alright, Trixie? You seem a little off today.”

“I’m fine.”

Alright, that’s definitely out of character for her, Noire thought. She decided to change topics, and said, “This...feeling that’s possessed us. I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but I’ve been talking with Red Wings and Iceheart. It feels like Manechester is where it’s leading us.”

“I see.”

Noire creased her eyebrows, seeing that she was failing at breaking through Trixie’s solid wall of one-word and two-word responses. She flew ahead of Trixie and turned around so that the two were face-to-face, all while continuing to now fly backwards towards Manechester. Noire curled her lips at the expression on Trixie’s face. There had been no malice in Trixie’s words, just apathy. It was the same for Trixie’s expression. “You haven’t really chatted with us very much in the last few days. You’ve been walking ahead of the rest of us , and even when we camp for the night, you’ve been shutting us out.”

“Whatever.”

The bat pony clenched her throat to stop a frustrated growl from coming out. Instead, she took in a deep breath, and exhaled. Then Noire resorted to reason. “Trixie, you are worrying us. The first few days after we left Dodge Junction, you were normal, but then you seem to have withdrawn in on yourself. It’s a little scary to us, seeing you do this, and we don’t even know if you’ve just decided to clam up a little or if you’re suffering side-effects from using your illusion magic before, or if something happened in the hive. Please, tell us. We’re your friends,” she pleaded.

Trixie blinked. Then she blinked again, only this time, her eyelids fluttered slowly, and then she closed her eyes, and stopped where she was. Even with her eyes closed, she blinked rapidly several times, before her entire body relaxed, tension that Noire hadn’t even noticed in the other pony’s body evaporating. Then Trixie opened her eyes, and there was genuine emotion in them. “I’m sorry, Noire. I’ve just been busy thinking over the last while.”

“That’s alright,” Noire said. “Just, I guess, tell us about these things. There’s no need to carry the weight of the world on your withers. What’s been bothering you?”

“I-no, wait, let’s wait for Iceheart and Red Wings to catch up,” Trixie said, turning around to see where the other two were at. She nodded at seeing the other two were about a minute away.

“OK, that sounds good,” Noire said, dropping down onto the grass once more.

Red Wings and Iceheart hurried their pace as they saw Trixie and Noire had stopped, and the four ponies soon met up.

“Sorry, Noire, Iceheart, Red Wings. I’ve just been a little stressed out lately by this whole thing, about us going north. I don’t really like being led astray by some force that I know nothing about,” Trixie said. “Manechester is out of the way and a small enough village that I don’t think anything bad is going to happen, though I suspect we’ll find something there that I’m able to help out with.” Nopony else was surprised about that, having come to the same conclusion earlier. “I suppose maybe I knew we were getting closer, and the closer we got, the moodier I became.”

“That’s alright, Trixie,” said Red Wings, finally speaking now that he was in Trixie’s presence, instead of in the back with just the two other mares. “You weren’t in pain or anything when you healed me, were you? Is that why you were, erm…” The red-furred pegasus trailed off, trying to think of a word that wouldn’t sound derogatory.

“So introspective?” Trixie asked, filling in a word for Red Wings. “Yes, though it’s not painful. It’s never been painful, but it leaves me exhausted every time I do it. It, erm, give me a second,” she said, and the three other ponies gave her that second and more while Trixie thought. “Unicorn magic can be difficult to learn and understand and use, but just about every spell we use has already been developed by a trailblazer. Even if a spell is difficult, a unicorn knows it’s possible since the spell has already been achieved by some other pony. But not for this. I’m literally pioneering something that I didn’t even think would have been possible six months ago, and every time, I’m pushing it further still.”

She yawned, covering her mouth with a hoof, eyes bulging in turn before she finally snapped her jaw shut again. “There’s more to what I’m doing than just that, though. There’s a mindset to it. Magic requires concentration on the part of the user to shape it. With what I’ve been doing, I have to actually change my very way of thinking. I ‘know’ that illusions shouldn’t be capable of changing reality itself, that it’s just an illusion. Yet each time I’ve used my illusion magic, for a few moments, I forcibly change my own perception of things to something alien, in order to change how the world should be. Am I even making sense here?”

Her three comrades all had baffled expressions on her face. It was Red Wings who was able to digest her explanation first. Now that he was in Trixie’s presence again, he didn’t hesitate to speak up.

“Sort of, I think,” Red Wings said. “What you’re doing seems impossible even to you, and you have to change how you think the world should work before you actually change how the world should work, or something? Like, if ponies never flew or had magic, we’d always be bound to the ground, and if you came up with a spell that allowed a pony to fly, you’d first have to actually convince yourself that you can fly. Great, now you have me tossing around the faux-philosophy crap too.” He scowled, then added a light-hearted jab to show he wasn’t upset, “Oh, woe is me.”

Trixie giggled. “Yes, something like that. That’s an interesting analogy you use, and it reminds me I haven’t practiced my attempts at levitating myself since we left the Hive. But seriously, it’s been an issue for me. I just worry that I’ve been running more on luck than actual skill so far, and that someday, like today, I might fail, or even worse, suffer a magical backlash.” She sighed, and added, “The first time with the ice up in the North, the magic just slid off the ice. It took the Crystal Heart’s extra power for me to be able to succeed. I’ve been training in it a little bit over the last week, conjuring up small amounts of water in some of the dry creeks we’ve been passing by, but that’s the easy stuff. It’s when I get to the stuff that’s conceptually heavier that worries me. I don’t want to overextend myself and expect to be able to do something, then not be able to.”

The still air suddenly picked up, as a light breeze worked through the plains. Iceheart looked away, feeling a little awkward as everypony had stopped talking once more. Chancing a glance at the position of the sun, she saw it was beginning its inexorable descent to the west. “It is good to have you back, Trixie. However, I believe we should start getting a move on again. If we keep good pace, we should have a few hours of daylight once we arrive in Manechester. That should be sufficient time to look around and, if it does not have its own inn, find a place where we can stay for the night.”

“That sounds like a plan,” Trixie said. All four turned around to continue marching, now as a single unit.


Manechester was quaint and rustic. Those were the words that Trixie chose to describe the village as they came up on it. There were no windmills that dwarfed the other buildings in the village, like in Trixie’s own hometown of Whinnychester. What the community lacked for in buildings that actually reached up from the ground more than a single story high, though, it more than made up for the fields of red that would have been a beacon to any pegasus flying overhead. To the distance, there was a large forest dense with greenery, unusual for its location in the great plains of east Equestria.

“That’s a lot of tomatoes,” Red Wings said.

“I’m sure you would fit right in,” Trixie teased him.

“What’s that supposed to me-hey!” He exclaimed as it finally dawned on him. “There’s more colours of tomatoes than just bright red, you know.”

“Yes, but none that I see here,” Trixie said. “Red, red, and more red. Not a purple or a yellow tomato to be found.”

“I could fly up and check,” Noire offered.

“That’ll be alright,” said Trixie as they cleared a turn in the dirt trail and started to walk downhill at a slight incline. Oh Princesses, does this ever feel like home. She had been away from Whinnychester for a mere few weeks, and already Trixie could feel the nostalgia seeping into her bones. They were even similar in their name suffixes, indicating both village had formed around an Earth pony fort in ancient times. Trixie just hoped that whatever they had come to Manechester for wouldn’t take so long that ennui would replace the nostalgia instead.

“Oh, good. Well, it’ll be nice to finally have a shower after several days on the road,” said Noire.

“I could have set something up if you wanted one,” Trixie said. “It would even have had heated water.”

Noire shrugged. “Too late for that now.”

The four continued to trot along, glad that soon they would no longer have to carry around the supplies in their saddlebags and bags hoisted on their backs. They hadn’t known how long they would need to go across the land on hoof for, and had packaged a lot of food, water and temporary supplies. After whatever needed to be done in Manechester was accomplished, they could head north to the city of Fillydelphia, only a short distance north, then take the train to the West Coast. From Vanhoofer, Trixie and Noire assured Red Wings and Iceheart, they would then go to Colt Springs, a small town home to the most powerful changeling on the continent.

That was to be for later, but Red Wings would still be glad to have a break from lugging around extra weight. Even better would be the chance to stay somewhere for a day or longer, where he could burn off energy flying instead of continuously walking.

“We’re here at last,” he said as they reached Manechester. Red Wings wasn’t actually certain if they were ‘in’ Manechester, though. There was no clear demarcation about where the town began, unlike larger settlements that typically had some sort of walled fortification from days gone by, or even a large sign. Instead, Red Wings decided that they were in Manechester as the trail changed from dirt to cut rocks. “Well, that was anticlimatic.”

“It’s not like we’re just going to find whatever we need to do the moment we come into town,” Noire said as the four continued past yet another field of tomatoes. “I hope we don’t stay too long, because otherwise I have a feeling I’m going to get sick of tomatoes.”

“Let’s see...there’s ketchup, salsa, tomato juice, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, um...tomato soup?”

Noire rolled her eyes. “There’s a lot more that can be done with tomatoes than just that, Trixie. Oh Luna, why am I even defending tomatoes now?”

“Hey, this isn’t any more isolated than Whinnychester was, and you managed to find lots of different vegetables just fine in the marketplace there. It’s not like you’ll be needing to eat tomatoes every meal, or even every day,” Trixie said.

Iceheart and Red Wings traded looks, finding amusement in each other’s eyes at the bickering of the two fillyhood friends.

It didn’t take long for the four to reach the heart of Manechester, as the buildings quickly began to be clustered closer and closer together, and the cut rock path gave way to a smoother road still. Pleasant smells lingered in the air, and the bustle of village life was present as they finally came to a plaza that appeared to be the centre of Manechester.

“Not bad,” Red Wings said, and he noted that he had been wrong in his assumptions earlier: Manechester did have a wall. However, the stone fortification looked like it had not been used in ages: only bits and pieces of the wall remained, with the arch they crossed underneath the only spot that looked to have been repaired in the last decade, doubtlessly to keep it from crumbling on anypony who might be walking underneath at the time. Red wondered how long ago the rest of the wall had been torn down.

Manechester wasn’t anywhere near the smallest settlement he had been to, and it was clear the villagers here took pride in their little hamlet. The plaza itself consisted of a large, paved circle that was probably used for outdoor events, with multiple roads coming off the plaza that reinforced its status as the town hub. To the one side of the plaza was a two-story building that Red Wings suspected was the only building that tall in Manechester, which was probably an inn or the village hall. It was most likely the latter, given there was a podium set up for ponies to speak up from.

In the centre of the plaza was a small pedestal with a statue standing on it, and a small water fountain right in front of the pedestal. Red Wings had to admit that whoever had carved the statue had done an impressive job: the statue, which was of an Earth pony stallion, was incredibly life-like, standing at just slightly larger than what he believed Princess Celestia’s height was. Though his eyes were closed, the stallion had a determined look on his face. Red noted that the position of the statue’s one raised hoof was a little bit odd: instead of being raised out in front of him, the hoof was only at about chest length, and bent inwards at the fetlock joint. Perhaps the statue was originally holding something? Red Wings thought to himself.

The statue wasn’t something he really cared for, however, and so Red Wings looked around a little more. There were a few food stalls open off to one side. With a little bit of perverse delight, he noted that there were in fact tomatoes that weren’t red being sold. Though there was still no obvious inn in sight, multiple ponies were in the plaza, engaging in idle chatter. A few had stopped talking, taking note of the four travelers who had just wandered into town a few hours shy of sunset, carrying heavy loads, with the accumulated dirt and sweat of a week on the road. At least one of them would know where to find a place to stay.

“So, uh, who wants to ask around?” Red Wings asked. He bit his tongue as he did. Normally he would have been unafraid to go and talk to strangers on his own for information, but something about being in a group again after so long, with his wing restored, had made him a little skittish. Red Wings despised it, and he decided to bull over his weakness. “No, never mind, I’ll do it.”

Trixie blinked. “Uh, sure. Just, um, later, I think we need to talk,” she said, lowering her voice to a whisper as she looked around. “I can feel you being a little annoyed, I just want to know what’s got you upset.”

Red Wings gave her a flat stare.

“Uh, you know, Noire asked me the same question. Just paying it forward, heh,” she said, nervously giggling.

The stallion sighed, then chuckled mirthfully. “Sorry, just issues of my own I’m working through. We’ll talk about it later, yeah.” Turning around, he gave Iceheart and Noire a nod as he walked up to the mare closest to them, an Earth pony with a beige coat and blue mane, who broke off a conversation with another mare. “Excuse me?”

“Yes?” The mare asked, her voice a little cool. Red assumed it was simply due to his appearance, and hoped it wasn’t scorn for an outsider.

“We just arrived in Manechester, and were wondering if there is an inn in town. Failing that, do you know anypony who would be willing to rent out a couple of rooms for the night?”

The mare’s face softened. “Oh. Um. Well, if you take road three, all the roads in the plaza here are numbered, road three is that one, it’ll take you to Tomato Cato’s restaurant. It’s the one with the blue roof, but you’ll be able to smell it. He has a few spare rooms in the back he rents out to visitors and the rare tourist.”

“Ah, good. Thank you for the directions, miss,” Red Wings said, trying to be polite. It was a little difficult, considering how he had been more gruff than not the last few years.

The Earth pony mare smiled. “It’s my pleasure!” Seeing the conversation was done, she returned to speaking with her friend.

“We go that way,” Red Wings said as he returned to Trixie, Noire and Iceheart, pointing at one of the roads that came off the plaza hub. “Looks like there’s an inn in town, a hotel and restaurant all in one.”

“Oh, that sounds pleasant,” Iceheart said as the four begin to slowly drift in that direction. “Noire, do you dislike tomatoes?” She asked, making idle conversation.

“No, not at all,” Noire answered. “I just don’t like eating the same food too many days in a row, and given the fields of tomatoes we saw coming in, I’m guessing the variety here might be a little lacking.”

Red Wings winced. “The restaurant is called Tomato Cato’s.”

Noire scowled at that, before looking over to Trixie. “What do you think, Trix?” She asked, nudging the only unicorn in their party by tapping her with a wing.

“Sounds good.”

Noire rolled her eyes at that. “Don’t tell me you’re going to start giving me one-word and two-word answers again. Oh! That smells delicious,” the bat pony said, taking a deep whiff of the smell lingering in the air. “Maybe they’ll have bread bowls with tomatoes and olive oil, I could go for some of that right now.”

“Not mangos?” Red Wings teased, spotting the inn easily as they turned the corner.

“No, not mangos. Not all bat ponies like mangos. I don’t know where that stereotype came from, but you’ll end up with a bar room brawl if you mention that in one of the Canterlot night pubs. It has happened before,” Noire said.

“I’ll keep that in mind if I ever stay in Canterlot overnight,” said Red. “I don’t think we’ll be doing more than passing through it from Fillydelphia, though.”

“I should hope not,” Noire snorted, opening the front door to Tomato Cato’s with her wing, before the four trotted inside one at a time.

“Oh, welcome everypony!” Greeted a unicorn standing behind a bar. The unicorn, a light green in colouration, was holding up a plate with his magic that he was washing. “I’m Cato, the owner and cook here. What can I get for you tonight?”

“We were looking for rooms to stay for an indeterminate period of time,” Iceheart said, taking the lead. “Would you perhaps have a room for three and a room for one?”

Cato wrinkled his eyebrows, and frowned. “Sorry folks, but I only have two rooms available that serve two each, if that’s alright with you.”

“Hmm,” Iceheart said. She took a look around at the restaurant, with only a few tables in the dining area, before taking a look at Red Wings. Recalling the small size of Manechester, Iceheart quickly decided they would not find another hotel in the village, and relented. “That is acceptable. Red Wings, you and I will sleep in the same room, if that is not an issue.”

“No, it’s not,” he said, refraining from rolling his eyes. Considering they weren’t a species that normally wore clothes, he thought the mares had been a little too concerned about their decency at night, but Red wouldn’t begrudge them for it.

“Very well. In that case, what will be the price?” Iceheart asked Cato. “We are uncertain how long we will be staying, but I expect a reduced nightly rate the longer we stay.”

Red Wings startled as he realised what was occurring. He didn’t have a problem with Iceheart dealing with the innkeeper, but why wasn’t Trixie? He opened his mouth, only for his jaw to snap shut as he looked over at Trixie. She had a disinterested look on her face. It was the same expression that she had had over the last few days. Trixie had gotten better just a few hours ago, and had been outgoing as they came into Manechester. Without his even realising, she had suddenly relapsed into whatever this was.

What was going on?

Red resolved to find out. I wish I could have bunked together with her instead of Iceheart. Then I could ask her right away once we get to our rooms. He flushed as he realised what he had just thought, then decided he meant it anyways. Red Wings enjoyed being in Trixie’s presence, but only when Trixie was the mare he had originally met, not this odd, apathetic pony.

Buuuuut, perhaps it should wait until after we’ve had our showers, he decided as Iceheart finally wrapped up her negotiation with ‘Tomato’ Cato. It would be nice to finally get the filth and sweat out of our coats after the week on the road.



An hour and a half later, Red Wings found himself back downstairs in the dining area, looking out the window. The sky was beginning to darken as sunset was only a half-hour away. It seemed tonight was a slow night for Tomato Cato, as he and the proprietor were the only ponies in the front area.

“So where are you folks all from? Well, the Crystal pony is from the Crystal Empire, obviously, but what about the rest of you?” Cato asked, making idle conversation while anticipating a future dinner order from the four ponies who were now letting his spare rooms.

“Iceheart is from the Crystal Empire, yes. Trixie is from north of Fillydelphia in a village called Whinnychester, which I imagine is a lot like this place. Noire’s hometown is for her and her alone to talk about,” Red Wings said. He had learned a lot of the life stories of the three mares while walking with them, having little else to do for seven days but to chat. “I’m from the west coast, though, just southwest of Los Pegasus.”

“Oh? You’ve come a fairly long ways away from home, then,” said Cato.

“Yeah. We met up in Dodge Junction a little while ago, during the cherry-growing season,” Red said. He decided to hedge on how they had met by telling partial truths with irrelevant facts thrown in. If Cato decided that the four ponies had encountered one another while working on cherry orchards, then who was Red Wings to correct him?

“That’s neat. I don’t think you’ll find many farmers needing extra help here, though,” said Cato. “The tomato farms are more year-round here, so we’re usually well-balanced for labour.”

“We’re not here for a job,” said Red Wings, noting out of the corner of his eye Noire walking in, almost dragging Trixie with her. “We’ll be going up to Fillydelphia shortly, but we decided to stay a little while somewhere small before continuing. We got to know one another well in Dodge Junction and decided to stick together.”

“Trixie and I knew each other before then,” Noire said, taking over in the conversation. “Do you make bread bowls, by any chance?”

“Yes, I have a few on hoof, though I’ll have to de-thaw them. Did you want to order a meal now?”

“We’ll wait for Iceheart. Do you know how long she’s going to be, Red?”

“Not too much longer,” Red Wings said. “She was out of the shower by the time I left, so I think she just needed to dry off and groom herself first.”

“Ah,” Noire nodded in acknowledgement, before turning back to Cato. “Sorry, Trixie is just being a little quiet tonight, she’s normally more talkative than this. Trixie, are you hungry?” She asked.

“Sure.”

Red Wings frowned, only for his ears to perk up at the sound of the back door opening, followed by the hoof-clops of Iceheart walking in. Cato’s face brightened up instantly, no doubt hoping to milk his customers slash renters for every last bit. Red decided to delay their order for a little bit and instead investigate to find out whatever it was in this town that might need Trixie’s help. “So, Cato, were you born here?”

“Hmm. Oh, yes, sixth-generation born-and-bred,” said Cato. “I lived a few years in Fillydelphia when going to culinary school, but otherwise I’ve been here my full life. It’s a nice, quiet little town, if that’s what you were wondering.”

Noire caught on to what Red Wings was doing, and she said, “I imagine if you learned cooking in the big city, some of your fellow chefs at least would have heard of Manechester, famous for its tomatoes, right?”

Cato snorted in amusement, though he looked a little antsy. Perhaps waiting for us to order still, Red Wings reflected. “Yes, tomatoes are undoubtedly our most famous product, along with the tomato juice and paste we manufacture in town as well. It’s a shame sometimes, but a pony can’t help but love tomatoes when he grows up in Manechester. Hay, I did my part, promoting my hometown’s products to my fellow chefs-in-training when I was in school,” he said, puffing out his chest.

“I hope you will not be too offended if we order something other than tomatoes for dinners while we are here,” said Iceheart.

“Oh, pfft, nopony eats tomatoes all the time here. Even the legendary Apple family doesn’t eat apples all the time,” Cato said, as he picked up a glass in his magic to clean with a wash cloth. “But yes, tomatoes are probably the only thing we’re known for. We haven’t had any monsters come out of the Black Forest just west of here for probably, oh, fifty years. That’s probably the last time the newspapers in Baltimare or Fillydelphia even remembered this place existed.”

Iceheart creased her eyebrows, looking for something else to talk about. “Really? No small-town heroes? No famous magician or writer to come from here?”

“Not really.”

“Wait,” Red Wings interjected. “What about that statue? Did the pony who carved that come from here?”

Cato blinked. “What statue?”

Red Wings frowned. “You know...the statue in the plaza? The one of the stallion?”

CLINK!

Three ponies in the room jumped, while the fourth one stood still, only just tilting her head in surprise. Cato, however, stood still, an expression of shock on his face. Nopony moved, finding themselves in an odd stand-off, until Cato finally shook his head, clearing his fugue state. “Oh, right. You wouldn’t know,” he said, before looking down and picking up the shattered glass with his magic.

“Know? Know what?” Noire asked.

Cato paused, before dumping the glass in a garbage bin behind him. Turning around, he sighed, a melancholic look on his face. “You’re outsiders. It’s just...well, that’s…”

“That’s not a statue.”

Author's Note:

In the event you haven't noticed, I love ponifying the names of cities and towns from the U.K.

Hoping this arc won't be as long as the last two.