• Published 25th Apr 2016
  • 3,346 Views, 77 Comments

For the Good of Equestria - brokenimage321



In the wake of a great tragedy, Celestia tells, for the first time, just how much she's had to sacrifice for the good of Equestria.

  • ...
0
 77
 3,346

Chapter 3: The Waste Land

The sun hung low and red in the sky. Just as it had for months.

Most ponies had fled the mountainside. There was little for them here at the best of times, but now, with the drought and the threatening famine, they would have been mad to stay. And the few that did—well, the monsters had been very thorough before they had moved on.

Now, in the perpetual half-light, the ruins on the mountainside were silent. Silent, save for six ponies, slowly making their way upwards.

They formed a ragged single-fine line, the six. Each of them carried a pair of saddlebags, almost empty, and each wore a number of cuts, bruises, and scars. A few of them had their ribs showing, and at least one walked with a slight limp.

They were led by a red earth stallion. His eyes were hard and sharp, and he climbed the unsteady rubble barely looking down at his hooves. His eyes were fixed skyward, to a point near the peak of the mountain. Curiously, he wore a necklace—a decorative golden choker, set with a large, red stone cut in the shape of a hammer, matching the design on his flank. In fact, each of the ponies wore such a necklace, each set with a similar stone. And, for all except the leader, their necklaces seemed heavier than they looked.

One of the ponies—a white pegasus mare—broke off from the line. She gingerly stepped forward, spreading her wings for balance on the shifting cobbles, and half-walked, half-trotted up beside the leader. “Cinder,” she said quietly, “Do you think it might be time to stop for a rest?”

Cinder glanced over at her, and shot her a wry smile. “No,” he said, “at least, not a long one. We’re too close.”

She nodded. “I know,” she said, “but the others are tired—and, well—” she gulped and looked upward, at the ruin close to the peak. “It… it’s big, you know? I don’t know if we’re ready to—”

“Celestia.”

Celestia—the mare—stopped and turned to stare.

“We’ve come so far, Celestia,” Cinder said. “Just a little more, and we can fix this.”

She looked down—but nodded. “I know,” she said. “But I’m not sure we’re ready just yet… Cob’s leg is still bothering him, and Icy still isn’t used to this altitude...”

Cinder smiled. “Always thinking of everyone else,” he murmured. He reached over and tapped the stone on Celestia’s necklace—a purple stone, in the shape of a sun and rays. “Generosity, indeed,” he said. He thought for a moment, then nodded. “Just a little farther, and then we can stop. But let’s get indoors—I want to spend as much time as possible out of his gaze.”

Cinder spat the word his. Celestia swallowed nervously.

They walked in silence for another few minutes before entering a sort of village square. The well in the center had long since run dry, and rubble and debris lay scattered over the white paving stones, but some roofless stone houses still stood, more-or-less intact, around the edge. Cinder immediately made for one of these and poked his head inside. “Good as any,” he called out, and ducked inside.

Celestia turned back to the group and smiled. “Come on,” she said. “Almost there.” As she looked over them, she found herself counting, one more time, one two three four five. Good. All present. They’d had some close scrapes, but they’d come so far… and losing even one of them now would spell the end of everything.

Celestia sighed. And that kind of cold, mathematical thinking was what got them into this predicament in the first place. These were her friends, not just cogs of some cosmic puzzle.

She led them to the door, then waited as each filed inside, mentally ticking them off as they entered the shack. Cinder was already inside; a blacksmith’s apprentice, he was the one that had first suggested they go chasing after the legends. He carried the element of Loyalty. Next was Ice Dancer, the quiet, scrawny, ice-blue unicorn that had managed to magic them out of a predicament more than once; she was, of course, Magic. Woodwind, the agile, forest-green flyer, always had a song ready; he was Laughter. Corncob, the big, golden stallion—ironically, the most careful and cautious of them all—was Honesty. There was herself, of course—Generosity. And then there was—

A high-pitched scream sounded from inside the hut. Celestia dashed inside, past the questioning looks of the others, and into one of the back rooms. She rounded the corner and skidded to a halt. She stared, wide-eyed at the scene, then sighed. “Harmony’s bones, Luna,” she swore, “You scared me.”

Luna, the last of their group—a little dark-blue unicorn, barely a filly—flinched at her curse. She turned and glanced nervously to the corner of the room. There, under the ruin of a curtain, lay a skeleton, its skull smashed in—and, in its arms, lay a second, smaller set of bones.

The little mare looked back at Celestia, tears welling in her eyes. “S-sorry, Cece,” she murmured. “It’s… just…”

Celestia smiled, stepped forward and gave her a hug. “It’s okay, Lu,” she whispered. “Nothing to worry about…”

Luna—Kindness—had joined the group last, but she was far from an outsider. It seemed that she was everywhere—and that she was always able to help, in her own way. When Ice Dancer set up the protective charms around their camps, Luna was right there with her, helping to fill the gaps. When Corncob had to haul a dead tree back to camp for firewood, Luna helped him carry it with her magic. When Woody sang around the campfire, she harmonized along in her shining soprano voice. When Cinder got discouraged, she was there with a quiet word or two that always seemed to cheer him up. And, of course, she and Celestia—Kindness and Generosity—had quickly become close. Celestia felt strangely protective of this quiet little filly—and she seemed to return the favor herself.

Celestia held Luna close, and, slowly, she stopped trembling. Another moment longer, and Celestia smiled, then held her at arms’ length.“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go get some sleep.” Luna brushed away a tear and nodded, flashing a little smile.

By the time they made it back into the main room, everyone had more-or-less settled down. Corncob was already out cold, his using his saddlebags as a pillow. Woodwind was spreading a blanket from his bag on a spare piece of stone, whistling nervously to himself. Ice Dancer sat in a corner doing her exercises—making her horn burn as bright as she could, as long as she could, before it gave out, leaving her gasping. Luna watched her for a moment, then broke off from Celestia to go snuggle next to her. And Cinder—

Cinder sat just inside the doorway, in the shade of the wall, staring up at the mountaintop.

Celestia glanced around the little room one more time, then walked over and sat down beside him. She glanced over, but he apparently hadn’t noticed her—he was still staring wordlessly up at the peak.

After a while, Celestia spoke.

“What do you want to do?” she asked.

At her voice, Cinder jumped a little, then turned to look at her, a question in his eyes.

“I mean,” she added, “when we’re done with… with all this.”

He grinned humorlessly. “When?” he repeated. “I’m still stuck on if.

Celestia returned the smile. “We will,” she said. “We have the Elements. That should be enough—should be more than enough—to put things right again.”

“Should be,” he repeated with a sigh, then turned back to face the mountain.

He was quiet for a long while—so long, in fact, that Celestia was almost ready to go find a corner of her own to lie down in—when, suddenly, he spoke.

“I want to build a house,” Cinder said. “Try my hoof at farming.”

Celestia glanced at the hammer and tongs on his flank and smiled a little. “Farming?” she asked.

He nodded. “Farming,” he repeated. “With things in the state they’re in, I don’t expect we’ll really need blacksmiths for a while yet. And—” he glanced down. “And it would be nice to give back a little. Help make things better.”

Celestia nodded, then glanced back up at the mountain. Cinder shifted his weight uncomfortably. “...How about you?” he asked suddenly. “What’s your dream?”

Celestia turned and stared. “My dream?” she asked, hesitant. Cinder smiled a little, then nodded. Celestia sighed, puffing a strand of her pink mane up and away from her face.

“Well, to be honest,” she said slowly. “I… I don’t know.” Cinder raised an eyebrow, but Celestia kept talking. “I mean—I used to be a weatherpony. Back…” she gestured at the blood-red sun. “...well, back when we had weather.” She sighed again.. “I… I suppose I was just planning on going back,” she said. “I mean, I always loved giving everyone a nice, sunny day…”

Celestia glanced over. Cinder was looking away again, She hesitated. “...but… um…” She stretched out one wing, then gently draped it across his shoulders. “...I wouldn’t mind being a farmer, either.”

Cinder glanced over at her and smiled—a bright, genuine smile, the first she had seen reach his eyes in weeks. Wordlessly, he turned back to look out at the horizon, then slowly, almost casually, shifted his weight—just a little—until he was leaning on her shoulder.

“That would be... nice,” he said, simply.

Celestia pulled her wing a little tighter, and realized she was smiling, too. And, for the first time in a long, long time—perhaps the first time ever—she felt a strange warmth in her heart, glowing bright as the sun.