• Published 7th Apr 2017
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The Amulet of Shades - Sparkle Cola



Unfortunately, the Nightmare Moon Incident had one further complication...

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Chapter One Part A: Exile

Year of Alicorn Rule 317

“Thought I might find you here, Sister.”

Celestia turned an ear, listening to her younger sister’s wings as Luna came to a landing nearby. Luna stepped closer, coming shoulder to shoulder with her sister as the two surveyed the desolate wasteland before them. A dull shine glinted off of some of the discarded armor strewn across the valley, the light intensifying as the sun moved upwards from the range to the east.

After a minute of silence, Luna turned to her sister, dropping her head slightly before speaking. “Would you like to have more time before we partake in the ceremony?”

“Nay. I am ready to go,” Celestia said. “But what of you---are you absolutely sure?”

Luna raised her head, her eyes narrowing slightly. “Do you doubt my heart on the matter? The council has worked on this for many months, and they have consulted with me every much as you. I am every bit as committed.”

Celestia sat back on her haunches, turning to regard her sister more fully. The darker alicorn stood resolute and proud, meeting her gaze with eyes of turquoise flint.

Satisfied, Celestia turned to look out across the battlefield again, this time bringing a helm near with her magic. “It’s hard to believe that it was only a year ago.”

"Indeed," Luna replied.

Continuing to stare at the helm now before her, Celestia turned it over as she continued. "I fear it has left a stain that will never fade. We thought our unification had been perfect. That after so many years of peace this could never happen… But as for Morning Gleam…”

“Yours was not the only child that did our cause harm, Celestia. We’ve both had children that proved the same: if a leader can multiply his power by playing to the fears and discrimination of the ignorant…”

“Yes, but this time---” Celestia closed her eyes, a tear finally making its way down her cheek before she hurled the helmet away. “It was the greatest armed conflict since the inception of our rule! How many ponies paid in blood for his hubris? I… I can still hear the sound of steel striking upon steel, magical blasts and hurled weapons… the pounding of hooves upon the earth.”

Celestia began to choke up as Luna watched silently, her mane wavering gently in the breeze.

“And when it was over, the town of Silverton and its surrounding regions had lost over a thousand lives.” Celestia gritted out. “Ponies killing ponies! So many hewn down in the name of their cause. It was the greatest honor they could ask for, to be struck down in the field of battle.” Celestia’s hoof came down, cracking against the ground with enough force to shatter stone. “As if their sacrifice would really mean something. As if it would be honored or revered throughout the annals of history.”

Luna placed a hoof gently against her shoulder. “Not all of them were so indoctrinated as that, Celly. You know as well as I that their reasons were many and varied. And many were only moved because of fear.”

"Yet, it was the greatest scene of bloodshed in over two hundred years." Celestia turned away from the valley below, a heavy weight pulling her wings and her ears down as she glanced up to her rising sun. "In the end, they were still doing the work of death, whether it was their own fanatic beliefs or not. It had to be stopped. He had to be stopped.

Celestia closed her eyes as she recalled the two sides engaged in the conflict. She remembered the look of hatred in Morning Gleam’s eyes as he wielded magics most foul, slaughtering opposition by the dozens. She remembered his look of surprise and dismay as she descended upon the scene, bringing about the fury of the sun. More ponies fell, scorched by the flames of her righteous anger as she sundered the two armies apart, laying down a wall of white-hot flames as the field kindled into an inferno.

“You acted swiftly, sister. And you put a stop to the loss of even more lives. You drove Gleam’s uprising straight into the ground.”

Celestia knew this. She also knew why it was no other pony would hear from her son again. And also, why the rest of her kin would receive no more to their numbers.

Luna let out a long breath, resettling her wings for a moment. “His cause was not unique. It was the same arguments as of old. Nevertheless, it was only after he got too close to the sun that he realized his wings were made of wax,” Luna offered.

Silence again permeated the wind, and both Sisters dipped their heads to honor those who were lost.

“I trust the Lords of the Court are ready?” Celestia broke the silence.

“Indeed. Are you ready to depart?”

Celestia gave one last look over the field. "Goodbye, my son. May the fields you wander in now be far greener than what you found with me. Come, Luna. The dead live in the past, and we must tend to the present. Let us take the oath of respice prolem prohibitus. Here is where our lineage will end, so that we can govern in greater peace. So that no other pony will suffer for any failing of mine.”

***

Year of Alicorn Rule 514

Night darkened the landscape as the weary unicorn made her way down into the next valley. Behind her, the remaining glow of the western sunset had faded into the trees. Her aching body was nearing exhaustion, but at least the geas that compelled her allowed her to sleep.

She hated the geas, almost as much as she hated the pony who had left her with this curse. All she knew was that she had to go east. Delay too long? A crushing sense of guilt and anxiety would ensue. An urgent compulsion that would begin as a flicker, eventually giving way to a raging inferno that demanded her submission: a sense that she needed to act or die. Her own magic was no match for this kind of power. Not even her amulet, which she considered her life’s work, was able to negate it. Not when the originator was Princess Celestia herself. And now that Princess Luna was banished, Celestia would retain her power forever more.

Tempest scanned the valley below, compensating for the muted glow of the moon rise by intensifying her illumination spell. The trail turned, descending into a shadowy thicket, but beyond that the glen seemed to open up into an area with comparatively less trees and cover. Further, there was a murmuring sound of a burbling brook. After the low point of the glen, the terrain changed again, climbing steadily upwards and turning rocky and sheer with a few cliff formations.

Cliffs were of no concern: she was more than capable with her teleportation abilities. But since night was falling, it was time to set up camp.

Camping... Why would anypony camp for fun, anyway? Where was the fun in it? If it were me, I would rather curl up on a comfy mattress warm in my quarters, reading by the light of my horn under a blanket, thank you very much!

Really... where was the appeal in packing a bunch of uncomfortable gear and bland rations on one’s back, hauling it clumsily through rough terrain, grunting and straining to set up a drafty shelter, and then cooking food in the most inconvenient of manners, seasoned with wood ash?

Tempest's thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the spatter of a raindrop hitting her nose. She rolled her eyes in exasperation. Arriving at a clearing and finding the area acceptable, she surveyed the brook, taking note of a variety of tall grasses and underbrush and noting some edible reeds and berries. Finding no sign of predators, Tempest busied herself with her saddle bags, unpacking and arranging the contents in preparation to set up camp.

Her thoughts wandering while she worked, Tempest thought back to when her life became much more interesting. Fifteen years ago, on her birthday, her adoptive mom's best friend helped her apply to Sisters Academy. Mavis Morel was the odd pegasus that lived next door, by far the minority in a predominantly earth pony village, but despite that, she was the closest Tempest had to a family member other than her adoptive mom, and due to her connections she was essential in the school's applications process.

Several months into Tempest's studies, at the tender age of fourteen, Tempest was brought before Princess Luna in her private office. It was then that she learned of her parentage, that Luna was her birth mother, and the Captain of the Lunar Guard, Storm Sabre, was her sire. Before she was released back to her dorms that evening, she had learned not only that she was a princess, but that for the good of Equestria, and to keep the status quo, she needed to keep the information in absolute secrecy.

It seemed wrong, at least at first. It seemed covert and shameful. Why should her birth and her parentage be hidden—as if it were something sullied or indecent? Why should she be given such a noble birthright, and yet never be able to claim it? Apparently, about two hundred years before she was born, the princesses swore an oath that they would never have offspring again. Apparently, Tempest had been a mistake. Apparently, if the information were to get out, incredible political pressures could be applied by the noble class. Plans would be set in motion, either to mar Luna as the rightful ruler, or to target Tempest as a means to gain prestige and connections. It was better for the time being, Luna insisted, that Tempest complete her schooling without such a whirlwind of chaos. Tempest had to agreed wholeheartedly. This remained the situation during her first two years at the Academy.

Until...

Without warning, Tempest's anger flared up into a fiery, bitter stream of rage. She thought about that night, and how she had been powerless to do anything about it. All she had been left with was a desperate gambit, a promise: A covenant made to her mother, on the last night that she saw Luna alive, before she had been banished to the moon.

Tempest squeezed her eyes shut and blew out a heated breath. In the past, her anger had served her well, driving her to complete her research and development into what she thought would be an ultimate weapon. Now however? Now it was impotent, useless. Now she was left feeling worn thin, and empty. There was nothing left to drive towards. Nothing but oblivion.

However, I suppose my sentence is a kindness... A boon, compared to what Celestia did to her.

But even so, I am left with nothing! My plans came to naught, and now my failure is absolute! Every time I see the moon rise, and I see Mom’s visage upon it... it only serves as a monument to my failure. Every time the sun rises, and the light shines upon my face, the warmth is no longer comforting, no longer gentle: it is mocking, scorching, unrelenting. And it burns me to my core.

I.

Hate.

Celestia.

It had felt good to unleash her fury in a dizzying array of attacks upon the surprised alicorn. Tempest's amulet had been hoped to win out, along with the element of surprise.

Unfortunately, her attacks hardly left a scratch.

All she could cherish now was Celestia's stupid and stunned expression as she hammered away at the usurper's magical defenses. For a short moment, the feeling was intoxicating; glorious... But now? Now Celestia would get away with her act of utter betrayal and ambition.

A swooping sound approached from behind, followed by a few wing beats and the familiar sound of four metal-shod hooves clopping onto the hard earth. Tempest chuckled weakly—at least this particular pony was making it easier to say goodbye to what she was leaving behind. Gazing back at the yellow-orange pegasus, she watched as Lance Corporal Summer Wind folded his wings and tossed his red mane to the side. Her eyes trailed over to the insignia marking the paldrons of his armor. It was the newly incorporated farce of a seal, the mark of the now fully integrated Royal Guard.

It looked like Aunt Celestia's cutie mark, only repackaged.

Tartarus take Celestia and her recycled military insignia!

Tartarus take Celestia's lackey!

“The time is 1917, checking in as per my orders. You've been under continuous surveillance since 1400, Ms. Convict, and you seem to be making good time. Anything to report?” The guard sounded bored, but Tempest could still sense the spiteful indifference in his words.

And why not? She had only recently attempted to take down his beloved ruler. Given the chance, he would probably smile as he ran her through! Apparently, however, his orders were instead to ensure her safe passage to the coast, so that she she might board a ship departing for Gryphus.

Tempest schooled her features into a neutral expression so that she might make her reply. “I have nothing to say to you, Summer Wind. Go back to your spying, you perv." Tempest turned back to the folds of canvas that would soon make her shelter for the evening. "What happened, spent too long fishing at the lake back there? Maybe wishing I would just get eaten by a wyvern?”

The guard opened his mouth to reply, but then he stopped with a nasty smirk. “Wyvern, eh? Yes, that would be something." He stroked his chin with an armored hoof. "Sadly, I would be entirely unable to overpower such an opponent, and you would meet a rather messy end."

He altered his voice to make it sound all the more pinched and whiny. It suited him. "Oh, sorry, Princess Celestia. Yes, I tried, but I couldn’t save her. Yes, torn limb from limb. Yes ma’am, I will go wash out the latrines. Thank you for your leniency..."

He turned around and chuckled, tightening a few straps on his armor. "Sleep well, Ms. Convict. There are many such beasts in these parts, but wyvern wings have a very distinctive sound." He chuckled again, the sound growing more malicious as he took off, heading into the tree canopy for his night watch. "It might be the last sound you hear!”

Tempest watched him go. “Armor bound, metal headed jerk.” She still wondered why her aunt would even care if she made it to the coast. Her exile had come so suddenly, it was like the sequence of events had given her whiplash. There hadn't been any trial. No formal sentencing. All she received was a speedy healing by the palace medical staff, a pair of saddlebags hastily packed by the castle guard, and then a maximum-range teleport spell provided by Celestia herself. Oh, she was sent away with one more thing: the armored Pig-a-sus, Summer Wind.

Tempest glanced at her Amulet for a moment, thankful that Celestia had let her keep it. Watching as the jerk-a-sus began to unroll his bedding on a sizable branch half-way up a tree, Tempest smirked as she had a thought. “Hey, SomeWind!" Yep, there was the old unenthused glare she was used to. "It’s uh... kind of a chilly out tonight. You want me to use my Amulet to kindle your tree? It’ll keep you nice and toasty warm!”

“You do that and you’ll have no defense at all if a predator comes around. You can’t stay awake the whole time you know!” Tempest gave an insolent grin at the slight hitch of worry in his voice. She had definitely struck a note there. He had undoubtedly heard about her ferocious battle with Celestia. What he didn't know is that the amulet was mostly drained. The grin slid off her face however as he rolled his bedding back up and took flight over to a more distant tree. She thought about informing him of the risk if he set up his post at that distance, but she clamped her mouth shut.

I won’t give him the satisfaction.

Panning her eyes from the line of trees over to the more rocky terrain across the bank of the brook, Tempest returned to her task of setting up her tent. A howl of some sort sounded in the distance, but it was probably fine.

Probably.

The guard had oaths to keep, and he would swing back around to a more appropriate distance once she was asleep in her tent.

Hopefully... Either way, she needed to rest, as the option to stay for a while was unavailable.

Clearing a small spot on the ground with her magic, Tempest dragged kindling and larger pieces of wood to the center. Sending an incendiary spark from her horn, she stayed with the growing fire until the larger sized fuel was burning as well. Turning in place to warm her backside, she poured some milled grain into a pot and added some sweetener before she trotted over to the stream for some fresh water.

Gruel. Sure, it is warm and can fill you up, but the taste? Not even its name sounded appetizing. A coincidence that it rhymes with cruel? I think not.

It wasn’t fine dining, but it did warm her belly. After cleaning up her mess kit, Tempest retired to her tent. She hoped with the vegetation nearby that she could find some berries to add to her breakfast before having to break camp and depart. That would improve her gruel’s taste considerably. With the thought of fresh berries, she sighed and rolled over , trying to get comfortable.

***

Thirty-one meters in the air, silently clinging to her perch on the tree like a bird of prey, a pegasus mare watched through narrow gaps in the tree line. She raised a hoof to tuck her blond braids back under her cap before adjusting her amulet-tech visual enhancement device to zoom in on her target. It was the best kind of tech that amulets had to offer, dubbed the VEOS-V, short for Vision Enhancement Optical Scopes—fifth generation. It was something now gaining regular use by the Royal Guard Special Ops Division. A camouflage body-suit almost completely covered her purple fur, helping her blend seamlessly into her cover.

The night vision function of the magically enhanced lenses showed the tent in a stark grayscale contrast. Mavis had deactivated the magnification setting in favor of switching to night vision after the unicorn’s horn went dark. Hopefully the hornheads back in Canterlot would get it right next time. If a VEOS Mark VI was planned, maybe the research and development team would fix the interference between the magics of the magnification mode and the night vision mode so both could be used simultaneously.

Adjusting her position, Mavis panned far to the right to observe the pegasus guard that was setting up his station. He was about 50 meters away, near the top of a taller hardwood, and he seemed to be quietly removing his armor. Mavis' eyes narrowed a bit. If this guard's intention was to protect his charge while she slept, doing so without wearing his armor was a lousy way to fulfill his duties. Mavis continued to watch, studying him to see what he had planned.

***

The hoof wrappings that Mavis wore were useful to protect her chronic tendonitis. This would be their first time used as restraints. Unable to find room on the branch Summer Wind was sleeping on, Mavis leaned back from the branch directly over his head, hanging from her knees as she regarded him from her upside-down position. Visually scanning all four of his limbs to ensure he wouldn't be able to pull himself free, she gave a grim smile of satisfaction. This soldier would get quite the dressing down for being derelict in his duty. Unless his plans were more nefarious than that.

Reaching a hoof forward with a feather-light touch, Mavis pressed a potion vial against the sleeping corporal's lips. Drawing her other hoof back and taking careful aim, she delivered a measured blow to his larynx with a muted thump, striking just hard enough to trigger his swallowing reflex.

Summer Wind coughed out a gasp before snapping his mouth closed to swallow, flinching against his bindings. Already in motion and striking like a waiting cobra, Mavis had inserted the vial into his mouth before he could close it. Sputtering and choking, the guard flailed around in his bindings like a fish in a net, the vial battered aside and falling to the forest floor. Mavis merely pressed his chin upwards with a hoof, closing his mouth with a none-too-gentle force and getting into his face.

“Stop struggling, Lance Corporal Wind," Mavis hissed. "Stand and report!” Instead of settling down, the guard's struggling became more frantic, coughing and gagging before he gasped out a response.

“I… you… what did you give me?! Who are you?”

Mavis activated a glow-crystal and held it up to her face while pulling off the VEOS-V with her other hoof, allowing him to see her properly.

Summer Wind stopped his panicked struggling as his head drew back in shocked recognition. “M-Major Morel? What in the blazing flanks of the sun are you doing here?”

“Blazing what? You want to check your terminology corporal?

“I… I mean, uh, ma’am, yes ma'am! What in the name of Celestia are you doing here, ma’am!”

Mavis lunged forward again, this time contacting his head with her own and driving it back into the tree trunk behind him with a thump. The bindings around his wrists snapped taught with the motion, lifting his forelegs up like a marionette. “As a matter of fact I am here in the name of Celestia, lance corporal!" Mavis growled in a dangerously low voice. "Now come to attention and report!”

Out of reflex, the pegasus attempted to salute. Comically, his hoof pulled uselessly against the binding while he tried to stiffen and straighten his body out, stifling a cough. Mavis smiled inwardly, as she knew she now had his undivided attention. “I have been tracking Tempest for ten days now ma'am, as per my orders. I have been providing security during her sleep cycle, getting my own rest in the morning, and then reacquiring the target in the afternoon to continue surveillance." The bindings wavered as he tried to salute again.

Mavis drew back slightly, furrowing her brows and cocking her head to one side in mock confusion. Now that he had pushed back a pace, she lowered herself down onto his branch, all the while keeping firm pressure against his chest with a hoof. “What? I’m sorry, corporal, but I don't think you are clear on what time it is.”

Summer Wind’s eyes widened slightly. “Ma’am?”

The pegasus bared her teeth and pushed forwards, this time pressing her entire barrel against him, snapping the bindings taught. “I asked you what time it is, lance corporal!” She spat. “Because I know I couldn’t have been watching you sleep while on duty—that wasn’t what I was seeing through this VEOS on my forehead. Right? Corporal?”

The pegasus slumped slightly in his bindings before turning his head away. He spoke through a clenched jaw. “Yes… Ma’am.”

Mavis’ eased up the pressure on his chest as her voice suddenly turned more conversational, but in a way, more deadly. “Good. I just have one more question, corporal. Did you or did you not know of the plot to murder Tempest while she was to be ferried across the sea from Turtle Bay to Gryphus? Tell me plain.”

Summer Wind’s eyebrows shot up. “Plot to murder...?" Summer Wind's eyes got bigger as Mavis produced a wickedly curved hoofblade out of nowhere before pressing it mercilessly against his throat. "I knew nothing about it! This is the first I've heard!" Mavis continued the pressure, her eyes turning cold as a winter's night. "I swear it on Celestia’s throne!”

With a quick movement, Mavis cut through the bindings, allowing him to recoil into a fetal position before losing his balance and rolling backwards off the branch. Summer hastily spread his wings and flapped back up to re-assume his station on the branch, saluting and breathing heavily.

“At east, corporal. You are dismissed.”

“What? I… but my orders.”

“Your orders are now my responsibility. I have intel that Tempest’s life is in danger, and I will see that she is delivered safely, as per Princess Celestia’s orders. That potion I administered was a truth serum, so I am satisfied you were not part of this plot. You are relieved, lance corporal!” Mavis spat out, her tone chill and final.

Stunned, the stallion could only blink a few times, looking at the tent of the sleeping unicorn before turning back and giving a final salute. "Yes ma’am. I will head back and report in.”

Mavis glared for a few more seconds before relaxing and softening her gaze. “Farewell.” She stood aside to allow the guard to pack away his supplies. Without another word, he took to the cool night air as she watched him depart. Following that, Mavis took off as well, circling to find a better perch.

Eventually, she settled on a fork of a massive oak, wide enough to set up her hammock comfortably. Such was important for a mature mare of 61, as her body was increasingly sending her status reports of unwanted information. She was still strong and wonderfully fit, but that didn't mean her knees and shoulders didn't tell her about it in the mornings. Really, for the most part her camping days were over, especially sleeping in a tree like a filly.

Mavis gave out a deep sigh, working to adjust herself into a more comfortable position. She tucked her blanket around her and then sat up and refocused her VEOS-V. It was going to be a long night—where did she leave that pouch of coffee?

***

Other than an owl, the night had been peaceful. At regular intervals, Mavis had taken off to circle the periphery, roughly every fifteen minutes or so. She had two main goals: ensure Tempest's safety, and stretch her own stiffening hips and wing joints. It has been a really long flight.

It had been an hour since Lance Corporal Wind had departed, and by this time he was likely several miles into his flight. Unless he stopped somewhere and tried to go back to sleeping on duty. Mavis continued her vigil, working on a third pouch of coffee before she glanced down and noticed something new. Some kind of massive thing, silvery-metallic colored in appearance, was moving across the brook. It was closing in on the tent, and it was moving fast.

Hardly having time to think, Mavis lurched upwards out of her hammock, splashing her coffee to the side. How in the bloody Tartarus did she miss something like that during her patrols? It was huge! It moved like a reptile, stocky low to the ground, and its head was massive - as wide as a pony was long. Eerily, it didn’t make a sound.

Having assessed the situation in an instant, Mavis threw herself down towards the creature, donning her hoof blades as she dove. There was only going to be one shot at this, but she had speed and surprise as a tactical advantage. She just prayed that it would be enough. Flaring out her wings slightly to adjust her approach vector, she angled up and veered for the creature’s neck.

Time seemed to slow in that last moment as she completed a quarter roll, pointing her left wing towards the sky while the right wing came close to the ground, a typical maneuver that would allow the hoof blade to strike across an unaware opponent. It was one of those rare moments that one could feel all of their senses heighten, as the moonlight filtered in through the forest canopy and the very texture of the tent fabric came into crystal detail. At the last moment, Mavis retracted her wings to deliver her strike. The last thing she noticed before impact was that the head of the creature was already pushing forward, deforming a panel of tent fabric as he made his way towards an easy warm meal. Gritting her teeth, Mavis readied herself for the blow. She hoped she had made it in time.

End Chapter One Part A

Author's Note:

Father and daughter duo Sparkle Cola and Tillie-TMB presents: The Amulet of Shades

Many thanks to Seriff Pilcrow for his help in polishing the story in its final edits, and a special thank you to Irrespective for suggestions on writing a better intro. Your input was appreciated!

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