• Published 7th Apr 2017
  • 3,349 Views, 240 Comments

The Amulet of Shades - Sparkle Cola



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

  • ...
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Chapter Two: Repatriation

Timbers of the passenger ship Windsong creaked as she rode the swells of the Celestial Sea. Pulling her cloak tighter to deflect another watery spray, a lone unicorn mare stood at the bow, her eyes intent on the horizon. Now on the third day of the voyage, the mixed crew of the Windsong had stopped bothering her to ask if she needed anything. They knew that she preferred her solitude.

If only one of the other passengers could be as observant.

“You’re up early!” the smaller pony chirped.

Sighing, Tempest peered around the edge of her hood to gaze at the ardent pony that she had met at the start of the voyage. Meadow Lark was a shorter-than-average earth pony, with a pale blue coat and a dark teal mane styled in a bob. Compared to Tempest who tended to be introverted even on her birthday, Meadow's personality was more sprightly than a parasprite rampage in a coffee factory.

Tempest shook her head slightly. Either ponies of the modern age had a different concept of personal space than the past, or this frenetic pony had issues.

Knowing that the mare would just pepper her with more questions if she didn't make some sort of reply, Tempest gathered her thoughts. “Actually, I'm not early at all. Rather, I'm here too late.” Tempest winced, realizing that her enigmatic answer likely didn't satisfy the mare at all.

"Too late? But the galley hasn't even fired up their grill yet..."

"Too late," Tempest reaffirmed, pulling her hood back to expose her yellow-tipped mane. She closed her eyes as she felt the cold sea mist on her cheeks, shuddering as she drew in a deep breath of the brisk salty air.

"About a thousand years too late."

---

One-thousand and twelve years earlier…

The door to Princess Luna’s study was just around the corner. Tempest's stomach growled a bit but she didn't mind the fact that her meetings with the Lunar Princess had become a regular occurrence. She she also didn't mind if her school mates sometimes gave her looks of suspicion or even jealousy. It was worth it for her mother.

What she did mind, however, was one particular Lunar Guard that seemed to increasingly be found on duty at 8:00 PM in front of Luna's chamber door. Tempest held the slim hope that tonight perhaps he was...?

Nope. Just like the last three evenings, Sergeant Blue Shield was there. He brightened up at her approach, as if was some sort of surprise and he wasn't expecting her. She knew better.

The goof.

Lunar guards always guarded Luna's chamber in pairs, and tonight Blue Shield was paired with a lanky pegasus named Wind Shear. Thankfully, Officer Shear maintained a much better level of professionalism then his confederate. Tempest growled under her breath, just a little peeved at the absurdity of the situation.

“Hey, Temp!”

Did he have to bellow so loudly when I am merely ten meters out?

“How goes your special project of developing those amulet things? Have you given any more thought to my offer?”

Pressing her lips together, Tempest faced up to the door. Maybe if she ignored him he would go away? She noted with some chagrin that Blue was partially blocking the portal instead of doing his job properly and standing to the side of it. With how he was positioned, she would have to get into his personal space to rap a hoof on the door.

“C'mon! Just imagine it!" Tempest kept her face neutral as she watched him, his ears perked up like a colt's on Hearth's Warming Eve. He swept a hoof across him in a grand gesture. "Imagine: an enchanted amulet that turns a pony into a total player! A total stallion magnet! A mare that could have any stallion she chooses!"

Maybe if she gave him a flat enough look, he might step to the side and take a hint? Tempest took a step to the side, considering her best angle of approach, but Blue pushed right on ahead.

"You see it, don't you? Why with my ideas and your uh..." He paused, noticing her frown. "With your better ideas, we could both be as rich as any noble house! Great way to start a life, eh?" Blue waggled his ideas for a second. Oh Tartarus, no! "Tonight. Meet me after you finish supper. I’ll tell all you more about it.”

Not seeing an easy route to knock on the door, Tempest got a better idea. She activated her horn and pulled Officer Shield's helmet off, ignoring his startled look. With a smirk, she raised a brow while she levitated the helmet back, crashing it into Luna's door a few times.

After a tick, Luna's magic opened the door. Her teal eyes looked over the assembly, pausing at each pony until they finally came to rest on Blue Shield, narrowing slightly. "Officer Shield?"

Blue snapped to attention pulling his helmet out of Tempest's aura and pulling it back on his addled head. "Er, yes your highness?"

"Could you detail for me why you stand guard at my chamber door with armor that isn't properly in place?"

"...Your grace?"

"The details, sergeant. I'm listening."

"I... er, uh... I mean when she... uh." Bemused, Tempest looked away to try to hide the little smile that was trying to etch its way onto her face. "Um. No excuse, ma'am."

"I see. Officer Shield?" Luna's voice was normally suave and gentle, but Tempest could hear something extra. Officer Shield was starting to sweat. "Since I'm dissatisfied with the details you provided, you will detail all of the armor in the armory.Maybe instead of guarding your special talent will come to be known as cleaning shields until you are blue. Since I am merciful, your shift will be generously expanded until the morn. Understood?"

Blue's head had been slowly dropping until now it was below his withers. His ears were pinned back to his head. "Yes, your highness."

Tempest watched him go, but figured it could use some parting advice. "Hey, Blue?" The guard paused for a moment, glumly looking back at her. "I'll have to take a rain check on that, but if you're interested, you might want to give the swing shift maid a visit on the 2nd floor, south wing."

Officer Shield dropped his head again and continued shambling away. Tempest began to close the door, but she paused again. "Just sayin!" he was almost past the corner, so she raised her voice. "She's got cute wings!"

The guard out of sight, Tempest caught a glimpse of Wind Shear's bemused expression before she pushed the door shut.
Luna had already taken her seat, gazing back at Tempest from behind her worktable. Her magic slowly stirred a sliver spoon in her tea while she waited, her expression unreadable while her mane floated gently in the air behind her.

"Mother?"

That seemed to pull Luna out of whatever funk she was in, her stoic expression melting into a small smile. “Tempest, my faithful student!" The princess's horn flashed, performing all of the familiar locking and sound-proofing privacy spells that were often the norm for their time spent together. It allowed them both to speak up above a whisper, and set their anxieties at ease. With another flash, Luna teleported back in front of her desk, sitting back on her haunches and spreading her forelegs wide. My most wonderful child, give your mother a hug!”

Rushing forward, Tempest felt herself enveloped in the cocoon of the Alicorn’s graceful embrace, all forelegs and downy soft wings. She beamed as she nuzzled into Luna’s comfy chest, listening to the ebb and flow of her breathing.

“You summoned me... your highness?” Tempest gave a cheeky grin as she pulled away from the hug again.

Luna pursed her lips. “Yes… quite.” Luna suddenly lost her mischievous smirk , turning to look away for a moment. To Tempest, she seemed particularly anxious tonight, as if she had recently seen a ghost. Tempest followed her mother's gaze to the documents and scrolls scattered across her worktable. “Thank you for being so prompt, Tempest. I heard a little of that conversation through the door. Sergeant Blue Shield bothering you?”

“It's fine," Tempest sighed. "At least it is now, after you sent him off. But how are you holding up, Mom?”

Frowning slightly, Luna heaved a sigh, placing a hoof on one of the scrolls on her desk. “Tempest. I don’t want to burden you further with the political sophistries of this nation.”

"It's... okay Mom. Tell me what you can."

Luna stared for a moment longer at her desk before her expression changed. She pushed Tempest back a little with both hooves, holding her in place to meet her gaze. “You are so mature, my daughter." Tempest blushed at the praise. "Normally I would not share information of such a sensitive nature, but I sense that your growing maturity, you will continue to thrive. That, coupled with your singular level of magical skill, marks you as one destined to become a remarkable pony. You truly are the daughter of an alicorn, with rare gifts and talents only hinting of your true potential.”

Tempest’s looked down, not comfortable with having this much praise heaped on her. Luna let go and stood up, beginning to walk slowly to the other side of her desk.

“I think the time has come to share somewhat more with you about the political environment of today's Equestria. And while these situations do not influence you directly, insulated as you are here in Sisters’ School, eventually they will. The secret of your heritage will eventually be revealed, and due to your unique position, you may yet play a key role.”

Tempest stood just a little taller, chewing her bottom lip nervously. She knew things had had been developing in the political realm, and that whatever was at play, it that had been giving her mother fits. Up until now, Tempest had only been able to gather bits and pieces. She knew some of it had to do with the rising tensions between her mother and Princess Celestia. She also knew some general information about significant political maneuverings by some of the stronger houses of nobles. She turned her gaze back to Princess Luna again and really looked. She had a good facade, but behind it she saw... fear? Anger? Mania? For lack of a better word, Luna looked haunted. Whatever tidings she bore, they weren’t going to be good.

“What is it, Mom? What has happened?” Tempest didn't want to let her fear show, but by Luna's reaction, she knew she had given away too much.

"Oh, my dear one." Luna circled her desk again, drawing near before placing to place cold, armored hoof-guard around Tempest’s shoulders. Tempest shivered as she felt the weight settle, but she wasn’t sure if her reaction was due to the metal resting against her coat or the sense of a heavy weight settling into her chest. Tempest looked up to find her mother’s eyes focused on her, studying her with an almost calculating look. At the moment Luna seemed more a hundreds of years-old ruler than a loving mother. There was a ringing power behind every word as she spoke.

“My political position has deteriorated, so much so that my situation has become dire. My recent efforts to bring greater freedoms and opportunities to our ponies, my efforts to grant more rights of land ownership to the common pony; both of these have cost me severely in my influence among the noble houses. Now they combine against me, to the point where I grow fearful of my sovereignty and rights in this realm.”

Tempest glared at the floor. “How many noble houses?”

“Enough of them.” Luna walked back behind her desk again, this time taking a seat. She pushed a document forward. “Tonight, I received tidings that the House of Marik has dismissed all of his advisors with Lunar ties. The only advisors they give any credence to now are firmly in Celestia's camp. At this rate, my influence in the governing of Equestria will soon amount to little more that a squeaking mouse, and I'll be little more than a figurehead.”

Tempest watched as a teardrop splashed on the stone tile below. “And Celestia?”

For several heartbeats, Tempest waited for a reply. When she finally looked up, she was startled as she looked into her mother's eyes, this time hardened into a cold and vicious glare. “My sister stands at the heart of this political storm. My spies indicate that she is the chief conspirator. She is fomenting rebellion and subversion against me, and she is swaying ponies of power towards her. It is no longer a matter of if my reign will be thwarted, only a matter of when. I am observant enough to see the signs."

“Now that my circle of trust has grown so small, it is well-nigh impossible to be kept fully apprised of all of Celestia’s movements. Now, with but a few simple maneuvers, she is poised to become the sole ruler of Equestria."

Tempest tried to slow her breathing, but to no avail. She had suspected something like this for several months, but she seemed to be the only one. None of her friends or professors seemed to have a clue. Tempest felt distraught and helpless, completely alone, but what could she do? She was only a second-year student of Sisters’ Academy. What was she in comparison to the political world of Equestria and ponies of such clout and power?

“W-what can we do, Mother?” came Tempest’s piteous cry, tears now streaming down her cheeks.

Radiating a cool grace and power, Luna loomed up before her, never breaking eye contact before lifting a hoof to gently wipe away her daughter’s tears. “I am not willing to give up my throne so easily, my child. While I may no longer be able to influence the larger noble houses, I can still appeal to the common pony. And while they may not fully appreciate my night’s wonders, there is so much more that I can offer them… I can give them what they seek.”

“W-what do you mean?” Tempest’s eyes widened with alarm. “You would turn the commoners against the nobles?”

Princess Luna’s eyes narrowed for a minute, studying her daughter before turning around again to point an armored hoof at her desk. Unscrolled across the top was a map of Equestria, with neighboring nations marked in either red or green for enemies and allies respectively. “At present, we don’t wield sufficient influence to act, Tempest, but not all is lost. Celestia has the majority of the nobles, but I will soon influence the majority of the masses. The nobles hold more sway with our military… but I have more allies and contacts in other regions."

“I have sent emissaries to Minos and Gryphus. I have been speaking to my allies in these neighboring kingdoms to garner support and to reinforce my legitimacy. My aim is not war, but to solidify my rule and maintain the balance of power that Equestria hold dear. My position of strength will prevent outright war.”

Tempest looked over the map on display, studying the markers and labels pointing out points of interest in the nations mentioned. It all seemed so much bigger than her world at present, where all she needed to worry about was passing the potions class exam in two days. “And what can I do?”

Tempest felt her mother’s touch, the taller alicorn nuzzling along the side of her neck before whispering in her ear. “Clear your mind of such concerns for the present. Your mother is doing what she can to preserve her reign. In so doing, I will secure your status as well.”

Tempest swallowed. She wanted to understand, but it seemed Luna did not want to get into the specifics of what she was suggesting, so Tempest didn't want to pry.

“I am sorry I have not been more attentive to your needs as of late.” Luna looked searchingly into Tempest’s eyes. “Do not dwell upon it. Your help to me is best rendered by your success in your studies. Continue to excel. Also continue this exciting new development you are working on: find a way! Push forward until you triumph, and make the first successful amulet. Indeed, such a wondrous tool might also be key to help restore the balance of power.”

Feeling her hope re-kindling, Tempest wiped the tears that were forming in her eyes. Straining, she choked down the sobs that were trying to spring forth. “Yes, mother. I can do that.”

“Truly you are a wonderful daughter.” Luna murmured, as she stepped back from the smaller mare. Luna lit her horn, preparing to open the door as it began to glow to her corresponding aura, but she hesitated. “However… there might be one thing that you can do…”

“Anything, Mother.”

“If what I fear becomes a reality and Celestia does attempt a coup, I may need your presence near. I would be most grateful if you could stand ready to respond to my signal if I should call.”

Tempest’s mind raced. Princess Luna wanted her present? To do what? What could she, a lowly sixteen year-old unicorn, do against the military, and a being as mighty as Princess Celestia?

Luna met her gaze again, her eyes now glittering beneath the icy blue aura of her horn. Her gaze lanced into Tempest's soul, making her blood run chill all the way down to her hooves. “If you see my moon rush up to cover the hateful sun, that will be my signal. And you will come to my aid?” Luna’s eyes seemed to swallow her up, and Tempest found that she couldn’t look away if she tried. Again she felt acutely that sensation of a heavy weight in her heart, only now it seemed to grow and radiate out like icy tendrils. Icy or no, it filled her body with resolve and purpose.

Whatever Princess Luna would ask she would do. It was her duty. It was her right. Tempest stood straight and proud, squaring her shoulders and pounding a hoof into the stony floor. Princess Luna needed her, and she would not fail! “I swear it, my princess! If you call me, I shall come.”

“But if I should fall, my dear— ”

“ —Mother, no!”

“If I should fall… don't reveal your allegiance to Celestia. She would quickly overpower you, which is something that I could not bear. If I should fall, then your mission will be to bide your time. Become successful; become powerful, and develop your technology of amulets. One day you and your amulets may yet avenge me.

“I swear it, Mother. I swear it!”

***

“Are you okay?”

Tempest shook her head to clear it. She had checked out there for a second. “Apologies, Meadow Lark. Thy words were only---"

Tempest paused, raising a hoof to her mouth as if she were about to stuff those words back down her gullet. “Uh. That is to say I took no offense from your speech! Thank you, my dear pony, for your um... concern?”

Meadow Lark's grin was slowly growing wider. “See! I told you that when you get flustered, you start to slip into archaic speech! With a thee thee here and a thou thou there!” Her grin burst into a bunch of bubbly giggles. “Ya gonna deny it now?”

Deciding not to grace that with a response, Tempest just shot her a flat look before turning and looking out across the water towards the horizon. Meadow joined her at he rail, rearing up to rest her forehooves along the surface. “Meadow? What do you know about Princess Luna’s return to Equestria twelve years ago?”

“Well," Meadow ventured. "No more than anypony else, I suppose." Two seagulls flew below them likely looking for anything cast off from the galley. After a few more moments, she continued. "As the story goes, it was during the Summer Sun Celebration that Nightmare Moon attacked. It was then that she escaped her thousand year imprisonment on the moon. Celestia was nowhere to be found, but we all assume she had been somehow captured or subdued. Lot's of rumors there, but nothing confirmed."

Tempest's eyes narrowed as she continued to watch the gulls. "Rumors, huh?"

"Yeah. And then, later that night, Twilight Sparkle and her friends, used some ancient artifacts called the Elements of Harmony to cleanse… or enchant...” Meadow Lark paused to scratch at her mane, perplexed. “Well, whatever they did, they hit Nightmare Moon with the rainbow power! When they were done, all that was left in the Nightmare's wake was Princess Luna! She was in a weakened state, and she had no idea where she was or even what had transpired over all of those years... but now? Now the two sisters rule Equestria as one, just like a millennium ago!”

"...As one." Narrowing her eyes, Tempest swallowed the bitterness down before she turned and regarded Meadow. “You say that Luna was in a weakened state?”

Meadow flinched a little. “Uh yeah. As far as I know. From what I heard, Luna looked far smaller than she appears today. Her mane wasn't even all mesmerizing with all of its constellations, it was simply flat and blue.”

Tempest clamped down on that item, the gears in her mind working to process what it might mean. “And when Nightmare Moon attacked, Celestia was nowhere to be found?"

Meadow shrugged. "Just rumors!"

"And nopony actually saw this 'Nightmare' subdue Princess Celestia? Any witnesses that Celestia had battled with her and lost? Proof that they engaged in combat?”

Meadow backed up a step, maybe a little concerned by Tempest's sudden intensity. “Um, not really? Nopony really worries about that part, Tempest. Celesta reappeared, though! Once Twilight and her friends were victorious, She arrived and greeted her sister.”

“Of course,” Tempest replied, smiling to herself. She could see how easy it would have been for Celestia to weave this illusion and dupe the nation. Or maybe the ponies of modern Equestria were just that gullible? Seriously, how could anypony miss two alicorns struggling for their lives in mortal combat?

This imposter, this Nightmare Moon arrives, shows herself to the public at a grand celebration, and Celestia is conveniently missing? And then, after everyone has had visual proof of this bogeymare, these six young ponies activate the ancient Elements, which must have been reclaimed or reactivated again during her thousand year absence, and used them to hit Celestia disguised as Nightmare Moon. Then, after a simple light show and sleight of hoof, Luna is brought back from the moon and placed under some kind of magical mind control. Obviously, her weakened state was due to the thousand year banishment, leaving her susceptible to such a plot.

Tempest was trying not to glare, but she realized her voice by this point was probably giving her away. “And it was the Elements of Harmony? How did they come back to life again?"

"Back to life? Well, that part is a little more complicated. But this is stuff everypony knows! Where did you say you have been staying? You keep saying east of the Griffon lands… How far east?”

“It isn’t relevant." Tempest waved a hoof for Meadow to continue. "Pretend I know nothing about this.”

“Well, so there are these six ponies right? And they all lived in Ponyville. Well not all of them did, Twilight lived in Canterlot. You have heard of Twilight Sparkle before, right?”

Tempest mutely shook her head. Meadow grinned, before rubbing her front hooves together. “Okay, wow. Have a seat, Tempest. I’ve got a story for you!”

***

“And that is how Equestria was saved again!” Meadow struck a pose as she brought her story to its grand finish. Tempest looked around, bemused by the small crowd of passengers that had gathered to hear the vivacious mare speak over the past thirty minutes. The mixed crowd of ponies and griffons broke into applause, smiling and lightly tapping their hooves while Meadow took a grand bow from the bulwark before hopping down.

Tempest was amazed by the story. Was all of this tale accurate, or did the little mare embellish a few areas? None of the ponies listening challenged her on any of the details, and some even contributed to the story once she got going. Honestly, some of it strained credibility. How could six average mares living in some backwater town save the country not once, but a mess of other times? Well, Twilight certainly didn't sound average, since since she had somehow been magically transformed into an alicorn, but on further reflection, the other mares in the story didn't really sound all that normal either. The thing sounded like a foal’s fairy tale. Then again, the manner in which Tempest found her self living a thousand years after her birth also seemed to be out of a fairy tale, just a slightly more nightmarish one.

Tempest watched while various ponies, and a few griffons and a zebra offered their thanks and general pleasantries to Meadow as she smiled and tried to catch her breath. After most had moved back indoors possibly to stop by the galley to eat, Tempest approached. “You are quite the storyteller, Meadow.”

“Thanks!" Meadow beamed. "That’s the first time I've ever done something like that. It was really fun!”

“Indeed. It was quite the tale—t'would be interesting to meet these ponies you speak of. But I have one question further about the ruling sisters."

"Okay?"

"In all of this time since Princess Luna’s return, have you ever heard about a disagreement between the two sisters? has their rule been one of tension and debate, or has it been marked by peace and unity?”

“Well, there was that one time when Twilight's assistant had to switch Celestia and Luna's cutie marks."

Tempest's eyes bulged. "Truly?"

There was a magic spell for that? That mare must be truly powerful—hopefully she wasn't in charge of Celestia's security or something like that. It would be lethally dangerous to tangle with her. Or maybe this was another fabricated story. Seriously who could ever rearrange the magic inherent in cutie marks?

"Yup. But that was all straightened out in a day. Besides that, the diarchy has ruled us in peace and justice. But when it comest to pranks..." Meadow smirked and drew closer and leaning up to whisper in Tempest’s twitching ear. “They say that their prank wars have been the stuff of legends!"

Tempest leaned back, staring at the mare incredulously.

"Pranks?"

“I’m serious, Tempest! Why just last month they— ”

“ —Never mind." Tempest held up a hoof to stop the mare. "I am sure there are many great and wonderful stories that have been reported all over the news media. There seems to be much I need to catch up on." Tempest stroked her chin in thought. Meadow thus far had been a wonderful source of information, despite her odd manner. Perhaps she should convince the earth pony to stick around a little longer. "When we get into port, would thou be so kind as to show me to the town’s archives, and also possibly a well-stocked magic merchant or even a magic guild?”

Meadow's mouth drew to the side, bemused by Tempest's slip into archaic speech again. “Well, I could take you to a magic store, that would be easy. But archives? I don’t know what you... oh, you mean like a library?"

Tempest nodded, happy that Meadow was considering being her temporary guide.

"Sure! Manehattan has a wonderful library! Sooo, what are we gonna check out?” Meadow playfully bumped Tempest’s shoulder with her own. “An action? A comedy? A romance? You've just gotta let me show you around: Manehattan is my hometown, I can give you the grand tour!”

Tempest found herself leaning away again from the pushy little pony, lifting a hoof to carefully nudge Meadow from off of her shoulder and back to vertical again. “Indeed. However, there’s a lot of research that I need to do, Meadow.” Tempest tried not to frown as she made her point. “Research that should not be interrupted. Can we not part ways once we arrive at the doors?”

“Oh. Well, I guess...” Meadow mumbled, her voice dropping a register. “We can catch up later, then.” She lowered her head, finding something interesting to look at between her hooves.

“Later perhaps…” Tempest agreed, looking back towards the horizon. Her eyes picked out the distant skyline of Manehattan for the first time. Were those buildings?! What new magic was this, to create such tall behemoth-like structures? Were they safe? She looked back at Meadow, but noticed that the little earth pony seemed to be down about something.

“Take courage, Meadow. There’s something here that I must do. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. And it is something that has been many years in the making.”

Meadow’s eyes widened slightly. “What… what is it?”

“I’ve come to right an ancient wrong.” The little mare only looked more confused.

Unable to clarify the point further at this time, Tempest awkwardly reached a foreleg around Meadow’s shoulders, making her startle a bit.

Tempest squeezed with a little pressure, because that is what ponies do in these kinds of situations, right? “Trust me.”

***

Tempest couldn’t stop looking up. The scale of the buildings in the port city of Manehattan was immense. Back when she attended school, among the largest buildings of ancient Equestria were the Castle of the Two Sisters, and the recently constructed Canterlot Castle. Despite those examples, other buildings were far smaller with the exception of some of the estates of the more powerful nobles. Even then, the architecture for those buildings was radically different. These pillars of steel and glass were obtrusive in the extreme, towering over anything she considered reasonable.

Besides, she couldn’t see the wisdom of ponies crowded so closely together that they needed to build upwards instead of outwards. Wouldn’t that create logistical nightmares for the delivery of goods, removal of wastes, and the provision of services?

A giggle drew her gaze from the monolithic structures. “Impressive, isn’t it?” Meadow Lark reared up to place her forehooves on the bulward of the ship again as the crew threw down the docklines and warps to the ponies waiting on the pier. Pointing at the skyline with a hoof, Meadow continued. “Manehattan is the largest of Equestria’s cities, but it’s not the only one with skyscraper architecture.”

“So ponies call them skyscrapers? Verily?”

“Sure! And they’re certainly a far cry from the aeries of Gryphus, you’ve probably seen. Our catbird neighbors across the sea prefer their structures in the air: you know, places like tree tops, or cliffs, or rocky peaks."

A griffon walked by at that point, making her way towards the gangplank. She was muttering something fool ponies and 'catbirds' under her breath.

"Oh, heh. And they usually don’t care much for crowds.”

The line began to move as soon as the gangplank banged against the pier with a metallic clang. The captain of the vessel winged her way off the ship, landing gracefully on the pier to await the passengers descending the ramp with their bags and supplies. Standing tall, she folded her wings and began to graciously wish each passenger well as they disembarked.

Tempest followed Meadow Lark down the incline of the ramp, watching as the gruff boatswain of the ship landed next to the Captain and gave his best impression of a smile. Rounding the corner towards the shore end of the pier, Tempest paused as Meadow hung back.

“Thank you for such a wonderful voyage, Captain Coriolis!” Meadow inexplicably threw her forehooves around the captain, knocking her hat askew. The Captain looked rather startled by the sudden contact, while the boatswain to the Captain’s left frowned as he eyed the earth pony.

“Well, you are quite welcome, Ms. Lark!” The deep green mare gave an uneasy smile as she patted Meadow on the back before pulling away. “And thank you for keeping spirits high on deck. Just one thing...” Captain Coriolis leaned in a little closer, her silver-white bangs hanging partway into her glittering eyes. “The next time we start getting into rough seas, let’s not go breaking into song up top while the crew is working on the riggings, eh?”

Meadow smiled sheepishly before giving a mock salute. “Aye aye, Cap’n!” Meadow turned, still smiling, and trotted up to Tempest who was looking at her dubiously. "What?”

Shrugging her shoulders, Tempest turned around to walk further up the pier. “Let us be off, then. But tell me: with a city of this scale, is it not inefficient to provide sanitation and to transport enough goods? Or even to conduct commerce?”

Meadow broke out into a giggle. “Tempest, you're so funny! Its your first time in one of the greatest tourist areas of Equestria, and you're concerned about the logistics of transportation and commerce?" Meadow went on snickering for a moment until she caught Tempest's look. "You're serious? Hm..." Meadow , stroking her chin in thought. "Actually, the opposite is true. You’d be surprised how efficient those things are when they're set up right. Better than conducting commerce with locations that are sparse and remote.”

Tempest frowned in thought. The little mare, for all of her frivolity, made a good point. Unless something interfered with their transportation system. “And how many ponies live here?”

“How many?” Meadow scrunched up her muzzle. “Goodness, I have no idea! Oh—make sure you have your papers ready.”

“Identification papers?” Tempest's heart dropped as she took a closer look at the queue of ponies waiting at the end of the pier, noticing for the first time that there were some small booths, flanked by fencing on either side. Here, uniformed ponies were stationed, one per booth, allowing travelers through once they had completed a brief interaction. The booth on the far left was managed by an earth pony. The other two were managed by pegusi. Tempest contemplated the likelihood of countermeasures versus teleportation as she watched Meadow trot towards the line to the booth in the middle, humming to herself.

Tempest’s eyes flicked from guard to guard, settling on the turquoise and cobalt blue pegasus on the far right. He looked younger than the other two, and his mane was slicked back in a flamboyant manner. Tempest figured he might be the easiest to handle if things got tense. Watching as her queue moved slowly ahead, Tempest noticed a device of some sort attached to his left ear, with a slender rod angling down from it ending in a bulbous tip near his muzzle.

The device must be some sort of communication-tech. The pony is also wearing a visor over his eyes. Visual augmentation perhaps?"

Meadow got to her booth first, so she was likely waiting on the other side. Not wanting to involve the artifact she was wearing around her neck, Tempest’s mind raced for some other solution. Unfortunately, the closer she got to the front of the line, the more nervous she became. She had been on her own for so long, busy environments like this were more stressful than she expected.

“Papers ma’am?”

“Yes! Papers!” Tempest blurted the last word, cringing at how loud it came out. Not knowing what the Tartarus she was doing, she lifted a hind leg to cause the side of her cloak to ride up, showing off a hint of her flank. She had been going for smooth and sultry, but wondered if this just came off as awkward and crude. “Papers? Maybe I could show you something else?"

The stallion frowned, snorting in distaste. “Just your ID papers, ma’am.” He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Then you can move on down the line.”

Well, that worked just swimmingly. I guess it'll have to be the artifact, then.”

“Certainly. T'was only a jest, truly...” Tempest held his gaze with hers, unlatching her robe at he throat with magic. “Here are my papers.” With a flick of telekinetic power, she opened her cloak to screen any pony's view from behind.

Hanging from her neck was a roughly hewed spherical stone, marred by a slit down the giving it the appearance of a dragon's iris. Lifting the stone higher, it began to shimmer with filaments of purple light crackling over its surface. “Here is my identification…

Author's Note:

Edit - Wow, featured? Thanks folks! Appreciate all the comments and support!

I decided to throw in more art. Hopefully not too much.

Anyway, modern-day Equestria. Exactly twelve years since Luna's return. So you all are like: "where the heck has Tempest been all this time?" Well, that will be revealed in chapter eight.

Wish me luck on my medical procedure next week. I spent half of February (it seems) in bed, and that is none too good for one's business, or their health. Hopefully my recovery will continue, and my energy will continue to return. All art in chapter provided by my 15 year old daughter, Tillie-TMB. The comic, if you are interested, is found here.:twilightsmile:

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