• Published 23rd Jun 2017
  • 1,344 Views, 39 Comments

The Ones Who Returned From Stone - Skijarama



Equestria has fallen. The Crystal Empire is all that remains of organized pony society, and the survivors want their home back.

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Chapter 1 - Lantern Light

The small campsite was fully established when Palmwood returned to the small clearing. A small ring was cleared out in the center of the site, a rather sizable lantern placed in the middle. It cast a decent amount of light and had a heat enchantment, courtesy of Princess Cadance, but it also didn’t create smoke and could be turned on or off with but a turn of a knob. There were two tents that had been pitched, one of which was bigger than the other. There was also a folding table standing near the lantern. There were bowls and vials filled with chemicals and herbs on top it.

Palmwood smiled and shrugged off his cape before sitting down in front of the lantern. “Hey, Wonder! I’m back!” he called out after letting the heat invigorate his bones from the perpetual chill that blanketed the world these days. As soon as he spoke, he heard a pair of hooves galloping towards him from the nearby shrubbery. He glanced over his shoulder and smiled warmly as Wonderboom came trotting out of the foliage around them.

“Palm! You’re back! Did it go well?” she asked with a somewhat relieved smile, quickly throwing a hug around her older brother. A hug he happily returned.

“I didn’t get shot with a crossbow, so yes.” Palm replied, earning a smack across the back of his head from Wonderboom, who now stared at him sternly.

“Not funny.”

“It kinda is when I get a rise out of you.”

Wonder rolled her eyes and strode over to the folding table, looking over the various ingredients she had. Palm saw her cutie mark and couldn’t help remembering fondly the day she had gotten it. Her cutie mark was of a plant leaf that gradually changed into a flowing stream of blue magic that swirled and coalesced around a medical cross. “Yeah, well, just don’t go looking for material to ‘get a rise out of me’ with. We’ve been lucky to survive this long…”

Palm instantly lost his smile as his sister sagged slightly. He stood up and gingerly approached her. “No, not lucky. We were taught by Drifter, remember?”

“And we are lucky that we were found by her. Imagine if we hadn’t been spotted by her back on the train-”

“Enough.” Palm said firmly, resting a foreleg over Wonder’s back. “That’s in the past. We know how to handle ourselves now and we had the best teacher anypony could have asked for in this… scenario.”

“I… yeah, I know, you’re right. I just worry, is all. I don’t want to lose my brother.” Wonder finally said, pressing herself closer to Palmwood solemnly.

“And I don’t wanna lose you. Between the two of us and Drifter, we’ll take care of each other and be fine.” Palmwood said reassuringly before looking around a bit curiously. “Speaking of which, where is Drifter, anyway?”

Wonderboom dislodged herself from the hug and looked out into the foliage distantly. “She said she’s getting dinner. She’ll be back in a while.”

“Ah. I just hope she finds something we can eat, too.” Palm said before looking down at his belly begrudgingly. “I’m getting kinda hungry, here…”

“You and me both.” Wonder agreed before trotting over to the folding table. “I’m gonna mix us up a potion. Something to heal us or make us physically harder to hurt would be ideal, I think.” Picking up one of the vials on the table with her mouth, wonder poured a small amount of the contents into a mixing bowl.

Palmwood nodded. “Okay, just don’t put the wrong chemicals in, alright? The last time you did that-”

“Was over five years ago and I’ve told you to shut your face over it.” Wonder interrupted him after she put down the vile, jabbing a hoof in his direction with a frown. Palmwood chuckled merrily.

“You know I can’t; I wouldn’t be your big brother if I didn’t.” he said nonchalantly while throwing her an amused smile.

“And this is why Drifter gives you so much crap…” Wonder muttered before pushing a few flower petals of varying color into the bowl.

“And that is exactly what makes our little ‘family’ work.”

Wonderboom snorted but otherwise didn’t respond, focusing on her alchemy. Palmwood nestled down next to the lantern and closed his eyes.

“Welp, I think I’m gonna get some shuteye…” he mumbled as his body calmed down from the brisk trot back to camp. While it was no longer possible to tell the hour from the natural lighting, he could tell it was time for him to sleep.

“Okay. Goodnight, Palm.” Wonder replied before sliding a small, twisted root into the bowl. She picked up a blunt beating utensil and started grinding the bowl's contents into a flaky powder. For several minutes, she pondered which ingredients to use, adding them or removing excess before beating it down. Her mind examined each plant, remembering numerous little details about each one as her eyes passed over them. That one invigorated ones wakefulness, like coffee, but tasted awful. If combined with this other one just right…

A twig snapped. Wonderboom’s ears reflexively twitched and she herself briefly froze, listening carefully before returning to her work, making sure her ears were carefully listening to her surroundings. Her eyes darted left and right for a moment before refocusing on her bowl. After another moment, there was a soft thump and a relieved sigh. Wonder turned around and frowned. “You know, you could have said something when coming back.” she said bluntly, jabbing a hoof at Moonrise Drifter.

Drifter pulled down the brown hood of her cloak, letting her unkempt silver mane spill out. Her yellow reptilian eyes looked at Wonderboom humorously. “I could have, but, well…” she gestured to Palmwood. “Bozo’s asleep. Kinda don’t wanna wake him.”

“Eh. Fair enough.” Wonder shrugged before noting the corpse at Drifter’s hooves. She winced slightly at how the fiend’s neck was twisted and gouged open, but otherwise didn’t outwardly react. “Tough hunt?”

“Nah. Stupid thing was busy slamming his head against a rabbit's den entrance. I guess he didn’t know that the rabbits vacated a while ago.” Drifter replied before setting herself down and digging in. Wonder cringed.

“Do you have to do that here?” she whined, looking away and huffing.

“No, I don’t. But I didn’t want to be away from camp too long.” Drifter replied after swallowing a mouthful of flesh. “Besides, I want to hear how his trip went. Do we have our guides or what?”

“He didn’t actually say one way or the other. He said he didn’t get shot in the face with a crossbow, but we kinda derailed before he could say much else…” Wonder admitted sheepishly, looking down into her bowl intently.

“Eh. I’ll ask him myself when he wakes up.” Drifter waved off Wonder’s reply before taking another bite from her meal. For several moments she sat there, chewing thoughtfully to herself. Finally, she wiped a foreleg across her mouth to wipe away a small bit of blood dripping from her lips and sighed. “...Do you think they’re actually ready to forgive her?”

“Huh?” Wonder perked up and looked at Drifter curiously, stepping away from her table.

“Applejack, Rainbow… you know, Twilight’s friends.” Drifter clarified solemnly, a claw slowly extending from her forehoof and tapping against the dirt. “I remember how… upset they were when I saw them again after… well, you know.”

“Kinda hard to forget…” Wonder nodded morosely. “I was honestly worried that Rainbow Dash was going to kill somepony, she was so angry…”

“They’ve had twenty years. I’d like to believe they’ve moved on and have already forgiven her, but It’s hard to be sure. They say they have, but they haven’t seen her in so long… who knows what old feelings will resurface at the reunion?” Drifter said absently before biting down into the corpse beneath her, a bit more ravenously this time.

“Well… I can’t speak for them, but I bet they’re at least willing to give her a chance to make up for it if they haven’t.” Wonder added hesitantly before shaking her head. “Honestly, I’m more worried about when she meets Princess Flurry Heart.”

“Heh… that’ll be a shock.” Drifter snorted humorlessly. “She’s going to come home to find that the niece she had last seen as an infant is now almost as old as she is.”

“It’ll be a big and sudden change for her.”

“That can be said of literally everything, Wonder.” Drifter pointed out, shifting slightly on the dirt. “Shining Armor’s an amputee, Cadance is, well… she has her scars. Equestria practically doesn’t exist anymore as a nation. Yeah, it’s going to be a shock to her. We’re gonna need to break her in slowly. When we free her and Luna from their statues, we’ll need to do so in a remote location. Somewhere where we can get them up to speed gradually so it’s not too overwhelming.”

“Any locations in mind?” Wonder asked while nestling down next to the lantern herself.

“A couple spots come to mind. One of them is actually on the way to the crystal empire from, well, pretty much everywhere south of it.” Drifter replied, a smile of fond remembrance coming over her face. “I just can’t help but wonder if it’s still intact or if scavengers stole everything.”

“One of your old hideouts?”

“Yup. The one near Little Lapiz, where I took Twilight to heal-up when she and I first met.” Drifter’s eyes lost their fond shimmer and fell despondently. “Feels like such a long time ago, now.”

“It was twenty years ago…” Wonder pointed out before receiving a irked look from Drifter.

“Literally a thousand years old here, Wonderboom, remember?” she pointed her clawtip at her face as if to emphasize wrinkles. None were present, of course.

“Oh, right. I kinda forget to register that sometimes… you certainly don’t look that old.” Wonder replied, looking away slightly.

“Eh. Comes with having Horizon’s self-imposed agelessness, I guess…” Drifter mumbled dryly before taking another bite from her meal.

“So, wait… if Horizon dies, will that agelessness spell fade out?” Wonder asked uneasily. Drifter swallowed and shrugged nonchalantly.

“I have no clue. If it does I imagine I’ll just start aging again. I was about, oh… thirty something when my physical body stopped aging. I’d have somewhere between fifty to seventy years on my clock, I think.” Drifter replied thoughtfully before shaking her head. “It’s not really important. What would be important is Horizon would be dead.”

The two fell into a comfortable silence for a while, though that comfort was occasionally disrupted by Drifter continuing on her meal. Eventually, she bit down into a particularly stubborn lump of muscle and meat. She clamped down and yanked hard, grunting with effort before it suddenly pulled free, a stray piece of bone sent barreling through the air and into Palmwood’s side.

Smack!

“Ack! I’m awake! Put away the whips!” he stuttered, still half asleep while flailing about on the ground. He finally righted himself and shook himself vigorously. He looked up to see Wonderboom struggling and failing to hold in a series of deeply amused giggles while Drifter eyes the meat in her mouth with annoyance.

“Pluegh! That’s too stiff. I think I’m done with this one…” Drifter muttered before shoving the fiend corpse out of the range of the lantern light. She turned back around to see Palm looking at her, bemused.

“What happened?” He asked in a still drowsy voice.

“Dinner was an asshole. It woke you up.” Drifter replied playfully before putting on a more serious expression. “Since you're awake; Palmwood, did they agree to help us?”

Palmwood shook himself again before standing up. “Not yet, but I think they will. I told them I’d come back in twenty four hours to hear their decision. I left them the pendant as a way of proving that our offer is genuine.”

“Hmmm… Risky, but probably a big step towards earning their help.” Drifter nodded along thoughtfully. “Alright, you two get some sleep. I’ll take first watch and wake one of you up when it’s time to switch out.”

“Alright. Goodnight, Drifter.” Palmwood said before settling back down to resume sleeping. Wonderboom simply nodded, yawned and retrieved her own cloak, using it as a blanket as she lay down by the lantern and curled up to sleep.

Drifter looked over the two before turning her eyes up to the dark red ring in the sky. Her eyes dilated slightly as a small spike of bitterness ran through her system. The sky had remained unchanged for twenty years. A cold even worse than eternal night had smothered Equestria in tandem with the darkness shrouding the world.

It won’t have to stay that way; We’ll get Princess Luna and Princess Twilight back. When we do… you’d better watch out, Horizon.

She looked down to her right hoof, letting it appear from under her cloak. It was covered in a thick leather gauntlet running all the way up to her elbow joint. She flexed the limb slightly and three long, steel blades extended from the tip of the gauntlet.

I’m not so defenseless against you anymore…