• Published 14th Apr 2018
  • 2,797 Views, 236 Comments

Dear Faithful Student - Muramasa



Celestia has been alive for thousands upon thousands of years, and as a result, has had more than one student who have studied under her. When her long dead students appear in modern day Equestria in their youth, Twilight must discover why.

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CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER SEVEN:
DEAD LETTER


"YOU INVENTED THE AIRSHIP!?"

Cobalt Aegis gently took a sip from the cup of water beside him as our carriage rumbled onward, entirely unable--and possibly uninterested---in hiding the growing grin on his face. I had imagined that both Violet and now Cobalt, having gotten years more experience in the worlds they lived in, would be a bit more mellow when returned from the dead: it truly seemed, however, that Cobalt Aegis always had a braggadocious pride when it came to his work.

"I did, yes," he replied to the chorus, though it didn't come out as arrogant as I thought it would. "I am assuming by that response my invention is still going strong in today's age? I didn't see any in Our Town when I awoke, but the village did seem rather small." All of us (except for Violet, who was still in disbelief at the prospect of a "flying machine") nodded our heads in the affirmative, but I was the one to explain its current state in Equestria. I found a smile of my own forming and reveled slightly in telling him how far his creation had come.

"Cobalt, we use airships all the time. It's our primary means of traveling long distances," I explained. "I was on a cruiser a little while ago that was just about as big as Our Town." Cobalt reeled back at those words, his jaw dropping slightly: Violet joined him, still trying to understand the basic concept behind what Cobalt had invented. He was lost in thought for a second, thinking over what I'd said, but Sunset didn't give him a lot of time.

"So here's what I don't understand," she said quickly. "I read countless history books when I was Celestia's student, and quite a few of them mentioned the airship as a seminal piece of Equestria's Industrial Revolution. However, I distinctly remember every book stating that nopony knew exactly who created it."

As she said it, the lightbulb went off in my head as well. Equestrian textbooks often stated that nopony had any concrete evidence of who invented the airship, only guessing that it had come out of Canterlot based on early manuscripts. I eyed Cobalt questioningly, indicating I had the same question, but it merely caused him to chuckle slightly as he leaned back in the carriage chair.

"Goodness, Celestia and I fought about this for months," he mused before beginning his tale. "I told her that I wanted to remain anonymous as the inventor of the technology." Almost immediately after he finished the sentence, Trixie, who had been listening intently with the rest of us, recoiled a bit in shock.

"What?" she asked incredulously. "If I had created something so spectacular, I'd take great pride in my invention!" Starlight snorted, rolling her eyes and putting an arm around her best friend.

"Trust me, Trix, we know." Everypony (even Violet and Cobalt) erupted into laughter at the ribbing, with Trixie perhaps laughing the hardest: whenever the laughter died down, Cobalt sighed deeply before settling into his seat to tell what I assumed would be a long story.

"I don't know how this is looked at from a contemporary view, since I kicked the ol' bucket around 200 years ago," he began, "But what you call Equestria's "Industrial Revolution" originated mostly from pegasi and earth ponies who had to find way to make work, travel and life easier without the aid of unicorn magic. Eventually, these would benefit the unicorns as well, and in my lifetime they ended up contributing greatly to the industrialization in my time. Now, before all this happened, advancement in technology didn't come from the regular citizens of Equestria." Violet, who had held her tongue for a considerable amount of time, quietly spoke up.

"In my time, much innovation and research had come from Celestia's court." Cobalt nodded in agreement.

"Precisely. Court wizards, researchers and blacksmiths were often the very best Equestria had to offer at the time, and so new technologies and knowledge originated from there." He took a sip from his water again, finishing the glass, and set it gently to his side.

"That, though, wasn't the case when I was growing up. It was everyday lads and lasses, not people like me, that came up with technology like the steam engine, the mechanical loom, and things of that nature. All of their technology--and most of their technique, I reckon--are what I used to create my airship." I began to catch on to what Cobalt was saying at this point, but I let him continue talking the carriage had hit a few bumps in the road.

"So I create this airship, yes? And it's going to be one of Equestria's most important so far. I knew it, Celestia knew it, the damn castle chef knew it, and so when she wanted to put my name on the patent, I told her no." I was about to speak up and take a guess at his intentions, but Sunset spoke up faster right next to me.

"You didn't want one of the seminal inventions of the era to come from the courts. You wanted it to come from the citizens," she said. Cobalt nodded, confirming my own suspicions.

"I had built it using the citizen's technology and methods," he explained. "I knew how proud everypony was that they alone had helped develop a new age in Equestria. I... I didn't want to ruin that. This industrial revolution gave the ordinary ponies all around Equestria a feeling in their hearts that for the first time in a long time, they were carving their own path, so I remained anonymous. Celestia had introduced it to the world by hosting an event and claimed that a builder from Baltimare had flown in to present it to her." There was a silence after that, all of us contemplating what he'd said: it was a large sacrifice, and how Cobalt had denied the legend of creating the airship to uphold the pride of common Equestria was nothing short of incredible. It was Trixie who broke the silence among us, speaking for everypony in a soft admiration.

"That... that's incredibly noble of you, Cobalt." For the first time since I'd met him, I saw a sheepish smile spread across his face in slight embarrassment. He waved a hoof at the notion, once more leaning back in his chair.

"Oh, it's really nothing," he began. "The important part is that it existed to help everypony, from the Princesses to the common pony. Besides, the builders in Canterlot created tremendous improvements to my design even while I was alive: I'm very excited to see what they look like now." The group nodded thoughtfully, though it wasn't long until Starlight Glimmer quickly broke the silence.

"There's one other thing, Cobalt," she began. His face quickly washed in stoicism, knowing from the tone of her voice the that her inquiry was no laughing matter. "You said you were drawn to Violet's casket back there. What exactly did you mean by that?"

Cobalt sighed again, even deeper than last time, and I could read him like a book before he even said a word: he had the look of stallion who simply had no answers.

"I... I just don't know, Starlight. I woke up a fair distance away from Our Town, but I could see it in the distance, so I went there. And the ponies were so kind and friendly to me, and I stayed in their inn for two nights, but I just kept looking at that mountain pass." He stopped for a second, attempting to formulate his next words verbally.

"Have any of you ever had a gut feeling? As in you saw a place and knew you had to go there or saw something you just had to have? I couldn't tell you why I wanted to go into the pass, but I just really, really did. It drove me insane until I decided to finally make the trip. And look who I found."

Sunset and I glanced at each other worriedly, remembering the conversation we'd had over dinner at the castle. We didn't get to mull on it for long, however, as moments after he finished our carriage driver opened the window behind him and leaned through it, looking to us all with a smile.

"We're approaching Canterlot, everypony. I'd start getting your things together."

Cobalt, who had insisted we not contact Celestia in regards to his appearance to keep the "surprise", breathed a long sigh of relief at what I knew was the thought of him returning to the place that so defined him.


When we entered the wide open throne room of Canterlot Castle, I could almost feel the anticipation in the room.

Celestia had been in what appeared to be a light conversation with Luna, though I couldn't make out what they had been saying before they stopped to look up at us. Rarity and Rainbow Dash--who I was unbelievably glad to have here--appeared to be locked in a rather intense game of go fish, and based on the substantial amount of cards on Rarity's side of the table it looked like she had it firmly in the bag. They, too, looked to greet us when we entered, though all of them showed slight signs of confusion when they saw I was only followed by Violet and Sunset.

"Where's everypony else?" Rainbow asked with a sly grin as she approached us. Rarity and the Princesses followed close behind, and after embracing Rainbow for a few seconds I found myself returning her smile.

"I could say the same to you guys. They're still getting some stuff out of the carraige." I turned back and held out a hoof to the two ponies behind me.

"This is Sunset, who I don't think you two have technically met yet, and this is Violet, Celestia's first apprentice." Sunset waved affectionately at the two ponies, but Violet was inclined to give a very deep bow in greeting: both Rainbow and Rarity began to laugh, causing Violet to bounce back up in confusion as Rainbow reassured her.

"We don't do that anymore, Violet! We're all pretty chill here!" This sentence only made Violet's face twist in a deeper misunderstanding, and Sunset quickly whispered in her ear what I assumed was a translation. Violet nodded slowly as a sheepish glow spread across her countance, opting now to wave just as Sunset did.

"Oh, Rainbow, don't confuse the poor mare! Why, you both look so beautiful, I simply must have you both in my shop to try some dresses!" It was enough to turn both Sunset and Violet red, but Sunset recovered quickly as she replied.

"I think I'll take you up on that offer! Rarity designs clothes, Violet: maybe you could give tell her about some of the clothes you saw back in your time?" Violet nodded eagerly, giving a warm smile in Rarity's direction.

"I still remember the dress I wore at the Grand Galloping Gala vividly as ever. I would take much delight in describing to thee what I hath seen." Rarity jumped up and down excitedly, and I could tell she was already planning her next collection. I rolled my eyes happily, glad to see her take such joy in her work.

The princesses came in to view behind them, Celestia and Luna listening to our conversation in amusement. When she noticed we had finished our introductions, she spoke up, looking particularly at Violet.

"So? What did you all find out?" I looked to Sunset, deciding to let her take this question: taking up a co-leadership role with her felt much better than I'd ever admit.

"Violet isn't displaced from her time period: she was revived magically, somehow ending up as young as she is. It really presents more questions than answers, but... we brought somepony else back." Celestia's head tilted in confusion at that remark, her eyebrows rising.

"From Our Town? Why would you do that? Who is it?"

Suddenly, we all heard a commotion coming from outside the hall. It was Starlight and Trixie, who appeared to be talking about carraiges: particularly, the one that we had just arrived in. They were talking with another voice, though, and when I looked into Celestia's eyes I saw them widen only just enough to notice.

She recognized it. She knew it. But she didn't comprehend it yet.

The three quieted once they had reached the large hallway, and Trixie and Starlight filed in first, coupled together. With them, however, was a Cobalt Aegis, a pony who I knew hadn't stepped into the throne room in a very long time.

It took a second for Celestia to understand what had just occured, but her draw dropped to the floor as she finally realized who had stepped into her throne room. The tears we had all come to expect began to well in her eyes, the rush of emotions and memories flooding to her much in the way they did when she saw Violet. It was different this time, though: where she was shocked and in disbelief when she saw her very first student appear in her castle, she knew very well now that this was no imposter, fake or illusion. There was a single emotion coursing through the Princess of the Sun that I had only seldom seen in her.

She was entirely overwhelmed with pure, unadulterated happiness.

Cobalt took a look around the room, viewing the brilliant banners and tapestries, before stepping forward and looking his former mentor in the eye.

"You didn't change it one bit since I was gone?" he asked. Without a single word, Celestia came rushing to him, wrapping him in the tightest embrace she could manage. He laughed, his voice cracking ever so slightly from the crushing weight of the hug before she finally released after what felt like a lifetime.

"Cobalt!" she exclaimed, the tears coursing down strong as ever. She looked to me now, an involuntary laugh escaping her lips.

"Why didn't you write?" she asked, playfully upset. The four of us from the trip all rolled our eyes at just about the same time, but it was Starlight who answered.

"This one wanted to surprise you. We filled him in on everything, though." Celestia said nothing, merely looking back at her former student in a gaze of disbelief.

There were very few moments I had seen Celestia in the state she was in now. She cried tears of joy the day I graduated from college, walking across the stage at CSGU. She was beside herself with a cocktail of pride and sadness when I had earned my wings (quite literally). She had almost broken down in front of my friends and I when we had returned her sister to her, though she powered through and presented herself as regal as she ever was.

I had a feeling now, though, in the presence of two ponies she had loved deeply returned in the flesh, that she was ready to simply release: as she spoke her next words with a voice shaking and hollow, I knew my intuition had been proved correct.

"I... I'm truly sorry, but I think I need a moment alone. This is far too much for me... can I join you all in the dining hall in around half an hour?" We all nodded in the affirmative, but surprisingly it was Cobalt that verbally answered for the group.

"Of course, Princess."

There weren't really any words after that. The rest of us shuffled away silently, leaving Celestia to her thoughts as she wished. The rest of the group wafted through the doorframe in silence, myself the last among them: I had only just begun to exit the room when Celestia called out to me, the returning scratchiness in her voice wildly evident.

"Twilight?"

I turned around, bracing myself for the emotions I was absolutely sure were about to break through the dam. When she opened her mouth to speak, however, it became clear to me it there would be nothing of the sort.

"Spike is here, and he's been anxiously waiting for your return. He told me he had something very important to tell you."

That was interesting, as I couldn't possibly think of something that Spike would implore the Princess to remind me about. I gave her a smile--the best one I could manage, hoping to let it stay with her as she retreated--and I warmly nodded as I gave her my response.

"Thank you. I'll be sure to look around for him."

It didn't take long to catch up with the group, who appeared to be walking to nowhere in particular. Cobalt was merely happy to be back in the castle, explaining to everypony that most of the decorations, artifacts and windows that lined the halls had been there when he was an apprentice. Quietly, I slipped close to Sunset, who had a concerned look on her face as she addressed me quietly.

"Is she okay?" She asked me. I nodded solemnly and gave a small sigh before elaborating.

"She will be, this is just... quite a shock, I would imagine. A happy one, though, if that makes sense." I turned to face her now, motioning my head in the direction of the revived students that currently led the pack of ponies.

"What's the plan for them?" Sunset returned my earlier nod, though this one told me that she'd had everything planned out for the both of them for quite some time. It was something I really admired in Sunset: not only was she incredibly smart, but she always had a plan to implement her knowledge far before anypony else did.

"I'm going to schedule them physicals from the castle doctor before we eat. If there's something inherently wrong, we might be able to catch it and get a lead on what in Tartarus is happening. And if there isn't and they appear entirely normal, at least they'll be healthy." She got a giggle out of me for that, and I could see my smile taking hold and infecting her. Before she could say anything else, I made sure to quickly tell her something I'd wanted to ever since we'd hopped back on the carriage from Hourton.

"Sunset, I want to let you know how grateful I am for your help." Her eyes widened and she made an attempt to interject, but I cut her off with a shake of my head.

"I've gone through quite a bit as the Element of Magic and now as a Princess, but... I'm just really glad I don't have to take charge of this one all by myself. So thank you." Sunset turned red at those remarks, turning away sheepishly before responding.

"It's nothing, Twilight, really. I'm here to stay and I don't think I'll ever be able to repay you for all you've helped me." I was going through my mind in an attempt to formulate a response when I heard a very familiar voice call out from behind us.

"Hey, Twi!" I whipped around to see the very dragon I'd been expecting: Spike, who had appeared to be running from further down the hall, slowed down the best he could until he reached me, panting all the while. The whole group turned to face him, causing him to sport an embarrassed smile upon his scanning of the environment. I could see Sunset's brows raised in amusement in the corner of my eye, and she addressed Spike before he had any chance to talk.

"Everyone's getting wings around here, huh?" she asked playfully, gesturing to his sides. Spike quickly looked down, forgetting that Sunset had yet to see his new limbs.

"Oh, yeah! They're pretty neat, huh?" He flapped them a little bit to show off before stopping abruptly, staring into empty space. I had remembered Celestia saying there had been something on his mind, and his frantic speech moments later was my final indicator that something was really wrong.

"Twilight, do you mind if I pull you aside for a quick sec? It won't be long." He didn't even look to the new arrival in Cobalt, though I supposed he hadn't heard that another one of Celestia's apprentices had cheated death. I looked back to the rest of the group, who shared my concerned look: save for Violet and Cobalt, who appeared to be absolutely astonished that a dragon had just run up and spoken to them. Violet, in particular, had taken a step back in nervousness, so I made sure to address them specifically with my gaze as I excused myself.

"This is my assistant, Spike: I'll explain later. I'll meet you guys in the dining hall?" The group nodded, with Violet relaxing her muscles at my clarification, and they continued onwards and Spike and I stood in the middle of the hallway.

I opened my mouth to ask what was wrong, but I was surprised to instead see him rush over to hug me. I let him stay there for a moment before gently bringing my head down to return the embrace: I had honestly forgotten how long we'd seen each other in the chaos of the last week, and I gladly held on to him for just a tiny bit longer before we broke apart.

"I'm really glad you're back! I know we're gonna have lots of fun here and figure out what's going on!" His face grimaced after the introduction, however, and he quickly stood upright. "But I have some possibly unrelated news I think you're going to want to hear." I leaned back slightly at that, and I could feel my eyes narrow ever-so-slightly in worry.

"What's wrong, Spike? Is everypony okay?" instead of answering verbally at first, he bent his head back and breathed fire, the green wave of heat dispensing a neat scroll that he quickly caught in midair. I thought it was a letter for me at first, but upon further inspection, I noticed the wax seal that brought the paper together: it was my own.

"Do you remember that letter you had me send to your brother at the Crystal Palace about Violet? It came right back to me. Dead letter."

That wasn't something I was expecting to hear, and I found that I'd taken a step back upon hearing Spike say it. Shining Armor never failed to reply to a letter of mine, and I to him: it may have taken a while, sure, but we always got around to it. It was one thing for him to fail to respond, but sending it back? I hadn't ever gotten a dead letter from him, much less sent to the very Crystal Palace itself.

"They were on a diplomatic trip to Yakyakistan for the past two weeks. Are you sure they just aren't running late?" The question was a shot in the dark, I knew, and a vigorous shaking of Spike's head confirmed it.

"I wrote to Prince Rutherford immediately after I got it back. He said they'd left for Equestria six days ago and that they should've arrived at the palace by now. But it gets worse." My eyes widened in shock at the word "worse", though I didn't get time to think about it: Spike quickly conjured up three more letters, all of which bore my seal as well.

"I wrote to the Captain of the Crystal Guard, the Crystal Palace's head maid on the service staff and Cadance. All three got rerouted right back."

I stared idly for what likely was quite a while, the gears in my head spinning as I tried to comprehend what Spike had told me. Something had to be very wrong: even if Shining and Cadance were unavailable, both the Captain of the Guard, Silver Spear, and the head maid, Emerald Dream, would absolutely be available at any time. The fact that the letters weren't just unanswered, but rerouted was very concerning.

"Ugh, I really don't wanna travel anymore," I said, the fatigue bleeding slightly in my tone. "But we have to go see what's up. Words cannot tell you how much I want this to be nothing, but I have a feeling that it's quite the opposite." Spike nodded thoughtfully, looking around at the stained glass above him.

"Do you think it has anything to do with Violet?" he asked me quizzically. I nodded almost immediately in response, laughing anxiously just a bit as I did so.

"I'd be my life on it. We brought back another one of Celestia's old students named Cobalt from Hourton." Spike's eyes widened quickly, and I saw an emotion his face that I'd been hiding for quite a while during the course of the situation at hand.

Fear.

"W-What does this all mean?" Spike asked me. I forced myself to think for a few moments, running fruitless and empty possibilities through my mind, but in the end, I merely shrugged in defeat.

"I just don't know, Spike," I told him. "We need more information to understand this, uh, phenomenon. I think going to the Crystal Empire is going to help out with that tremendously, but I wish my gut feeling wasn't telling me that it may be dangerous." Spike stood still once more, thinking over my words ten times over before he looked up to me again, an amusingly surprised look displayed in his countenance.

"I've never known you as one to take up gut feelings, Twi." I looked at the window directly in front of me--a stained glass depiction of Celestia and Luna guiding Equestria from the clouds--for a few precious seconds, going through everything that had happened in the past week before finally answering my assistant.

"Things have been a lot different lately," I said, finally looking back down to him. "Sunset said she was taking Violet in for a physical. I'm gonna go see how that's going. I'll meet you for dinner!" I gave my warmest smile, making an attempt to lighten up the situation for both Spike and myself. Thankfully, he returned it in spades before nodding curtly and heading off in the opposite direction.

From the moment I started heading to the medical ward, a single word coursed through my mind and branded itself into my skull.

Why?

Why were Sunset and I drawn to Canterlot? Why was Violet, when she woke up after being dead for a thousand years?

Why did Cobalt wake up in Our Town, as if the universe knew we would be coming? Why was he drawn to the mountain pass, as if the universe had told him something was waiting for him?

Why wasn't my brother answering my letters? Why wasn't anypony at the Crystal Palace?

Why did more questions appear with every passing day? Why did it seem like with every revelation, we knew even less?

Why?

Why?

WHY?

I loved mysteries. I loved curling up late at night and reading through the grittiest and darkest noir books, profusely turning page after page as I analyzed the evidence and tried my absolute best to unveil the killer before the hero or heroine did. I loved flipping through the text of history books and non-fiction accounts, discovering Equestria's many real life mysteries and coming up with my own theories.

I loved mysteries.

I didn't love this one.

It seemed like just a blink before I came across Sunset leaning up against the wall right next to the entrance of the castle's medical ward. The doctor, Scarlett, was one of the very few ponies in the world who had earned a doctorate in Alicorn Medicine, Anatomy and Physiology, along with the privilege of joining a long line of castle doctors. She had studied very hard to get there, however, and thus was more than qualified to take on unicorns, pegasi and earth ponies.

Sunset, upon seeing me approach, hopped down from the wall and gave me a glowing grin as I approached.

"Hey Twi! What's up?" she said in greeting. I nodded my head towards the door.

"I was just dropping in to make sure the physicals were going well. Who's in first?" I asked. Sunset chuckled a little bit before responding.

"Violet, believe it or not. I'm standing close by, but she's seemed to have adapted to the modern technology very well! It's been smooth sailing so far, at least." Her face dropped immediately after she finished, and I was about to ask why before she interjected on my behalf.

"Is something wrong, Twilight? You seem worried." I couldn't help but laugh out loud: no matter how hard I tried, I always seemed to wear my emotions on my sleeve one way or another.

"Yeah," I said simply. "I think something's going on at the Crystal Palace. Spike and I sent letters and they're just coming right back. I think I have to check it out to see if it has anything to do with Violet and Cobalt, but I just really don't wanna travel again. It's all I've been doing lately, and I know that it's wrong of me to think that when my brother and Cadance could be in danger--" I was apt to continue, but Sunset quickly held her hoof up to stop me from going any further. She rested it on my shoulder and looked me straight in the eyes before she spoke.

"It's totally okay," she began. "I know my nerves are utterly shot right now, and you have every right to be tired of going back and forth. Unfortunately, it looks like we're going to be doing a lot of it if we want to find out what in Tartarus is happening." I didn't say anything in reply, but I could feel myself smiling back at her in reassurance. Sunset nodded her head down the hall in what I knew was the direction of the dining hall.

"I know you probably want to head out as soon as you can, and by the sounds of it that's probably a good idea... why don't we go and grab something to eat first? We'll talk with the others and relax for just a bit before we figure all of this out. That sound good?"

For the first time in the past week, I could feel myself breathing a heavy sigh of relief. With an exhausted smile I couldn't hold back, I gently brushed her hoof off my shoulder before nodding enthusiastically in agreement.

"That sounds great."

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