• Published 26th May 2020
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Tales from Everfree City - LoyalLiar

Princess Platinum and Celestia's first student face changelings, a magical curse, the specter of war with the griffons, and the threat of arranged marriage in early Equestria.

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I - X

The Light of the Sun

I awoke to the gentle nudging of feathers against my shoulder, and in the mental haze of having just woken up, I responded by rolling directly into them.

“Morty, I’m afraid I’m already done up for the party this evening, and I’d hate to have to preen myself again.” I jumped, very possibly bucking the wing in question as I did, at the sound of Celestia’s voice. “But it’s good to see you too.”

I assume that any reader of this story in any time in the future will know of Celestia’s beauty, coloration, etc. and so I’ll spare you all a redundant description. Notably differing from her usual appearance in more modern times, rather than her usual gilded peytral (which, I believe, had not even been forged yet at the time of our story), Celestia in our day was usually as naked as any other pony of the day. I emphasize that so you understand why I was surprised to find her clad in a modest violet evening dress, emphasizing the slenderness of her form while drawing attention to her face and—thanks to its open back—her considerable wingspan.


The immortal, at least in theory my new mentor, muffled a laugh with the wing that I had struck. “I’m sorry for surprising you, Morty. I heard from Gale that Meadowbrook gave you a clean bill of health, so I thought I might wake you up and invite you to join me at a little party.”

“A party?”

“Gale’s birthday party,” Celestia confirmed. “I know in theory it’s only for her suitors and some of the more decorative members of the court, like my sister and I—” (again, it would be a full eight hundred years after these events before Celestia and Luna seized the Equestrian throne following the collapse of mortal rule) “—but I hear that it’s fashionable to have a young, handsome companion at your side. I thought that might be excuse enough to get you through the doors.”

I chuckled. “Oh. Right. Gale actually invited me.”

“Did she?” Celestia quirked a brow. “That… wasn’t very subtle of her. Are you admitting that because you trust me, or did Gale forget to tell you to keep it quiet?”

“The latter. Why would I need to keep an invitation quiet? Isn’t she allowed to invite who she wants, if the party is for her?”

In response, Celestia sat down and offered me a hoof. I took it gently, curious if she was expecting me to shake it or something, and instead found myself reminded of just how much brute strength there was in her slender build when she smoothly pulled me out of bed and beckoned me to sit facing her. “As your mentor, Morty, I mean to spend my time teaching you about magic. Equestria has plenty of statesponies who know more about diplomacy than me, and I suspect your talents would be wasted in politics. If you’re going to go much further up this road, I’m afraid Queen Platinum will be a better teacher than I could ever be… though I understand she largely has her hooves full with her current student.”

“Is Gale really that bad? I thought she was an excellent statespony. She did a fantastic job on our adventure dealing with the polar bears.”

Celestia ushered me over to a Celestia-sized vanity, which I was just barely tall enough to see the surface of. There, at eye level, I found a small oval picture frame, and inside a loving oil portrait of Gale, feathered strokes showing a face younger than I had ever known. It was no master’s portrait, no perfect mirror image of reality, but in the fuzzy edges of the strokes, it captured Gale’s distaste for sitting still so long. Her brow was creased, her eyes averted though her shoulders kept proper posture.

Celestia’s golden magic lifted the frame, pulling it closer to my view. “When her passions flare up and she actually cares, Gale is an exceptional statesmare. Unfortunately, she lacks subtlety and patience, and so as the Queen often tells me, she cannot see the big picture. Like hosting a bunch of suitors because of the friendships that could cultivate, even for the families she didn’t choose.” Celestia nodded in my direction, and set down the picture. “Which would mean that if she gave you an invitation, she’d be giving away the game and admitting she wanted you as a suitor, because that would give her immediate gratification. Unfortunately, at least from Queen Platinum’s perspective, that comes at a massive cost to her political influence.”

“And at that point the Queen finds some excuse to banish me from Equestria?”

Celestia chuckled, covering her mouth with the ridge of a wing. “I see I’m repeating something Gale has already explained. Probably with more cursing. I could probably protect you from outright exile, but I’d also advise you not to push your luck.” The gaze she cast toward the portrait on her vanity was wistful, heavy with memories I didn’t understand. “I’ve fought with the Queen before, and I lost bitterly.”

Some phrases beg silence, and I was more than happy to oblige. Celestia herself, though, seemed quick enough to recover, smiling and wrapping her wing over my shoulder. “On the other hoof, if you were to attend the party as my guest, I’ll be the only pony to blame. Without some evidence of what you two are trying, the Queen and the sponsors can’t do anything to affect your candidacy without looking extremely petty.”

I nodded. “Well then… The age gap might make this look scandalous, but I’ll be glad to accompany you.”

Celestia buried her whole face in her wing with laughter. “Morty, I can already tell you’re going to get me into so much trouble.”

“I hope not,” I replied, extending my foreleg as a stallion might when offering it to a date—though I knew full-well I could no more hold Celestia’s leg than a carry a tree trunk over my shoulder. “But as Wint… well, as it’s said, ‘a wizard who isn’t making some kind of trouble is wasting his horn.’ When does the party actually start?”

“Oh, not for another few hours. But I had a suspicion you would want time to have some proper grooming, perhaps get something tailored… after all, though you may be young and handsome, it wouldn’t do to have bed mane at my side, would it?” I caught the teasing tone on the edge of her voice, though even if I hadn’t the smile gave away the game.

“How long have you known Gale wanted me to become a suitor?”

In response, Celestia opened the door out of the bedroom with her golden magic and offered me a wink. “Known, not until you asked that question. Suspected… since before I had even met you in River Rock, when Hurricane brought her back to Everfree and she told me all about your adventures.” And then, as we stepped out into the hallways of the palace, Celestia leaned down to my ear. “But to teach you another small lesson in politics: even if Gale hadn’t asked you yet, and you had no idea about any of this business, I would still have invited you.”


“Because everypony has an agenda.”

Under Wintershimmer, I had always worn my mane fairly short, but without worrying much beyond that practical requirement; it tended to grow forward in a sort of shelf, and both I and apparently most of the ponies I had encountered in my life thought that looked good enough to put me in the top 1% of attractiveness of ponies. But, as I learned under the tutelage of one of the palace’s many numerous serving staff (Humble Servant, my friend from my trial during the Wintershimmer incident, in fact), there is a massive difference between swiping your mane down with a hoof, and looking like you don’t care enough that you swiped your mane down with a hoof.

The difference is about four hours of work, an almost sacrilegious number of bottles of bubbling mane tonics, and fewer hair brushes but far more paint brushes than you might think. As I was sitting there somewhat awkwardly next to Celestia, slowly realizing the real reason that nobles envied her magical flowing mane, she elected to distract me from my growing emerald streak of envy with a gentle question.

“I think I mentioned that I haven’t had a student in magic in a long time, Morty. So that you know what you’re getting into, it’s been seventeen hundred years. And you’re starting out far more advanced than anypony I’ve taught before. What do you want us to learn first?”

It was an intriguing question, though it had a fairly simple answer. “I think I’d like to learn to read. That’ll be a nice departure from Wintershimmer’s style to get us off on the right hoof… not to mention Meadowbrook said I can’t use my horn yet, since it’s still healing from the duel.”

Celestia nodded. “That sounds like an excellent choice. On the topic of Wintershimmer, you and I are going to have to take a little field trip back to the Crystal Union, once Mage Meadowbrook gives you a fully clean bill of health.”

I turned to raise a brow at Celestia, only to be slapped on the muzzle with a hairbrush for the crime of daring to turn my head. “I thought I made it clear I was turning down the title of being her court mage. And there’s nothing more I can do for Smart Cookie; now that he has his soul back, he probably just needs to stretch his legs and build up muscle mass from his coma, right?”

“Both true,” Celestia agreed. “That’s actually why I’ve been away these past few days, Morty: helping Smart Cookie catch up on the times. Queen Jade also needed some help getting affairs in the Union back in order. But there’s still a little bit of cleanup left for you, Morty. Queen Jade and Smart Cookie decided that since you were his apprentice, and technically his legal heir, you’re the best pony to inherit Wintershimmer’s belongings.”

I frowned for a moment, and then chuckled. “That might be the best idea, but I don’t exactly have somewhere to put all that stuff right now. I imagine you don’t want any of it in your bedroom.”

“No, I think I’d rather not,” she agreed with a slight laugh, before pausing pensively. “Well, except the bird stand.”

“Bird stand?”

“For Philomena.”

“Philo… who?” Before she could answer, enough memory came back to answer my own question. “Wait, you’re actually keeping that phoenix? It’s vicious; trust me. You don’t want it around. Throw it out the window and let it fly off or something. Ideally into a cliff face.”

For the record if you happen to know Celestia personally, yes, it is that Philomena, and yes, she still tries to burn off my eyebrows every time I visit.

I hate that bird.

“As I understand it she hasn’t been free in thirty lifetimes, so perhaps some unhappiness on her part is fair. I offered to let her go, but she needs a little more time to get used to being free again before she can go back to the wild. I told her she could stay with me as long as she likes. We’ll have to bring her back with us when we visit the Union; I flew by myself instead of taking a carriage, and she isn’t up to flying that far on her own wings yet.” Celestia smiled as she continued, though my mind was torn away from her by a rather foul smelling poultice being swiped through my mane by Humble Servant.

The alicorn, as ever, seemed unaffected even by the mane concerns of others. “I think the same decision has been made for a few of the physical effects he left here from your final battle.”

“What, the last two candlecorns?” I restrained myself from grinning as I nodded. “Trying to kill us aside, they’re incredibly useful. Especially to me, since they can cast basic spells for me without me having to flare up my horn and injure myself.” I frowned from deep thought. “I’ll have to figure out what illusion Wintershimmer was using to make them look exactly like him; I wouldn’t want to ruin this face trying to copy it with molten wax.”

A candlecorn, for those unfamiliar, is a type of golem which Wintershimmer invented (although this may be the last surviving record of that fact, as Celestia, Star Swirl, and I personally hid or burned most of his life’s work), which can essentially be summarized as a slightly oversized unicorn made of wax, with a candle in place of a horn. This unusual material and feature, while not as resilient or brutishly strong as a walking statue or as cheap as a dirt effigy, was capable of casting simple spells--and as Wintershimmer had proven to horrifying effect, could even cast fairly advanced spells, provided a real unicorn inserted his or her own soul to possess one.

“I believe Star Swirl also mentioned that he had set aside Wintershimmer’s jacket, which he suggested was lightly enchanted in a somewhat different manner than yours… and his staff.”

I winced. “Ah…”

The staff in question, for anyone who hasn’t read my preceding adventure, consisted of the skull and spinal column of an adolescent dragon. And I do mean that literally; at least if the story Wintershimmer had told me as a foal was true (it was, though I didn’t have a way to verify at the time), he had killed the creature it was made from, and then enchanted the bones into the terrifying symbol of his magical power that I had grown up seeing constantly at his side.

It was not, as you might imagine, an especially friendly symbol.

“You don’t need to worry about it right now, Morty,” Celestia advised, sensing my hesitance. “Have you had a chance to meet any of Gale’s other suitors yet?”

I briefly quirked my brow in Humble Servant’s direction, but Celestia seemed to trust him enough not to worry that he had clearly heard her use of the word ‘other’, so I shrugged and answered her question. “All of them, actually. Gale sort of... dragged me around to meet the suitors while she was delivering their invitations to the party.”

“That must have been an experience. What do you think of them?” I hadn’t, at the time, known Celestia long enough to tell the difference between when her blank face actually conveyed a lack of emotion, and when she kept her expression flat because there was no way to move the muscles of one’s muzzle enough to respect the implication of one’s words.

This was one of the latter cases.

But again, in ignorance I assumed she didn’t know the seven stal— ponies well enough to realize how loaded her question was. So, nervously, I swallowed. “Well… I think I can see where Gale is coming from.”

“That bad?”

“I may have gotten into a few arguments with them myself.” I swallowed. “Let’s see… first there was the unicorn noble Castle and his mom.”

“High Castle,” Celestia nodded. “I haven’t spoken to the young stallion much, but from my interactions with his mother I can see where Gale is coming from. I would have expected him to be the worst. Well, second worst.”

“For Gale, probably,” I agreed. “They expressed the opinion that you have to be born into a heroic family to be a hero. I, shall we say, disagreed.”

“No doubt talking about being descended from Luna and I?” Celestia asked with a mixture of dry distaste and fatigue in her voice.

I nodded as much as I felt comfortable without fear of being once again struck on the muzzle by an irate manedresser. “Is it true?”

“You think I’ve kept track?” Celestia scoffed, in an expression that, all these years later, I relate to much more closely. “I have had the joy of being a mother, Morty. And the first such joy was long enough ago that, conceivably, many ponies could be my great grandfoals many times over. But I have no idea if the noble families of the unicorns really are descended from me. And just between us, I think it’s silly to assume such a distant relationship with me means anything.” Celestia concluded the thought with a sigh, before pulling a cushion over from across the room and making herself more comfortable. “You seem to always know just what to ask to dredge up ancient history, Morty. I think we were talking about Gale’s suitors? That’s a more pleasant topic, I think.”

I raised one eyebrow into the mirror in front of me, which let me meet Celestia’s gaze without turning my head. “If you say so. After High Castle, we flew up Cloudsdale to the public baths.”

“Oh, that must have been fun for you!”

Though I didn’t want to be such a downer as to squash Celestia’s smile, I had to roll my eyes. “I’m learning not to like flying. At least, not in open chariots. But while we were there, we met the pegasus… Cap-something, I think, who might have been the nicest one of them all. It was something of a surprise; Gale led me to believe he and his grandmother were criminal masterminds.”

Celestia offered me a sage nod from her cushion, before giving Humble Servant a brief nod of approval at some tweak to my mane. “Not all cruelty is as overt as Wintershimmer’s. There’s more than one way to wield your reputation as a weapon.”

“If you say so.” If only I had learned the truth of that lesson faster... “After we got back on solid ground, we visited with Puddinghead’s son, Peanut. I’m fairly certain he would rather be with me than Gale.”


“I mean… I’m not one for stallions, but if I were, I am the obvious choice.” Through the reflection of the mirror, to avoid turning, I winked at Celestia. “You’re doing great work, by the way, Humble.”

“I live to serve, sir,” Humble Servant replied curtly, more focused on my mane than our conversation.

Celestia let out the smallest of sighs.“Luna did tell me you were a bit enamored with her when she took on your form. Have you ever heard the story of Neighcissus?”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m not going to starve to death looking in the mirror just because I know I look good.” Then, thinking back to my next encounter, I subconsciously brought my hoof up to my neck. “Not that looking increasingly like a corpse is helping.”

“Ah, you’ll forgive me, sir; I wasn’t going to comment on it if you didn’t bring it up.” Humble Servant nodded. “Shall I powder your… fatally open wound?”

“It’s not actually open,” I clarified. “There’s a thin layer of metal there. It just looks open.” Then I chuckled. “You’re welcome to put whatever make-up you want on it to cover it up, but I was just planning on wearing the collar of my jacket up more often.” I turned my head ever so slightly to look back to Celestia. “Gale hit me and opened up the stitches Meadowbrook had put in. The alchemist suitor… what was her name? Spicy?”

“Lady Menage,” Celestia gently completed with a nod. “I don’t mind nicknames between us, Morty, but if you learn to think of Gale’s suitors by their preferred titles first, it will spare you and Gale a great deal of pain in the future. Are you saying she deliberately put a layer of metal over your open wound?”

“Well, it was a forgivable mistake. She gave me something to clot it, but since there was still quicksilver in the wound from Silhouette’s claw…” I lifted my hoof, rapping on my own neck, and the faint metallic ringing in the room finished the thought.

“Sir, you will be pleased to note I took the liberty of selecting a few scarves and cravats, as well as an earth pony ‘neck-tie’, as accessory options for your outfit. Any one of them should be more than enough of an excuse for a taller collar to your attire.” Humble Servant smiled. “Once your mane is settled, of course.”

“Of course,” I agreed in feigned comfort with the process, returning my attention to Celestia. “Um… Spicy had some strong opinions on stallions. Like why we shouldn’t exist.”

“I’m vaguely familiar,” Celestia answered dismissively. “The disagreement there seems obvious.”

“Yeah… After her, I had the delight of meeting ‘Archmage’ Grayscale.”

“You say that like you don’t consider his title valid?”

“Grayscale is…” I paused not to choose my words delicately, but to make sure they were at least (in my perspective) fair. “He’s the apotheosis of everything wrong with Archmage Diadem’s philosophy of magic. I don’t know that I care that much about using a school to organize education, if it actually put forward wizards who were capable of using their magic to protect society. But if Grayscale is who those poor students are going to grow up to be… Frankly, I think they ought to shut it down before the school does any more harm.”

“That is… certainly a strong opinion, Morty.”

“Just wait; I’ve got lots, now that I’m not worried about being framed for murder.” I chuckled. “After Grayscale, we met Gray Rain… I know I’m going to get those two confused. Mrs. Rain was… unusual. I think Gale honestly likes talking to her more than the stallion himself. I guess Mrs. Rain was the one who taught Gale how to use a sword?”

Celestia hid a chuckle behind a hoof. “Yes, much to Hurricane and the Queen’s annoyance. But then, given recent events, I suppose I owe her my gratitude for those lessons. You didn’t ask her about her eye, did you?”

“No!” I shook my head, to Humble’s annoyance. “She offered to tell me, but the Dawn warned me so I didn’t ask. Not about Mrs. Rain in particular, but just not to ask old pegasi about war wounds. She suggested they consider it rude?”

“Often, yes. And in Rain’s case especially it would be a poor choice. I thought I would warn you in advance, since you wouldn’t want to get on that mare’s bad side, but I’m glad you made a good first impression. Iron Rain is one of Gale’s few real friends, and she loves their sparring matches. Though I worry that one of these days, Gale will finally get good enough to put up a real fight, and Rain will hurt herself trying to win against such a younger mare.”

I raised a hoof to force an awkward throat-clearing cough. “No offense meant, but—”

“Point taken,” Celestia interrupted with a chuckle. “My age does have its flaws, Morty, but arthritis is not one of them.” After a moment of amusement, I watched Celestia’s face fall, and she picked up again with a laborious low tone to her speech. “I take it your last introduction was with ‘my’ knight, then?”

“Count Halo, you mean? Yes; he seemed to think you taking me on as a student made me some kind of ‘chosen one’. He and his little apprentice, both.”

“Cherry?” Celestia cocked her head, before smiling. “He’s a delight, isn’t he? Just so friendly. It’s a shame he’s squiring under Halo, but hopefully he’ll come into his own before he gets too blinded by the faith.”

I bit back my complaints about the colt’s weird ‘perfection’. “Isn’t it your church? Why not just walk in and tell them to knock it off, if they aren’t doing what you want?”

“For the most part, the church’s teachings aren’t harmful; I do agree with the moral lessons they put forth. And for many of the worshippers, unfortunately, dismantling the body wouldn’t just be an end of a false faith; I’d be destroying their social circles, some of their jobs… a huge part of their identities.” With a resigned sigh, she added “And… it isn’t as if they’re completely wrong. As you well know, Luna and I do judge the souls of dead ponies. But judgement of souls does not make us omnipotent, or infallible, or as you know, even factually immortal.”

Celestia leaned her head back on her long neck, until she was staring up at the ceiling and her mane was billowing down in its unfelt wind onto her wings. I can’t be sure if it was an expression of unspoken frustration or merely a stretch, but she held her head up that way as she continued. “It’s Halo, and the other knights and clergy, who cause problems. They’re always inclined to go past just following good moral rules, trying to do grandiose tasks in my name, or ‘defend my honor’, whatever that means. And Halo is by far the worst. I try to tell him off, but usually he insists that I am making a ‘test of his faith’, and goes on doing whatever it was he was going to do ‘in my name’ anyway.” Holding the leading feathers of a wing to her temple, she added “I have met more than a few stubborn ponies in my day, Morty, but I’ve never before met somepony who managed to be so obviously able to hear while also managing to be completely deaf.”

“He… well, I suppose I can see that. He insisted when you burnt out most of my belly, that it was on purpose, to ‘test’ me or something.”

Celestia’s head snapped down, and she had to mask her entire muzzle with her feathers to contain a laugh in response. “Oh no, Morty; I’m afraid you’ve failed your lesson on dietary fitness. I guess we’ll have to start over.”

Humble Servant was at least sympathetic when my laughter pulled me away from his brush.

“In all seriousness, Morty, I wasn’t lying when I told you I can’t stand being a ‘goddess’. I don’t even really like being a leader.”

Celestia, you have all my sympathy. I could never do what you are doing. And while Everfree City may be no more, Equestria still exists because of you.

Unburdened by such knowledge of the future, my younger self chuckled. “Well, if your ‘followers’ don’t actually listen to you, I can sympathize. Though I think Graargh is still easier to work with than Halo.”

The joke didn’t seem to amuse Celestia. “Even the knights who do listen to me make me uncomfortable.” Celestia shook her head. “I don’t deserve that kind of power. I don’t know if anypony does.”

“The power to move the sun?” I asked. “I mean, forgive me if I sound like I’m belittling you; I’m just trying to understand. From my perspective, it seems like an ageless alicorn body and nearly infinite magical power is a trade that would absolutely be worth it to miss out on sleeping in every morning to raise the sun. Is there some downside? Some curse? Some cost?”

Celestia gave a small sad laugh as she shook her head. “I suppose you could call ‘responsibility’ a curse. But no, Morty. There’s no magical cost to my form. The ‘curse’ is in how other ponies view me, what they come to expect the second they meet me. Much like a certain teenage colt who now knows how to send somepony’s soul to the Summer Lands with nothing more than a thought, I didn’t actually ask for this. And, much like I’m sure you’ll learn in the next few years—if not the next few hours—both of our magical powers come with expectations from the ponies around us. And unfortunately, even the power to move the sun doesn’t give me much influence on those expectations. As you’ve observed, I’ve been telling ponies for twenty years not to call me a goddess. And yet...”

“Hmm…” I raised a brow. “I can see your issue, but I don’t know if it applies to me. The Razor was the reason everypony respected Wintershimmer; that spell was his whole claim to fame.”

Celestia nodded solemnly. “As grim as it is to discuss, most of his respect was because he was more than willing to use his spell. Meanwhile, the fact that you didn’t kill Clover like Wintershimmer wanted tells me that the same cannot be said about you.”

“And the fact that I’m a good enough necromancer to use that spell, even if I’m not a sociopath or a serial killer, doesn’t count for anything?”

“I’m afraid it won’t mean much to the ponies who matter for winning Gale’s hoof.” When I frowned, Celestia patted me on the shoulder. “For what it’s worth, it means a lot to me.”

While our conversation went on for some time longer, making smalltalk and holding my neck at uncomfortable angles, the majority of our discussions were simply her catching me up on the politics and affairs of the Crystal Union, and my sharing awkward stories from my youth as a ‘softcoat’ amongst crystal teenagers. I’ll spare you the misery of how I had no friends before Gale, and cut to the only other discussion of meaningful note.

“Celestia, could I ask for your help with something before the party?” I asked her as my mane was just setting from the last of the thirty-something additions to its shape and texture.


“Well… I had an idea for a birthday gift for Gale, but I’m not sure I can arrange it on my own.”

Celestia chuckled. “I’m sure she’ll forgive you for not getting her anything.”

I nodded. “She practically ordered me not to. But… I’m just going to need some money, and somepony who’s known Gale longer than I have to help work out a few of the details.”

“I did hear that the crowns wanted to give you… I believe they said ‘a boon’, in thanks and apology for what happened to you.”

I raised a brow. “I don’t know this is worth a boon.”

“No,” said Celestia. “But it would certainly be an impressive gesture to give up something with that much worth for somepony else’s happiness… assuming that’s what you’re actually thinking of, and this isn’t just for you to save face in front of the other suitors.” The look Celestia shot me told me that the thought wasn’t hypothetical, and was rather more of a warning. Thankfully, that was at least one rare moment in my life utterly undefined by ego, and I was able to answer with a warm smile.

“If she’ll appreciate the gesture, then absolutely.”

I think I saw a shred of relief on Celestia’s expression when she answered. “Very well. What did you have in mind?”

So I explained myself.

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