• 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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1-13

I - XIII

The Gift

As much as another orderly greeting queue could be called rampant chaos, the throne room exploded into anarchy. The political whispers were deafening. Backroom dealings swiftly filled up all the palace’s available back rooms and spilled out onto the buffet table, ensnaring the unfortunate palace staff and their trays of drinks in inky deals for half-explained favors and political maneuvering.

The new queen, the ruler of the unicorn third of Equestria, was half pegasus, and from the way the room reacted, you might have been forgiven for thinking she was also half fish or something. For all the effort that it had taken me to avoid Count Halo’s blades in our little duel, it was harder for me to stay standing and untrampled in that chaotic mess than it had been to keep myself un-impaled. So as the great queue formed, I ducked my way between the courtiers and the nobles and found my way to the side of the room and a quiet bench where I wouldn’t cause too much distress.

There I waited and watched as the room’s occupants funneled their way up the stairs for what seemed like interminable hours. And while the process was perhaps boring for me, I at least had the opportunity to sneak over to the buffet tables and devour a dinner or two, making up for both the exertion of a brief magical duel, and the cruel reality that I had once again been forced to skip lunch. I likewise made small talk with whatever guests weren’t either disgusted by my lack of a pure noble bloodline or terrified of the fact that I had literally killed a stallion only a few minutes earlier, but for the most part, I was left to be bored alone while the greeting line ground forward at a sloth’s pace.

Gale had no such small mercies. I watched through the hours as her face lost its expression of shock and grew visibly gaunter and flatter, her eyes growing glassy and staring further and further into the empty space behind the head of whoever was speaking to her. Three hours, four hours, five passed, and the guests began to slowly head back to their homes. I earned only a moment of Celestia’s time when she finally stepped down from the dais, but she shook her head as she passed, and simply uttered “I took care of it,” before fleeing the room entirely. So I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And, finally, when the line was finished, Queen Platinum whispered something into Gale’s ear, and she stood up from the throne. The crown glimmered on her brow as her magic wrapped around her own throat—and though I have no doubt in my mind that she wished she could have strangled herself in that moment, the magic she cast instead projected her voice around the room. “Friends, honored guests… Thank you so much for your time, and for joining me today. Alas, the night grows late, and I think our time together is at its end. If anypony traveled here from outside the city, I invite you to speak to one of the guards, and they can see to providing you with one of the palace’s guest rooms. Otherwise, I bid you a good night and pleasant dreams, and I thank you again.”

Then, without so much as a breath, she whirled with enough force to make the hem of her dress crack like a whip in the air and snuck out through a small doorway concealed behind the three thrones. I knew the opportune moment when I saw it, and rose from my seat to start walking against the tide of the last lingering guests up towards the thrones.

“Sir, I… oh; it’s you.” The speaker was a guardspony stepping into my path near the foot of the stairs, and upon recognizing me, his blocking posture became just a bit more nervous. “The party is over, and—”

“My ears do work,” I interrupted him. “I was waiting for everypony else to go home to go talk to her. So if you would excuse me,”

“Sir… uh, Mr? Archmage Coil…? I can’t let you past.”

I reached up to my temple and rubbed it gently. “Look… Would you let me by if Celestia vouched for me? Because I’d rather be friendly like that than threaten to hurl you through the wall.”

The guard frowned in a bit of concern and more than a bit of visible confusion. “Doesn’t bringing it up at all count as a threat?”

“If it is, are you intimidated enough to get out of my way? Or do I need to go find Celestia now?”

The guard shook his head in disbelief. “It’s a crime to threaten an Equestrian legionary—”

“Let him through, legionary.” The firm voice that spoke up belonged to Commander Hurricane, and the fact that the soldier in my way immediately darted to the side, offering the retired leader a stiff salute, indicated that calling him ‘Commander’ Hurricane despite his ostensible retirement was completely appropriate. “This isn’t the Crystal Union, Morty,” Hurricane told me as I proceeded up toward his place standing near what had once been his own throne. “Throwing your weight around like that in Equestria will come back to bite you.”

“To be honest, if my horn weren’t hurting, I would have just skipped the trouble and teleported straight past him.” I nodded to Hurricane. “But thank you for stepping in. I just need to give Gale her present.”

Hurricane chuckled. “I heard.” When I stopped and turned to the old stallion, surprise written plain on my face, he explained himself. “Celestia told me your idea; I got all the ponies together like you suggested, plus a few you probably haven’t met yet. Are you sure that’s really what you want to spend your ‘royal boon’ on?”

I shrugged. “If that’s what it costs, so be it. Now, I should get going before Gale kills somepony.”

“After your performance tonight, is that the best joke?” Despite the fatigue in his voice, Hurricane gestured with his one remaining wing for me to go on ahead.

The door behind the three thrones led to a small sitting room intended for the three heads of state and their attendants. Though Equestria had a parliament, hundreds if not thousands of bureaucrats and statesponies, and enough paperwork to make one fear for the extinction of papyrus reeds in its territories, it was this one tiny room that played host to nearly every major political decision in the nation’s early history. It was, in short, ‘the room where it happens’, for almost any conceivable value of ‘it’.

On that day, the room held three ponies: both living Queen Platinums, and the younger’s half-sister, Commander Typhoon. It was the elder Platinum who first looked up when I entered the room, and immediately her eyes narrowed. “Typhoon, please find out which one of your guards let him in here, so I can have him imprisoned.”

“It was your husband,” I told her with a slight grin, before stepping past Platinum to properly face Gale. It was before her that I gave the most respectful, sincere bow I knew how to manage. “Your Majesty.”

Gale groaned. “Not you too, Morty!”

“What are you actually doing back here, Coil?” The elder Platinum asked as I stood up. “Haven’t you already done enough with poor Count Halo?”

I glared at the mare, gesturing to my slashed open shoulder. “He started it by literally trying to murder me. And at the end of it I’m the only pony who was really hurt; I don’t know what more you want out of me, but I can’t imagine that having gone better.” Then I nodded toward Gale. “To answer your fairer question, I came to give her my present.”

Commander Typhoon, clad in her sleek black armor, raised her scarred brow. “You got Gale a present?”

Gale scowled at me. “So you’re fucking deaf? I told you not to bother. And I assumed if anything, getting rid of Halo was the best present you could have given.” When Platinum shot her daughter a soured glance, Gale made a rather rude gesture with her foreleg. “He’s closer to your age than mine. It’s completely disgusting!”

“Count Halo is a pinnacle of unicorn nobility, and an esteemed member of your court, Princess—” There came a forced cough from the older mare’s throat. “Queen Platinum; if you don’t favor him, that’s fine, but you cannot afford to burn bridges by openly insulting him or siding with this necromancer.”

I coughed into my hoof. “For somepony who mere hours ago gave an elaborate speech about how much she wishes she could have had more time to learn about ruling from her late father, you’re certainly quick to brush off my magic.” I then slipped my hoof into the breast of my vest and produced a long band of silk, which I offered to Gale.

She raised a brow. “Uh… thanks? Is it enchanted?”

“Either that, or he’s about to do some stage magic for you,” Typhoon noted dryly.

“Oh, sorry; it’s a blindfold. So it can be a surprise.”

Gale’s eyes briefly jumped to her mother before she looked back at me with a sultry grin. “Kinky.”

Absolutely not. We will not have your image sullied wandering through the streets blindfolded like a... a pet on a lead to this charlatan!” Platinum’s eyes narrowed as she observed Gale’s grin grow suddenly wider. “Daughter, if you say that word to me again, so help me I will end this game with your suitors and just choose one for you.”

I held up my hooves defensively. “Look, I don’t care about the blindfold; I didn’t mean to offend anypony.”

“It’s fine, Platinum,” Typhoon nodded. “Dad told me what he was up to earlier; I didn’t realize that was what you meant by a ‘present’. I promise, he’s not going to cause her any trouble--politically or personally. And Dad will be with them to make sure they stay out of trouble.”

“Fine. But no blindfolds.” Platinum ordered.

Gale made a great effort of making her ensuing “Aww…” sound as disappointed and as grating as possible, but she nevertheless made her way over to my side. It was in a whisper that she addressed me. “Get me out of here, Morty.”

We were nearly to the door, though, when Platinum called to me over our shoulders. “Oh, and Coil; I will be in contact. Soon.”

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

Though I immediately led Gale away from her mother, Hurricane stopped us back in the throne room and pulled us aside to another of the palace’s many rooms, to give Gale some chance to escape the confines of her court-suitable outfit. That left me standing outside in the hallways of the palace, alone with Commander Hurricane.

He raised a brow in my direction. “So, Morty, I have to ask: did you really think of this yourself?”

I shrugged. “Gale told me about eighty times when we were traveling, that she wanted to get away from…” I waved my hoof in the direction of the throne room. “...all of this. I obviously can’t just run away with her again with my horn the way it is.”

Hurricane winced. “I’m not as skeptical of your friendship as my better half, Morty, and I know it wasn’t your fault the last time. But so that we are clear: if you deliberately put my daughter in that kind of danger again, I will kill you.”

Now isn’t the time to describe exactly how that made me feel, but suffice it to say the apple of my throat was suddenly substantially thicker than my esophagus. “O… of course not, sir. I won’t have time; not if I’m going to be spending my time studying with Celestia.” I sighed. “And especially not after today’s surprise, I imagine.”

“You know her better than all her other suitors, then.” Hurricane leaned against the wall, watching me skeptically. When one word in his phrase caught in the clockwork of my mind, he donned a slight grin.

“What do you mean—”

“I was young once too, Morty,” Hurricane non-explained. “As hard as that might be to believe looking at me now.” He gestured down to his braced foreleg, helping to support an arthritic knee that I had to suspect had also been injured in one of the countless battles of the stallion’s long lifetime. And then, seemingly off-hoof, he said something that has quite literally haunted me for more lifetimes than he could possibly have imagined.

“Have you looked closely at her marks?”

The context in which I heard that question: perhaps the most dangerous father in the entire equine species asking me if I had looked closely at his daughter’s flanks, should hopefully explain the resolute shake of my head ‘no’.

Hurricane chuckled. “You should.”

I have rarely had the opportunity to turn quite so red, or to be quite so interested in the pattern of the carpet. Hurricane must have been the tactical genius history remembers him as, given how easily he managed to find everypony else he spoke to flat-hooved. “I beg your pardon?!” I coughed into my hoof. “I mean, not that I don’t think Gale is beautiful, but...”

When Hurricane was sure I wasn’t going to finish that sentence, he shook his own head slowly. “Love is when you understand somepony’s mark—and what it really represents—like it was yours, and you put it ahead of your own.”

“Um…”

“As much as Gale might like to pretend she only has a rapier on her sides, there’s a crown there too,” Hurricane mused on, closing his eyes and leaning heavily against the wall.

“What do you—”

The door beside Hurricane abruptly slammed open with Gale’s magic; she emerged devoid of her entire outfit and all the makeup she could remove without struggling with a rag; only a touch of vibrant purple lining around her eyes remained. “Fucking finally.” She rolled her neck, and I was amused to note that Hurricane winced in just as much discomfort as I felt at the sound of his daughter’s joints popping. She glanced to me, and then to Hurricane. “Did I interrupt something?”

“I was just telling Morty that he’s welcome to one of the guest bedrooms at home,” Hurricane lied. “Since I have a hunch Celestia would like her bed back. And I was thanking him for helping bring Blizzard here.”

Gale rolled her eyes. “You’re such a fucking sap, Dad. Come on, Morty; let’s go.”

“Um… I don’t actually know where we’re going.”

“What?”

I shook my head and then nodded my horn at Hurricane. “I know the name of the place, but I haven’t actually been there…”

“I’ll lead,” Hurricane offered. “You’ll have to forgive me for my pace, though.”

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

As you likely recall, in the heart of Riverward one could find a dance hall named The Sordid Affair. The sign, colored with parasprite fuzz paint, glowed neon pink and blue in the summer night air of Everfree, as classy as a clown’s novelty water-squirting boutonniere at a wake. Even Gale, ever the afficionado of seedy bars and shadowy back-alley hostels, glanced at me skeptically as we approached.

“Morty, if I really wanted to go ballroom dancing, the one at the palace is a hell of a lot nicer.”

Hurricane quirked his brow. “I thought this was your favorite dance hall, Gale.”

“On the weekend, when they play good music. Most of the time it’s all the usual Waltzes and Boulangere and whatever the fuck that dance Mom likes where everypony trots in a circle.” Gale stopped just before the doors, and looked at me out of the corner of her eye, and then suddenly her face went rather sheepish. “I mean… look, I appreciate the thought. After all that bullshit, and what happened, doing something without all the pomp and prestige is a great idea. But honestly, let’s just go back home.”

“Give me a chance, Gale.” I took her hoof, pulled her the rest of the way over to the door, and (utilizing the absolute extent of my balance to support myself on only my hind legs for just a moment), pushing it open.

“Happy Birthday, Gale!”

Gale staggered back at the sound of a mass of voices coming from inside the dance hall, and then her face broke into one of the widest smiles I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing on her.

In the center of the cheap lacquered oak dance floor, a huddle of Gale’s friends and family were gathered around a chocolate cake with a mess of dribbly little candles sticking out the top. I recognized most of the faces: Graargh, Blizzard, and Angel, our other three traveling companions from the battle with Wintershimmer. Gale’s big sister, Commander Typhoon, with her adjutant and office romance Frostfall, and Typhoon’s son Tempest, who was amusingly Gale’s nephew despite his being a few years older than her, thanks the titanic age gap separating freshly eighteen-year-old Gale from her forty-five year old elder sister. Then there were the fresher introductions: cyclopic, masculine Iron Rain, wearing a sword by her side that really didn’t seem to fit at a birthday party of all gatherings, and her husband Pathfinder, the only stallion I have ever known to have lost more of his fur and mane to scar tissue than to aging. They had dragged their son Gray along, though I had the sneaking suspicion he was more of baggage, and that the elder Rain was the real ‘friend’. I recognized Somnambula as well, the ‘Pillar of Hope’ from the desert sands to the south, if you believe in that sort of thing, though at the time I had barely spoken to her for thirty seconds in my life. And beside her, a mare in a palace servant’s uniform who I had never met.

“Holy shit, Morty… how… Do you even know half these ponies?”

I shrugged. “Credit where credit is due, it was my idea, but I did hardly any of the legwork. And to be honest, I don’t know if it’s really worth a ‘holy shit’; you’ve seen me raise the dead, and a cheap cake and a rented out dance hall are what impresses you?”

“You really know how to ruin any moment, don’t you?” Gale kissed me full on the lips, slipping in just the slightest hint of tongue, right in front of all the aforementioned ponies.

Iron Rain, in all her sixty-something years of wisdom, wolf-whistled, joined by the mare I didn’t recognize. Apparently, that hadn’t been planned, judging by the way the two mares then turned awkwardly to stare at one another. The most notable voice, however, was a small, high pitched, scratchy one at about my knee height, yelling “Eww, yucky!”

The speaker was Graargh, my ‘little brother’ if you will—an adolescent grizzly bear cub as far as anypony’s eyes were concerned, but actually a very young changeling for anypony in the know. At the time, of course, the word ‘changeling’ meant nothing to me save that if he ‘pretended’ hard enough he could shapeshift, and that unlike a pony using magic to transmute their form, his changed shapes actually worked. I had only heard the word from Celestia and Luna’s mouths; I, and the rest of Equestria, had yet to encounter Chrysalis and her hordes.

Graargh leapt up on me and knocked me back, wrapping his forelegs around my neck and putting quite a lot of dense grizzly bear weight on my shoulders. Still, even if I was a skinny young stallion, I’d carried the little cub on my shoulders across about half of Equestria and back, so the weight wasn’t unbearable.

“What happen to Morty’s neck?” Graargh asked.

I had honestly forgotten about the gaping, apparently open wound, and had to chuckle at the question. “Magic accident; it’s fine, Graargh. I’m just finishing healing up. How are you?”

“I good!” Graargh answered. “I stay with Papa Cane and Blizzard!”

I raised a brow and glanced Blizzard, who had adopted her usual posture around strange new ponies: wings bunched up to her neck, trying to lower her not insubstantial height as much as possible, and attempting to sneak over to the Hurricane’s side as a source of relative stability in the gathering.

“Have you two been having fun, then?” I asked.

The mare in question jumped. “Oh! Morty. Uh, yes. Fun party. I, um… I don’t know anypony here really except Mr. Pathfinder, and Aunt Typhoon, so I was just going to leave—”

“Not a fucking chance, Blizzard,” Gale interrupted, awkwardly hefting a foreleg over the shoulders of her half-niece. “I’ve been trying to get you to leave Dad’s house for, what, three weeks? The least you can do for my birthday is stick around. Besides, like half the ponies in this room are family.”

Blizzard swallowed. “That’s… kind of what I’m worried about.”

For those unfamiliar with the mare from my prior story, Blizzard was the daughter of Hurricane’s eldest foal, Cyclone—or, as more modern history texts may recall him, Tsyklon. At the time, however, Cyclone had yet to become the father of Stalliongrad, but instead had the wonderful title of ‘the Betrayer’. At the time of the events of the first Hearth’s Warming Day, while Hurricane and co. were away from their respective frozen civilizations in the Compact Lands, Cyclone decided that as Hurricane’s heir, he was entitled to lead the pegasi of the Cirran Legions. And in all the infinite wisdom of an eighteen year old with virtually unlimited military power at his hooves and a desire to make a name for himself in the history books, Cyclone decided to declare war on the unicorns and the earth ponies, secure food for the pegasi by force, and return to the ancient homeland of Cirra to win the war with the griffons that Hurricane had famously run away from.

Which really just goes to show that the Queen should have been happy I only killed one pony in self-defense in the middle of Gale’s surprise coronation party.

Cyclone failed, of course, in no small part because Hurricane actually came back alive and well. From that point, as I understand it, simply ordering his forces to stop and telling them he wasn’t mad, but just disappointed, solved most of the problem. Nevertheless, he wasn’t fast enough to stop Cyclone from breaking into the unicorn throne room, killing Gale’s maternal grandfather, King Lapis IV, and making Gale’s mom into Queen Platinum I at a tragically young age…

Namely, as she had alluded in her monologue, almost exactly the same age at which she had now thrust that responsibility on her daughter.

Despite my harshness toward the elder Platinum, she did show a great mercy to Hurricane by sparing his son’s life—punishing him instead with permanent exile from the newly founded Equestria. Cyclone would instead watch over the old unicorn capital of River Rock that he had conquered, forced to defend those he had hoped to rule, through the hardships of eternal winter left over on those old lands from the windigoes’ curse.

Blizzard had only just been born at the time of her father’s attempted conquest, but that didn’t stop her from a (fairly justifiable) fear that she would be hated by ponies who knew her true heritage.

“Blizzard, it ok!” Graargh announced. “I protect!”

Hurricane, walking up behind us, couldn’t help but chuckle. “I’m sure Blizzard is happy to know you’re there for her, Guhrargh.” Then, whispering slightly lower toward Blizzard, the old stallion continued “If you’re not comfortable here, Blizzard, I can take you home; but I promise you are safe with these ponies.”

Before Blizzard could answer her grandfather, Graargh announced “My name” and then let out a deafening guttural roar—some part of his changeling powers, I presumed, was that he could roar with the voice of an adult grizzly—and continued “Or ‘Graargh’ if have to say bad, like Morty. But not Guh-rargh. Not am spit noise.”

Gale rolled her eyes. “When are you going to learn that ponies can’t make that noise, Graargh?”

“Slestia make name right!” Graargh protested.

I patted Graargh on the shoulder. “Celestia is special, Graargh. Normal ponies can’t do that.”

Graargh shrugged in indifference, and then looked up at me with his adorably beady bear cub eyes. “You feel better, Morty? You sleep much. Too much. Not time to hibernate; it summer.”

“Graargh, why don’t you come sit with me over here?” Hurricane proposed. “Gale will want some time to say hello to her other friends, and then we can eat some cake.”

“What ‘cake’?”

Hurricane looked at me quizzically, to which I could only shrug. “I only learned what a ‘birthday party’ was yesterday.”

The old pegasus chuckled. “Today is going to be a good day for you, kid.”

Blizzard smiled at us. “You two go ahead and meet the others; I’ll just—”

Gale actually had the audacity to cut off her niece by grabbing the slightly older mare’s face with her magic. “Nice try, Blizzard. Come on; I’ll get you a drink to take the edge off, but you’re meeting these ponies.”

Like any good dance hall, The Sordid Affair had a well stocked bar, though apparently renting out the building did not include a pony to staff it. Gale obviously did not care, beckoning with a foreleg toward the elderly green grindstone of a pegasus in the corner to assist her. “Get over here, Finder.”

I had met Pathfinder only once in my life before that moment, and at the time our conversation had been somewhat clipped because I was concerned with Wintershimmer attempting to frame me for the murder of about three dozen Equestrian civilians. Thus, when the stallion wandered over to join us for introductions at the bar, accompanied by his wife Iron Rain and his son Gray, it was the first time I had really put together faces and seen the trio as a family, and it was a strange revelation.

Firstly, let me say that I don’t mean to disparage the stallion’s… masculinity. Though I only knew him for the latter portion of his life, I considered Pathfinder a good friend, and more than that an Equestrian hero. That being said, even simply by looking at him next to his wife, it was obvious who wore the figurative pants in that relationship.

For ponies who might not be familiar with that Abyssian phrase, and might be confused by the fact that most ponies don’t wear pants even in formal situations, to ‘wear the pants in a relationship’ means to be the ‘top’. And for those unfamiliar with the phrase ‘top’, you’re not old enough to be reading Gale’s vocabulary in this story, and I highly recommend you take my advice in the foreword and dig up a picture book instead.

Returning to my point about Pathfinder, the first issue in his relationship with Iron Rain is that he was fairly short for a pegasus—already the smallest race of ponies—and Rain was the second largest pegasus I had ever met, only second to the aforementioned Cyclone, whose size made me suspect Hurricane had once had an affair with a polar bear. If Rain wanted to put her wing over her husband’s shoulders, she could do so without the wing actually being parallel to the ground. Most notably, though, Iron Rain carried herself with the perfect military posture one earns either through years of disciplined practice, or medically by taking an I-beam girder as a suppository. Pathfinder, in contrast, carried himself somewhat hunched down. It wasn’t that he had the bad posture of somepony self-confident, so much as it was a sense of suppressed paranoia about his surroundings, but it was hard not to notice just how often his eyes would jump to the doors and windows of a room if you were making eye contact with him for the interest of conversation.

Gale was grinning ear to ear as she plopped down on a bar stool and kicked the legs to turn it around and face the bar. She put far too much strength into the blow, though, and was left spinning around, giggling like a six year old filly. “Thank fuck, I can get a real drink. Finder, if they have Old Cirran back there, get me that. If not, just give me a lick of whatever’s strongest.”

“I didn’t think the cocktails were that bad,” Iron Rain offered. “Now are you going to introduce me to your friend, Gale?”

“Hmm? You already met Morty.” Gale stuck out her leg, and with a rather painful scraping of hoof-on-wood, she finally came to a stop facing the bar. “That’s my cousin Blizzard.” Blizzard winced away at the introduction, to which Gale rolled her eyes. “Blizzard, this is—”

Blizzard?” Rain’s single eye widened, causing the lanky young mare in front of her to shrivel back further, futilely trying to use me to hide like a corpulent hippopotamus behind a lamp pole. Iron Rain seemed to see me in much the same way, as she had no hesitation in just shoving me aside with a wing to get a look at her. As I staggered to my hooves, Rain cocked her head. “You’re Summer’s daughter?”

“I… y-yes…?” What followed was a shriek of terror-turned-confusion as Rain pounced on the much younger mare, wrapping her in rippling muscled forelegs and huge feathery wings for a tight hug. Judging by the sound that escaped her chest, somepony must have shoved a dog’s chew toy whistle down Blizzard’s throat, and when she was released a moment later, she had to catch her breath.

“Your mom and I were like sisters growing up,” Rain explained, stepping back. “Gods, look at you; so skinny! Well, we’ll fix that. Thank the gods somepony brought you back to Everfree, even if you are twenty years late.” Without even giving Blizzard a chance to breathe, Rain looked up and shot a one-eyed glare at Hurricane. “You finally realize I should have been raising her to start with, you crotchety old bastard?”

Hurricane—Commander Hurricane—made a point of answering by turning his body around fully so that his back was facing the bar, before returning to whatever he had been talking to Graargh about.

“A-actually, it was Morty…” Blizzard blushed fiercely through her icy white coat, her wings pinching up so far they almost covered the sides of her face.

Iron Rain turned to me, raising the brow above her missing eye, before lunging forward and kissing me once on each cheek. I was completely unprepared for this ‘attack’, and froze as the older mare chuckled. “Well, I’ll be damned, kid. You kill a noble right in front of the Queen, you fight Cyclone to steal his daughter…” She turned then to Gale. “He’s still too scrawny, but you picked a fine one, Gale.”

“Oh, you should see him in a real fight; it’s hilarious.” Gale muffled a chuckle with a hoof. “Ask Tempest.” Then Gale leaned back in her barstool and shouted her preferred term of endearment for the stallion: “Hey, slut! Get over here!”

Some readers may not have any siblings, or like me, may not consider the siblings they have any kind of family, and so may be confused that I refer to the word ‘slut’ as a term of endearment. I certainly felt that way in the moment; though on reflection, most of my siblings referred to me as either ‘Half-Brother’ (emphasizing that most-important cultural distancing) or just ‘Coil’, if not my most detested ‘Mortal’ — all of which are fairly formal and proper forms of address.

Tempest and Gale’s relationship must have been much healthier, because the handsomely scruffy sky-blue stallion actually perked up with a grin, cut off his conversation with Somnamnbula, and wandered over our direction. “You rang, psycho bitch? Or is that Your Majesty now?”

“Go fuck yourself, Tempest.”

“Wallflower would be mad I was cheating on her.”

Gale stuck out her tongue at the somewhat older stallion, technically her nephew but to all the world her big brother. Tempest responded, still grinning, with a rather complex rude gesture that required more wing flexibility than could possibly be comfortable. Maybe that was the point.

“Tell Rain about how Morty kicked your ass with a barrel of fish in Lübuck.”

Tempest rolled his eyes, shooting me a glare. “I won that fight, Gale.”

“Really? Cause I seem to remember you let Morty and I walk away when you had us outnumbered with a whole patrol.”

Tempest rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say, Gale. I don’t get paid enough to put up with magic tricks. Finder, you pouring?”

Pathfinder nodded from behind the bar. “That’s the plan. Why?”

“Because after I put away even one of Gale’s drinks, I can’t see straight.”

Pathfinder raised a brow at Gale. “You always drink Old Cirran with me, kid; what are you putting away behind my back?”

“Look, Finder… I can’t always get Old Cirran at mom’s parties; all the nobles are too snooty to just drink beer. But Puddinghead makes these mixed drinks; enough berries and syrup and fancy spices that nopony looks at me funny, but underneath they’re usually mostly vodka or mostly whisky. And then I can talk to my suitors without wanting to hang myself.”

“Well, you want something fun like that, you’re gonna have to tell me how to make it.” Pathfinder worked with his wings as he talked, producing a tankard of frothy beer for his wife first, and then for Tempest, and another for his son who hadn’t even approached the bar. He didn’t even make any mention of asking me either; he slapped a drink down in front of me and paid it no further mind. Then he looked to Blizzard. “Your father at least teach you respect for what’s good in life?”

Pathfinder,” Iron Rain scolded.

Blizzard shook her head nervously. “I, um… No, he didn’t drink. And I don’t.”

“Are you sure you’re Summer’s daughter?” Pathfinder asked with a chuckle.

Rain seemed to take offense on behalf of my friend. “Finder, you of all ponies know she never got to meet Summer. And you’re hardly one to talk. If you teach her to drink like you did Gale, I’ll break your wings, husband or not..”

“I love you too, sweetheart.” Finder then turned back to Gale. “So, this being your birthday, what can I do for you?”

Gale grinned ear to ear—there was an element of ‘I’m having a good time’ to it, but also more than a little bit of the predatory grin of a large tropical cat. “You know how to mix a lick of Luna’s—”

Gale was cut off when the doors to the bar slammed open to welcome in the last of the party’s guests: the arguably divine mare in question, and her elder sister. Celestia showed no hesitation in immediately turning to join Hurricane—or perhaps she just didn’t like to think of herself as a barfly.

The more nocturnal of the pair had no such inhibitions. “Now the party can truly begin!” Luna bellowed. “Bartender! What are you serving?”

“Whatever Gale’s ordering, Lady Luna,” Pathfinder answered with a shrug. “Old Cirran, mostly.”

“Hmm… That sounds a bit boring from what I know of Gale’s dreams; what is your new queen ordering?”

Gale turned very red and coughed into her hoof more than once. “A, um…”

“It’s no matter,” Luna cut in when Gale hesitated, an uncharacteristic mercy from the mare voted Equestria’s least eligible bachelorette eight hundred and fifty years running. “I did not come to lose my night to inebriation, but to revel with my favorite niece…” Her voice then picked up the ominous edge of a guillotine suffused with about three strides of potential energy. “...and to deliver a summons.” With that, Luna produced a scroll and slapped it into my chest, where I promptly failed to catch it and it fell on the floor.

I frowned as I struggled to lift the parchment with my hooves, trying desperately not to use my horn. “Was the paper some kind of formality, or did you just want me to have to embarrass myself asking somepony else to read it?”

Luna shook her head. “No, Coil; as hilarious as it is to consider a nearly-adult wizard could possibly be illiterate—”

Nearly adult?

“—you will find that drawn on that parchment is the ritual circle for a cold iron vow. Your presence is required outside.”

“A cold iron…” I found myself briefly speechless. “Is this what you want for your geas? Because if not, I would really rather enjoy the party; it is my first one.”

“It isn’t from me,” Luna answered. “I only prepared the magic. I want nothing else to do with it. And no, as I understand it, this cannot wait. Queen Platinum was quite specific.”

“Mom? What the fuck, she needs you now?”

I turned to Gale with a shrug. “I thought you were ‘Queen Platinum’ now. Do we still call her ‘Queen’ too?”

The question only earned me a roll of her eyes before Gale clarified “I’m sure there’s some bullshit formal title. What’s a cold iron vow? Is something actually wrong, or more crown crap?”

I shrugged, but stood up. “Something is very serious, but not necessarily very wrong. A cold iron vow is magic, but not unicorn magic. I think it comes from the elk...”

Luna’s brow raised. “I’m impressed; that isn’t something I had expected Wintershimmer to have taught you. But it’s actually fey magic.”

“Ah, delightful,” I noted. “Well, Gale, if I have to give up my firstborn foal, at least it will put the question of suitors to rest.”

“What did he mean about foals?” I heard Blizzard ask over my shoulder as I left the party behind, gritting my teeth as I went. “What’s ‘fey magic’?”

I didn’t catch Luna’s explanation to my timid friend, and my own will have to wait for the next chapter. Instead, as I left the room, I could only stew in frustration at the thought that this was Queen Platinum’s way of pettily denying me the fun of what would have been my first night out with Gale and my other friends without the imminent threat of death hanging over my head. But if the Queen wanted an agreement with such powerful (and dangerous) magic, who was I to say no?

It would not be the last time I gave up an evening in Gale’s company for the sake of Equestria, and looking back on eight hundred years, those are the most painful regrets.

Even if you live forever, you still can’t get time back...

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