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



Celestia's first student and Princess Platinum conspire to cheat the princess out of an arranged marriage.

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Interlude I - Regarding Somnambula

Interlude I

Regarding Somnambula

On the morning of what would have been Gale’s one thousand eight hundred and thirty first birthday, or if you prefer, a full one thousand and seven years after the prior chapter of this tome was first penned, Celestia watched as another of her students held an earlier copy of this very tome in a magical aura of ‘moderate amaranth’ (that is to say ‘reddish-purple’, if you have never been asked by a court of law to indicate where a color wheel touched you).

Sunset Shimmer will not, I suspect, go down in Equestrian history—except, perhaps, for mages studying the field of portal magic. She had the misfortune of preceding the now overwhelmingly famous Twilight Sparkle in her role as Celestia’s pupil, and took whatever fame she otherwise might have had to the far side of a magical mirror whose creation and original intended purpose I shall discuss later in this book (and, confusingly, chronologically much earlier).

In appearance, she was an amber unicorn of about twenty, maybe twenty-five years, with a vibrant crimson mane split by a similarly sharp yellow stripe. Beyond that, and her talent mark of a blazing sun, (I refuse to refer to them by Dr. Cutie Pie’s name, no matter the significance of her contributions to that field of study) she had no particularly notable features. Though a perfectly capable mage, she never ascended to the level of magic where one might expect to find her having tampered with her own anatomy, as one would note upon meeting myself, or Star Swirl, or the aforementioned Twilight Sparkle. In fact, her only magical ‘side effect’ of note was her age—though she looked to be only in her twenties (which would have made her Twilight’s peer and not her predecessor), on that morning of Gale’s birthday Sunset Shimmer was actually forty three. The mismatch was the result of the unusual flow of time on the other side of her portal compared to its rate passing in Equestria.

I explain all this so that you can understand that when Celestia, by then the monarch of Equestria, nodded down at this tome—and all the secrets it contains—it was a show of incredible trust, but founded on their past relationship.

“You can share what you read in this with your team if you believe it is necessary,” Celestia told her. “But there are some things Morty wrote down that I don’t trust the rest of Equestria with knowing.”

Sunset Shimmer nodded somberly. “Is there anything in particular you want me to keep secret?”

“I think it’s fairly obvious, and I trust your judgement,” Celestia answered, managing to project warmth into her words without losing the seriousness in her tone. “Just… don’t try to cast any of the magic in there unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

Sunset chuckled. “Well, it’s been a few years since I renewed my necromancer’s license. And even if I had, it was never really my field, you know?”

“I recall a certain filly could be quite crafty making golem cores when she wanted her bedroom to clean itself,” Celestia replied, before suddenly glancing to the door of the chamber, seemingly unprompted. “Come in, Somnambula.”

The door cracked open, and then the sandy orange pegasus who’d opened it started. “Oh, I’m sorry—I didn’t realize you were having a private conversation. I had just made some spiced shay, and I remember you used to like it…”

“It’s fine.” Celestia smiled, gesturing the ancient mare into the room with her wing. “Thank you for thinking of us. I’d forgotten how good your shay was.” Then she stepped away from the window overlooking Canterlot’s enormous (and quite fatal—more on that earlier) cliff, taking a seat on a cushion in the center of the room. “Come on, Sunset. Have a seat. I was going to suggest you go get to know the rest of your team today while my staff is preparing your airship; that way, you can leave first thing tomorrow morning.”

Sunset nodded. “Right… Somnambula, what is shay?”

“Oh, uh… I believe you would call it ‘tea’.”

“The more Equiish pronunciation is ‘chai’,” Celestia clarified. “Though Somnambula’s blend of spices is a bit different from what’s become popular in Equestria. Even in Saddle Arabia, nopony makes it quite the same anymore.”

“It has been… a long time,” Somnambula agreed with a nod, gently removing the tray on her back with her wings and setting it on a small coffee table in front of the massive alicorn. Then she took a seat on another cushion in the room, pausing just long enough to adjust her silk headdress. “Things change with time. It is not a thing to cry over. It gives us the hope that the world gets better.”

Sunset Shimmer took a third seat around the coffee table just as Celestia finished pouring a cup of the ancient spiced tea mix. By the time the young unicorn had gotten comfortable, a steaming cup was floating in front of her. “Well, I would say how wonderful it is to share a cup of tea with you after such a long time, Sunset, but compared to how long it’s been since I shared one with Somnambula it really hasn’t been that long at all.”

Somnambula chuckled. “Perhaps for you, Lady Celestia. For me, it has only been six… maybe seven moons?”

Sunset nodded after a sip of her tea. “That’s still so strange… Twilight told me about you and Star Swirl and the other pillars, but… It’s hard to wrap my head around. You really lived back then?” She nodded to her copy (probably this copy, though I can’t guarantee it won’t be duplicated in the future; I’m just skeptical Celestia would ever allow it) of Tales.

“It is hard for me to wrap my head around too, but yes.” Somnambula took a slow sip of tea from the cup cradled between her wings. “It was a… very eventful time.”

“So you helped Star Swirl banish the sirens to the other side of the mirror?” Sunset pressed. “Do you remember them?”

Somnambula nodded again. “That was how I first met Star Swirl. After he and Cyclone drove them away from River Rock, they came to my home, Mahrdina.”

“Where’s that?” Sunset asked.

“I… was surprised to learn that they had renamed it after me,” Somnambula answered. “It is still uncomfortable to be honored that way.”

“It’s on the western coast of Saddle Arabia,” Celestia explained more practically. “Close to the badlands, and the border with Suida.”

“Huh.” Sunset nodded. “I didn’t think Equestrian settlements stretched that far south that long ago.”

“Oh, you misunderstand.” Somnambula chuckled. “I did not grow up in Equestria. My family were not Cirrans. We are… were… called Pharonic pegasi, from the Kingdom of Mahrdina. Until the great winter pushed those ponies west from River Rock, the most we had heard of other kingdoms of ponies like us were stories from long-dead travelers. It was very much a surprise when Star Swirl arrived.”

“Oh?” Sunset raised a brow toward Celestia. “There were other pony nations besides the Three Tribes?”

“A few,” Celestia admitted, closing her eyes as she seemed to slip into a realm of memories. “The Kingdom of Mahrdina, the Crystal Union… Archmage Mistmane wasn’t actually from the Diamond Kingdoms either; she grew up in the Shogunate of… oh, the name escapes me.”

“Uma,” Somnambula noted. “They often fought with the kirin, as Mistmane tells it.”

“That’s right.” Celestia nodded back to Sunset. “The world was much bigger than just the three tribes that founded Equestria. But over time those other nations tended to get absorbed. Morty was not wrong when he predicted that much of our history would be lost after the Twilight War. Those nations that hadn’t yet been absorbed into Equestria couldn’t survive Nightmare Moon’s onslaught alone, and… when it was done, so much was lost. Both lives and histories. But because Hearth’s Warming Eve was such a strong tradition by that time, and because of the outsized influence of the the Low Valleys, the Diamond Kingdoms, and Cirra in creating Equestria in the first place… theirs are the histories that tend to be remembered the most.”

“It is my hope that with time, I can share the stories of our kingdom and begin to bring its history back. I have already helped to correct some embarrassing misunderstandings in your history books.” Then she glanced down to the rather elephantine history book that happened to be in the room at the time. “I am very excited to hear how Gale and Morty finally married.”

“You knew them?” Sunset asked. “Personally?”

“Very personally.” Somnambula chuckled. “I was… am... only a few years older than them. And I was quite familiar with Gale’s family even before Morty came to Equestria. I was almost her aunt… or perhaps her… what are the words, Lady Celestia?”

“Half-sister-in-law,” Celestia clarified. “Though whether she would have called you ‘aunt’ or ‘sister’... you might as well flip a coin.”

“Um… what?” Sunset held up a hoof, tracing an invisible family tree in the air. “Wait… you mean you were going to marry Cyclone?”

“It was a most embarrassing confusion,” Somnambula agreed with a chuckle. “Because Mahrdina and Saddle Arabia were neighbors, we shared a tradition. It was custom that when a prince or princess became pharaoh, they be married to a prince or princess of Saddle Arabia, and vice-versa. If one of our nations had no foal who could fill that role, a priest or priestess would do. So after Equestria was founded, and we first met them, our pharaoh decided to follow that custom to forge an alliance. And since Hurricane was the pegasus leader, and our royal family were pegasi, and I had been made the high priestess after I defeated the sphinx’s challenge, I was sent to secure our alliance.”

“I… wait, what? But wasn’t he already married?”

“As I said, it was embarrassing. The pharaoh could have many concubines of unicorns and earth ponies, but was only to marry one pegasus. And so when we heard that Hurricane was only with the unicorn queen, we… misunderstood. I was enamored by stories of this pony, who had tamed the sun—my apologies, Lady Celestia, I do not mean to imply; it was just what we thought we had been told.”

Celestia only chuckled as she shook her head. “No harm done, Somnambula.”

“So I was sent with an entourage, and when we arrived at Everfree City, as was our custom, they wrapped me in a honeymoon rug, carried me into the throne room, and presented me to create an alliance.”

“Oh… oh no…” Sunset had to press a hoof to her lips to chuckle.

“It was far worse than you fear,” Somnambula added. “I had been told Hurricane was the pegasus leader, but by then he had already retired. So, when I stood up dizzy from being unrolled from a rug, in the middle of the throne room in their palace, I looked up at the throne and I saw their leader. Hurricane was less masculine than I had been led to believe—”

“Oh no…” Sunset repeated.

“But he wore the black armor that we had heard stories of, and he had the scars and the rugged appearance I had imagined. So I did what my pharoah required of me. I bowed, and showed him the full shape of my body and my wings, and I offered to wed him and to carry his foals, so that we could have an alliance. And to show I was serious, I walked up the steps and kissed him.”

“You made out with Typhoon because you thought she was her dad?” Sunset asked through her laughter. “Nopony said anything?”

“Hurricane tapped me on the shoulder; he had been standing beside her the whole time, but I had just assumed he was some advisor since he did not wear a uniform. At least it was some consolation that he was barely able to contain his laughter to explain my mistake, instead of being angry.” Then she sighed. “What caused a real problem was that I had heard Hurricane’s eldest was a son named Cyclone, but not what Cyclone had done to betray his people. So when I realized Hurricane was not the right target for my offer of an alliance, I suggested him instead.”

“Ah…” Sunset’s observation trailed off into the sort of hiss through clenched teeth that only arrives from the most awkward of moments. “I’m sorry.”

“When the court realized that I did not know his story, they were quick to forgive me, and though I did not marry, I did secure an alliance with Equestria. Gale joked that I should have been one of her suitors, and that she would have taken me over the options her mother gave her, but Platinum made it very clear that would not be welcome, and I did not want to risk the progress I had made.”

“Huh… Well, if Typhoon didn’t hold it against you, I guess that worked out in the end.”

“I do not know if she was serious, but Gale later told me Typhoon had wished to take me on a date.”

What?” Sunset stared down at her book. “But… Morty made a huge deal in the other book about how she was obviously sleeping with her secretary. Was he just completely wrong?”

Celestia swallowed nervously—an expression so rare for the alicorn that it is worth a moment of reflection, dear reader—and glanced down at the book. “Sunset, it is an easy trap when studying history to forget that its heroes and villains are still mortal ponies, in every sense of the word. That includes romantic desire.”

“Ironically except the one whose first name was ‘Mortal’?”

“In the sense I’m referring to, Sunset, no. Very much including him.” Celestia sighed. “I’ll warn you, Sunset, that unlike in Beginner’s Guide, Morty is much more frank here about the fact that most of his subjects—himself included—are teenagers or extremely young adults. That is the only copy of Tales from Everfree City in the world—at least, that I know of—and unlike Beginner’s Guide, I haven’t touched it. It’s completely uncensored, exactly as Morty wrote it, in this room, a thousand years ago.”

“You mean to remove dangerous magic, like the directions for how to cast Wintershimmer’s Razor?”

“That is one definition of the word ‘censorship’, yes.” Celestia nodded. Then, more sternly, she added “And since you bring it up, yes: the only surviving notes on that spell are in that book. I trust you’ll be careful who reads it.” Then, after a sip of tea, she added “Please don’t share it with Twilight.”

“You don’t trust Twilight?”

“It depends on what you mean by ‘trust’,” Celestia replied diplomatically. “I know I can always rely on Twilight to do what she feels is best. But Twilight has always had an… optimistic view of where the appropriate balance lies between academic openness and public safety.” After another slow tip of her tea, she lowered her tiny cup to the table and refilled it. “Shall we speak of something happier? Or at least less… fatalistic?”

“Yes, lets.” Somnambula leaned forward with a smile on her face. “I know we are going to see Morty, but should we expect Gale to be with him?”

Celestia wilted like a timelapse of a flower snipped from its root. “Gale is… no longer with us.”

“Morty did not make her live forever too?” Somnambula asked. “They were such a happy couple when I left, I just assumed…”

“It’s alright,” Celestia agreed. “It’s a fair question, but it’s Morty’s story to tell.”

“Then the others? His little bear cub? Or the flying rock? Or—”

Celestia attempted to let out a passable ursine roar, like she had so proficiently almost two millennia earlier, only to find herself coughing and struggling to compose herself. “Apologies. You mean Graargh?”

Sunset tweaked her brow as she swung her head toward Celesetia. “Wait, it’s pronounced Grarg? Like the front of ‘great’ and ‘argument’? I thought it was supposed to be like ‘gruff’ with another r in the middle. Why would he spell it with an ‘h’?”

Celestia only shrugged and sipped her tea. When her throat was sated, she answered calmly. “There’s never any shame in mispronouncing a word you’ve only seen written down, my student. Unfortunately, your pronunciation isn’t likely to matter.” Then turning to Somnambula, she donned a sympathetic expression. “Graargh, like nearly everypony else you remember, have long since passed away.”

“Aren’t changelings biologically immortal, like lobsters?” Sunset asked. “I thought their shapeshifting magic meant they didn’t naturally age.”

Celestia frowned. “That is correct, Sunset, but there are other ways to die… While Graargh was more fortunate, the life expectancy of a changeling infiltrator in Chrysalis’ hive was only about thirty years, despite their lack of an upper limit.”

“So Graargh is gone too.” Somnambula sighed. “That is very disappointing. He was such a lively spirit. I wonder why Morty did not extend his long life to his friends?”

Celestia sympathetically refilled Somnambula’s teacup. “At the risk of telling you both more than he would like, Morty was not happy to make himself ‘immortal’... or whatever he is now. It is the one piece of magic he has refused to share with me, and my own efforts to understand it have only highlighted my relative lack of skill in the art of necromancy, even when working with fully understood magic.”

“Fully understood? What, like he didn’t finish it?” Sunset asked.

“By design, yes. He doesn’t know how to end it. It is a means to an end, not the end itself.”

“That seems much more serious and responsible than the pony I knew,” Somnambula noted.

“Perhaps,” Celestia shrugged her wings. “But I think you’ll find he hasn’t changed much since you last spoke to him.”

“Then it shall be fun to…” Sunset found herself confused when the ancient pegasus glanced her way and let her words hang in the air for a moment before she finished “...catch up.”

“I thought you might like to. And since you were closest to him among the pillars, you seemed like the natural choice.” Celestia smiled over her teacup.

“Not Archmage Star Swirl?” Sunset asked. “Not to say you wouldn’t be friends, Somnambula; I just figured he would get along with another wizard.”

Somnambula shook her head. “They had a grudging respect, but I do not think it is possible for two ponies to like each other less than Morty and Star Swirl. Especially after the lecture.”

Celestia cringed.

“What?” Sunset asked.

“It’s… you’ll read about it later, Sunset,” Celestia sighed. “A word of caution: if you choose to discuss it with Morty, make sure you’ve mastered the defense against the Razor first.” Then the alicorn princess rose to her hooves, completely dropping the (perhaps justified at the time) implication that I would murder a random stranger for bringing up the notorious experience. “That was delicious, Somnambula; thank you for sharing it with us. Now, I’m sorry for departing after such a short chat, but I need to check on the preparations of your airship. Sunset, if you’d like to join me, this is an excellent chance for you to speak with your pilot.”

“My pleasure, Lady Celestia.” Somnambula nodded once, and then again bobbed her head in deference to Sunset. “I am very excited for our journey, Sunset.”

“Me too, Somnambula. It should be fun.” Sunset only paused to pick up this tome before her hooves moved for the door. “I’m sure we’ll talk more later.”

With that parting, Sunset swept out into the halls of Canterlot after Celestia, passing a few gold-armored soldiers before finding the rest of the halls largely abandoned. It was always an interesting balance trying to match Celestia’s gait without awkwardly jogging, and Sunset found that she took the challenge most comfortably with exaggerated strides that produced an almost deafening click on the marble floors of Equestria’s newer royal palace.

Though the halls were never truly empty, what with staff and guards criss-crossing every which way in silent service to the unending grind of the gears of state, the wide halls—built to more than comfortably accommodate Celestia’s height, unlike most of the buildings in Everfree—only passed by another pony for mere moments at a time.

After a few quick turns on the way down from the sitting rooms of the palace toward the massive artificial plateau of the cliffside palace’s gardens, Celestia finally broke the silence of their walk. “I should give you one more word of caution about reading that book.”

“Oh? More dangerous magic?”

Celestia chuckled. “I sincerely wish it were just that.” Then, for just a moment, she hesitated. In the past, for a rawer and more openly mortal Celestia, that would not have been such an unprecedented show of emotion, but one thousand years as the God-Empress (‘Princess’ was always a preposterous show of false humility) ruling Equestria had taught Celestia to keep her emotions—and nearly any sign of weakness—well hidden behind a mask of neutral impartiality.

“Princess?”

“There’s no delicate way to say this, so bear with me.” Then, with a short breath, she added “There are some portions of Tales that I can only assume Morty included for his own satisfaction or enjoyment or… well, honestly, I don’t know why he chose to include them. He never reproduced them in any of the copies he created—”

“I thought you said this is the only copy.”

“Yes, Sunset. I burnt the others.” When Sunset recoiled, Celestia shook her head. “You’ll understand later. Regardless, this copy includes some entries Morty copied from Gale’s diary.”

“And those are especially dangerous because… she swears a lot in writing?”

“They’re not dangerous. Just… very thorough. Morty titled those segments ‘The Pillow Book of Princess Platinum’. I suggest you skip them. Especially if you want to look Somnambula in the eye again.”

Pillow Book? I don’t know if I've…” Sunset’s voice slowly drained away as her ears and mind caught up with the implication of the last of Celestia’s words. “Gale wrote about she and Morty having—?”

“I would assume so,” Celestia quickly interrupted. “I skipped that chapter as soon as I realized what she was describing.”

“But… He wrote this eight hundred years later?”

“Everypony has their own preferences, Sunset, and in my experience, immortality exacerbates them. I don’t mean to be a prude, but I have personal reasons to want nothing to do with it, so if you do indulge in reading that, I simply ask you pretend you didn’t anytime I am in earshot.”

“You’re not… in it, are you?”

“What? No! I would never!” Celestia shook her head. “Sunset, not only was he my student, but he was eighteen. It would be utterly improper.”

“No, but…” Again, Sunset’s voice drained away as her mind raced faster than her tongue could keep up. “When Somnambula said she knew Morty and Gale personally…”

“No comment,” Celestia replied almost instantly.

That’s why you picked her instead of any of the other pillars? Because she and Morty—”

“Somnambula is a very responsible adult mare, and I have no interest in speculating on her romantic life, especially as it relates to Gale. I merely wanted to warn you. Now, as Morty once said to me, let’s talk about something more pleasant, like botulism or genocide.”

Sunset chuckled. “That doesn’t sound right coming from you.”

“No. No, I suppose it doesn’t.” Celestia chuckled. “I re-read Beginner’s Guide before I called your team here, and found that even though it can sometimes be quite barbed, after not seeing him for two hundred years, I was missing hearing his voice. Now, let’s see how the airship is coming along.”

Author's Note:

The alluded to chapters will be a separate fic when the time comes, in order to fully abide by FiMFiction rules. They will not be required to follow the plot.