• Published 26th May 2020
  • 2,570 Views, 346 Comments

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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The First Lesson

“Your Majesty,” said Platinum, “I sympathize that you might not care about Lord Bond the Elder’s hoof fungus, but perhaps you could have exited that conversation with slightly more tact.”

“Mom, if I stayed in that room any longer, those ass...sinine conversations would still be going on.”

Gale’s awkward save was heralded by the doors to the Stable opening to reveal that the masses of public ponies and reporters alike were still present from her entry hours earlier. Though she may have found her way out of Chrysoprase’s office while the sun hadn’t yet even reached its apex, she had then found a throng of well-wishing (and brown-nosing) nobles separating her from the chamber’s doors. When she finally burst into free air, it wasn’t until almost four in the afternoon.

“Your Majesty, was the settlement bill passed?” somepony shouted.

“What promises did you make to the nobles?”

“Is it true you want to appoint non-unicorns to the Stable?”

Gale sighed, actively striding into the crowd. “Everypony, please shut up!” The magically amplified command caused the masses not just to grow silent, but to freeze. “Thanks. Look, I haven’t eaten in almost ten hours, so I’m gonna answer the questions I just heard, and then I’m not taking anymore or I might bite somepony’s head off. Got it? Good. We talked a lot about the settlement bill, we’re passing it tomorrow. Yes, I’m going to get some non-unicorns into the Stable as soon as the bill is passed fully. The promises I’m not going to stand here and recite; that’d take too long. You can get the full speech from the Stable records. Good? Thanks! Now, if you’ll excuse me…”

As Gale strode forward, parting the red carpet in a way that some powerful mage might have been said to part a sea, Platinum and Celestia followed closely behind. Nopony spoke, at least until the new queen reached the carriage.

“Heading back to the Palace, Your Majesty?” asked Sir Gauntlet. “Or to Commander Hurricane’s home?”

“Neither,” Gale told the stallion. “Well, Mom and Celestia can go wherever they want. But drop me off on the Ridge. Twenty-four Ridgeline Road.”

“Of course, I…” A slight murmur rippled through the crowd, who had heard the address, just at about the same time as Sir Gauntlet’s mental map of the city matched up with the address in question. “That home, Your Majesty?”

“A much better pony lives there now,” Gale answered, actively turning to make sure the response was heard by the crowd. “Come on.” Then, without even giving the stallion a chance to offer, she opened the door of the carriage by magic and leapt inside with a swift kick of her hind legs.

“My husband’s villa afterwards,” Platinum said much more quietly a moment later, accepting Gauntlet’s offered hoof to help her somewhat shakier step into the carriage. Then, as Celestia followed a moment later, the elder Platinum leaned toward her daughter. “I understand today may have been tiring for you, and that you want the company of your friend, but for the future, I suggest you wait until you’re inside the carriage to give surprise directions.” The former queen nodded her horn toward the sliding window on the wall of the carriage that would let its occupants talk to the knights attached to its harnesses.

Gale nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind next time.”

A moment of almost total silence passed, broken only by Celestia closing the door behind her and choosing the seat(s) beside Gale. Platinum and Gale stared at each other. Finally, the elder mare muttered “No objection?”

“Why? It’s good advice. Someday I’ll probably actually have something that it’s important to keep secret.” Gale shrugged, stretched out her forelegs, and braced them beside her head. “So what are you gonna do now that you’re retired? Gonna go have a romantic night with Dad?”

Platinum chuckled. “Not on such short notice, but now that you mention it, that isn’t a bad idea, Your Majesty.”

“Just Gale here,” Gale corrected tersely.

A sigh escaped the elder queen’s lips. “Sorry, Gale. So, what did the Grand Duchess have to say in private?”

“She thought House and Glass might not vote for the deal because I want to give a domain to Rain—or I guess any pegasus or earth pony in general. Anyway, she’s going to give up all the domains you promised her and use those as leverage to get House and Glass on board, but hopefully keeping one back.”

“And if they don’t let her keep one back?” Platinum asked. “If they force you to account for every single domain for their existing banners?”

“Then I refuse to make their promises, and it can be on their heads the bill failed.”

Platinum gritted her teeth. “The public won’t see it that way! And parliament certainly won’t! Why on earth did you promise the press you would pass the bill if that were still up in the air?”

“Because they don’t want to throw away two years of work and extra domains. Glass might not be as bad as Fire Power, but she’s still greedy as fuck for power, and House is enough of a pushover that Chrysoprase leaning on him should be enough.”

“Have I taught you nothing?” Platinum asked with a sigh.

“What? It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

“Never, ever make a plan assuming you know how an opponent will act. Never.” Platinum emphasized both ‘nevers’ by pointing a hoof at her daughter.

“So it blows up in their faces, and—”

“It blows up in your face, Gale!” Platinum insisted. “They don’t have to answer to Parliament, because their parents weren’t the ones who made those promises in the first place!”

Gale rocked forward as the clicking of the carriage’s wheels came to a stop, and with a flash of her horn, she opened the door to reveal the elaborate homes of Everfree’s wealthy ‘Ridge’. After a quick hop out—again spurning Sir Gauntlet’s help—she turned back to address a final though. “Maybe this wouldn’t be such a disaster if nopony expected me to live up to your promises, Mom.” Then, after a moment’s hesitation, she added “Bye Aunt Celestia,” and shut the carriage door with a firm swing not of magic but her own hoof.

As the team of knights pulling the carriage offered Gale a synchronized bow (at least, as much as their harnesses would allow) and then rattled off down the road, Gale turned her attention to my door.

My new home, Twenty-four Ridgeline Road, was from its facade not all that different from any of the other houses on the Ridge. Its porch had a few worn benches and a small wooden table for two—all in rather good shape given that only the porch’s awning had protected them from the weather for something like twenty years since Solemn Vow’s death. Two pairs of bay windows were set equidistant from a pair of doors that offered entrance to the home, painted a bold red that stood out against the gentle forest green and limited stonework of the building’s facade.

Until somepony walked up and witnessed the doors opening on their own, they might have been forgiven for thinking the house wasn’t as haunted as every foal in Everfree quietly believed.

Though the home opened into a small entry hall with marble floors, three sets of Cirran pillars, and some assorted furniture, the double doors separating that room from the real main chamber were wide open. There, Gale could see a room with a towering almost twenty foot ceiling, where a pair of grand curving staircases connected an upper hallway to a lower main floor. The elaborate grand piano that sat between the two staircases might have been more of a beautiful sight, had I not been hunched on its bench, eating an assortment of take-out food from a canvas bag with my hooves as she entered.


“Gmmph!” I forced myself to swallow, wiped my bean-stained muzzle on my sleeve (which, thanks to Star Swirl’s enchantments, protected its fabric from not only swords and arrows but also condiments), and smiled. “Gale! Welcome to my humble home!”

“You’re eating on a grand piano?

I shrugged. “So? I don’t play piano.”

You don’t…” Gale shook her head, letting out a chuckle. “Of course not.”

“You expected me to?”

“No. Just, for a second there, I forgot it was you, and I was going to point out that even ponies who don’t play the piano usually know not to eat off of one.” She nodded to the meal, spilled rather haphazardly across the polished wood, just as one might expect a pony used to his horn but forced to eat with his hooves to make. “But I’m guessing Wintershit didn’t value music highly?”

“No; actually, he was quite the harpist. Harper? Harp-player?” I shrugged. “Anyway, he taught me a bit as a way to learn math, but I never took to it.” I glanced at my food, and then back to Gale. “You want some?”

“Fuck yes!” Gale answered, bounding over toward me, before hesitating about halfway to the piano bench. As she removed her hoof-crafted tunic and its associated pauldron, the doors to the house magically swung shut behind her. Fortunately, the room was lit by a chandelier of enchanted glass orbs that glittered with what looked to be tiny undersea stars trapped in their inky blue liquid contents. “What is it?”

Again, I shrugged. “Graargh and I just wandered down the street until we found a restaurant that had a way for us to take the food home. I didn’t really pay attention to the name. It’s beans and some weird flat bread and salad.”

“Graargh’s here?”

“He and Angel are sleeping upstairs somewhere. Graargh eats a lot faster than I do. Especially without my horn.” I awkwardly pinched a piece of flat bread beneath my hooves, lifted it to my mouth, and took a probably unpleasantly large bite, if only to spare myself the need to pick it up again. “Ows er deh?”


I made Gale wait a few solid seconds, in which time she managed to down two far more rational bites, before I could answer. “Sorry. How was your day?”

“Oh; good I guess. I’m working on getting the Stable of Nobles to include non-unicorns, and I gave some speeches. And I shook so many fucking hooves…” She shook her head, then gathered beans and assorted veggies onto her flatbread before folding it like a wrapped gift.

“Oh, that’s neat!” I noted. “You make a little package?”

“You… weren’t?” Gale asked.

“No, I was just eating… was I supposed to?”

Gale’s response was to fold me my own little pseudo-sandwich—I’d call it a ‘proto-burrito’ if it weren’t so squared off and so lacking in rich spices—and to kindly hold it aloft in her magic so I could take a bite. “You’re fucking hopeless, Morty.”

“Oh, sure; I’m like the second strongest unicorn in the world, but I’m hopeless because I don’t know how to fold a… bread box?”

That earned a chuckle from Gale. “No, Morty; a bread box is wood or metal or something you use to keep bugs out of bread and try to keep it fresh. It’s not a box made out of bread.” She took a bite of her own meal, and then let out a small sigh as she chewed. A quick swallow later, and she raised a brow. “Your day?”

“Don’t get me started,” I muttered. “Wintershimmer was right?”

“About what?”

“Killing Celestia.”

Gale, as one might rightfully expect, reacted by letting her eyes grow massively wide. “Uh… didn’t you just take Graargh to school?”

“Yeah, that’s what she wanted me to think was in the scroll, too,” I answered. “Not that I could have read it. It didn’t say ‘the cat ran’, or something trivial like that.”

“Uh… okay?”

I sighed. “Can we talk about literally anything else even slightly more pleasant? Hoof disease? Foal trafficking? Your suitors?”

Gale chuckled. “Okay, I get the point. What are you gonna do with the house?”

“I dunno,” I answered. “I probably need to figure out somewhere to buy furniture, since pretty much everything fabric in here is ruined.” I gestured around the room, where a few sizeable bookshelves and paintings were covered in white sheets.

“Yeah, probably want to go through Vow’s stuff, get rid of anything you don’t want,” Gale agreed, glancing up to a massive portrait on the wall of the upper floor, just beyond and centered between where the twin staircases opened onto the upper floor. Mostly covered by a sheet, the huge oil painting’s upper right third was all that could be seen, and it showed Solemn Vow proudly staring down at the room. “He’s, uh… not exactly the most beloved pony.”

“I need to go through Wintershimmer’s stuff too,” I nodded. “But all that can wait. Tomorrow morning I’m meeting with Star Swirl and Meadowbrook about my horn, and then I’m probably going to have to go back to the Union and go through our old laboratory and that vault we fought his candlecorn in, since I’m the only one left who knows how not to set off his traps. I think Jade just wants the good guest bedrooms back.”

“Well, you wanna explore this place tonight?” Gale asked. “I mean, we already went down in the weird ‘lair’ when we fought Wintershimmer and Silhouette, but I bet Vow had other weird secret rooms and stuff in here.”

I nodded. “Probably a good idea. And it could be fun, now that we’re not expecting Wintershimmer to jump out and kill us.”

Soon, the rest of our meal was finished. We turned to a small bathroom to clean up, a space I had found just before her arrival when I had to insist Graargh try to get the chalk dust out of his claws. As I washed my hooves from the stains of dinner, Gale gasped in shock. “Holy shit; I didn’t realize Vow was loaded.”


“You have hot water?!

I glanced down at the spigot pouring pleasant water onto my hooves, releasing a slight steam, and shrugged. “I suppose so? Is that unusual?”

“It’s expensive! You have to get skysteel pipes that can hold the right kind of clouds, and then run water through them… usually you only see that kind of stuff in big public buildings like the baths in Cloudsdale.”

“And you think he couldn’t have just heated them with his own enchantments?”

“Well, I dunno if you know how to heat up water with your horn, but for those of us who aren’t wizards, that’s kind of a pegasus magic ‘thing’. I know with our magic you can get a place to have running water, but it’s usually well water, so it’s still cold as shit, right?”

I shrugged. “I guess you’re right. In the Crystal Union we had hot water, but I know Wintershimmer and I had to enchant a boiler for that… and that took a lot of wood just for the two of us.”

Gale chuckled. “Yeah, there’s no way this isn’t pegasus work. Mom gave you a crazy nice house, Morty.”

“Well, the sun is still coming up in the morning,” I replied. When Gale shot me a flat glare, I shook my head. “You’re welcome any time, Gale.”

“Thanks. I might just take you up on that. Tempest always hogs the hot water at home.”

“Your dad’s house has… wait, of course it does. He’s Commander Hurricane.” I glanced to the towel rack, realized that after decades of emptiness, there was no way I wanted to wipe my hooves on whatever excuse for fabric was hanging from the silvery rail, and proceeded to shake my hooves dry as best I could over the basin. “Well, let’s see what else is here. I’m mostly worried about magic for the moment; I don’t want to stumble into anything trapped or enchanted that could be dangerous.”

“Fair enough.” Gale nodded. “I’ll keep my hooves to myself."

We proceeded from the bathroom back into the main foyer of the house, and from there, into its right-side wing—the path whose dusty floor lacked hoofprints from our prior hunt for Wintershimmer. Much like its left counterpart, what we found was a hallway lined with something like a dozen matching doors.

“Holy shit,” Gale muttered. “What are you gonna do with all this space?”

I shrugged. “Ignore it?” Then I paced over to the first door on our left, pushing it open with my hoof when it failed to open magically of its own accord. “Did Vow have kids or something?”

Gale shook her head. “I’ve never heard of them, anyway. Not that they’d admit it if he did. But I don’t think he was married.” Then the Queen of the Unicorns leaned over my shoulder to stare into the room I had opened. “Huh; looks like a billiards room.”

“Billiards?” I asked.

“It’s what the felt table is for. Well, there’s probably felt under all that dust; anyway, it’s a game.”

“He has a whole room dedicated to a table game?” I asked, stepping back as I shook my head.

“Lots of nobles do,” Gale replied with a nod. “Darts, card tables… It’s sort of the same idea with having a tea party or a ball; most real diplomacy doesn’t happen in a big room; that’s just where you tally up the score. So a room like that is an excuse to invite somepony else over and negotiate with them.”

I shrugged. “Seems like a waste of space to me.”

“It’s not the worst game in the world. I’ll teach you.”

“If you say so; I wouldn’t mind trying, but it seems like a waste of space for a wizard.” I picked the next door down the hall on the same side and heard its handle creak as it turned under my hoof. “Now we’re getting somewhere!”

“A library? Says the pony who can’t read?”

“We’re working on that,” I replied through gritted teeth, stepping into the chamber. “It looks more like a reading room than what I’d call a library, but it’ll do for a start. Do you mind reading off some of the titles for me?”

“What’s the difference? Between a reading room and a library?”

“Books with magic in them tend to accumulate enchantment and magical energy, even if you don’t enchant them directly yourself. They aren’t the safest things in the world. A library is designed to keep the magic in powerful tomes from interacting.”

“Huh,” Gale shrugged. “And here I thought a library was just a bunch of shelves.” Then her hoof raised to the first row of books. “Let’s see, under all this dust—” Her thought was punctuated by a heavy sneeze, and the young Queen took a step back before swiping over all the books with her magic aura, wildly flapping the dust away as a pegasus might with a wing. “Blegh! There! Okay, let’s see… A History of the Emeraldine Dynasty. Erstwhile’s Annotated Commentary on ‘Seventeen Days on the Mountaintop’ Vol. I… Morty, I don’t think these are spellbooks. I’ve read some of these; they’re all political theory and history and crap like that.”

“I’m not surprised; if I were a warlock, I wouldn’t leave my research out in the open.” I nodded. “Do you remember what I taught you last time we were here, about how to detect enchantments?”

“You think he has another secret door? I’m pretty sure we know what’s on the other side of those two walls.” Gale gestured back towards the side of the chamber where the billiards room lay, and then to the opposite wall whose room, while unexplored, was surely only a door away.

“It isn’t that uncommon to use an illusion and disguise a book as another book. Where do you think the idiom ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ came from?”

Gale looked at me like I’d had far too much to drink… or perhaps like she had, and by miscounting assumed I had sprouted a third nostril. “That makes sense even if you don’t use magic.”

“If you say so.” As Gale ran her magical aura over the spines of each of the books, I wandered over to the fireplace on the opposite wall, its back to the only side of the room that didn’t have an obvious space on the other side. The marble-grade cloudstone (complete with actual marbling) of the mantle supported a number of my predecessor’s nicknacks. On my far left, a very dusty ship in a bottle crested and plummeted down the slopes of magical waves. Beside it rested a small portrait concealed by dust, in a frame barely large enough to prevent it from being worn as a locket. When I blew on its surface, after the gray cloud settled, I found myself staring at a younger Wintershimmer.

“Huh… I thought he and Wintershimmer hated each other.”

“Hmm?” Gale asked. “Wait, is that a painting of the old asshole?”

“The one and only,” I nodded. As Gale paced over to take a look, I lifted my hoof to pull the picture from the mantle.

Only a moment later, there was a pop, and with a lurch of vertigo, everything went dark.

“What the fuck?!” wasn’t the most elegant way for Gale to inform me I was still conscious, but the noise in my ears was still more comforting than the words would normally be. “Morty?”

“I’m here, Gale.”

“Did you fucking teleport us? Where are we?” A slight light appeared as Gale lit her horn, though the natural borderline red glow of her magic didn’t exactly offer a pleasant light. At first, the shine only revealed the two of us and a rather blank stone floor. But after a moment of focusing, Gale increased the light to show us in another, rather larger room.

“Now this is a library,” I told her as my eyes swept the three rows of walkways divided by four rows of glass-fronted book cases. Rather than stacking them cover to cover, spines-out, the angled contents of the bookcases kept the tomes a solid few inches out of direct contact, as well as angling their covers at a pleasant reading angle for somepony perusing.

“Okay, shit; are we actually in danger, Morty?”

“Hard to say,” I answered. “I don’t know what we did, but If something jumps out at us, I’ll use my horn. For now, just keep your horn lit; I’ll see if I can turn on the lamps.”

As if by magic—and who am I kidding, it obviously was—the room immediately lit up with a faint yellow light, issuing from a number of candles set into the wall, each capped with a tiny glass orb.

“Okay, seriously, what the hell is going on?” Gale asked. “This house was not magic when I used to break in here as a kid.”

“How should I know? Maybe Vow taught it to recognize who owns it?”

“You think the house understands that Mom gave it to you?”

I shrugged. “I do have the key now. Maybe that’s it?” I pulled the key out of the sash at my waist and offered it Gale. “Here, take it; see if you can turn off the lights.”

Gale raised a brow, took the key and shrugged. “Uh… lamps off?”

Abruptly, nothing happened.

“Maybe try ‘lamps out?’” I suggested, and in that single set of words promptly disproved my hypothesis, as we were once more plunged into darkness. “Oh. Lamps?” Though my follow-up was less than confident, behold, there was light.

“So the key doesn’t mean shit,” Gale noted. “It’s you.”

“I’ll figure it out once I have my horn back,” I told her. “For now… well, let’s try something crazy. House, how do we get back to the reading room?”

After a few moments of silence, Gale muttered “Wow.

“Gale, even I can’t just close my eyes and guess exactly how an enchantment works. It takes work. And ideally a workshop.” I shook my head. “Well, I guess we’ve got two good options: I keep trying to figure out how the house enchantment works, and you try to figure out how to get us back out of this place, or we walk to the other side of the library looking for a door, and hope Vow didn’t enchant this place with something that will kill you, since it only thinks I’m him.”

Or I could just teleport us out?”

“What? Are you insane? Gale, that would kill us!”

“No it won’t; Diadem taught me the safe version of teleportation. If I try to teleport us into something solid, the spell will just fail. I can just keep trying until I guess somewhere safe.”

“Yes, but if you try to teleport us through something magically insulated—like, for example, the walls of a properly protected magical library—we’ll show up on the other side looking like scrambled eggs.”

“That’s… you couldn’t have just said it would kill us?”

“That’s how a wizard makes scrambled eggs,” I explained. “When I was learning to teleport, after we got past the lesson with the wine glasses that you didn’t like, Wintershimmer made me make our breakfast for three weeks to practice. I had to get the whisked yolks into the pan without cracking the shells.” I winked. “But I learned to make a mean omelette without breaking a few eggs.”

“Right…” Gale nodded. “I keep forgetting that your entire childhood was completely fucked up. I’d rather you work on the house than risk getting my soul ripped out or something. I’ll look at the wall over here and… I guess see if there’s a lever or something?”

I’ll spare you, dear reader, a recounting of my time spent shouting random phrases at the ceiling as Gale rapped her hoof against a blank stone wall, accompanied by some tugging at the few candlestick holders that were easily in reach. After maybe three minutes of tedium and frustration on both our parts, she leaned her head against the smoothed off wall and let it drag down in a show of defeat. “Okay… I guess we just take a risk and go poking around in the magic books? Have you asked Vow’s house if it wants to kill me, or if it just isn’t listening to me?”

“House, flicker your lights once if…” The fading of my words came as a grin spread over my muzzle.

“What?” Gale asked. “Morty, why are you looking like that?”

“I have an idea. You want to learn a spell?” I asked.

“Um… no? Remember, it was a complete fucking disaster when you tried to teach me to teleport?”

I put a hoof on Gale’s shoulder. “This will work better, I promise. I’m the best pony in the world at this spell.”

“You want to rip my soul out?” Gale asked, staggering back.

“I—No! Of course not!” I chuckled. “I suppose I’m the best at that too, but no. No.” I flipped back the trail of my jacket to reveal the mark on my flank: the seven-pointed star of a seven-school mage. “I’m going to teach you how to talk to the dead.”

“Who are… oh.” Gale’s eyes widened. “Oh shit, Vow?

I sighed, recalling the last (and only) time I had called up the soul of my predecessor from the depths of Tartarus. “I know he was a warlock, and a generally terrible pony, but unless you have a better—”

“Hell yes!” Gale cut me off. “How do I do it?”

“You’re… not mad?” I asked. “Tempest was pissed.”

“Yeah, well Tempest had also already been born when Ty had to kill Vow. I just want to meet him; Mom and Dad won’t tell me any of the interesting parts of his story, and Ty almost caught on fire when I asked her, so everything I know about him I heard from other ponies.” Gale, seemingly without realizing it, hopped from hoof to hoof in excitement at meeting the serial killer her step-sister had executed. “Maybe after him, we can do Warlord Halite? Or Yngvilde?”

“Maybe dead crystal warlords aren’t the best idea; it’s considered rude to seance somepony without a reason. And I don’t know who ‘Ingvilduh’ is…”

“Yngvilde,” Gale corrected. “She was a griffon leader that Rain and Pathfinder killed in the Red Cloud War.”

“Ah; that’s much harder. Griffons have their own afterlife, right? It would take some effort—or a live griffon, I suppose. With ponies we can just follow the ties of our own souls to the Summer Lands, but other races you have to know much stronger necromancy. I’m glad to teach you—” in truth, I was ecstatic at her interesting, grinning from ear to ear myself. “—and I’ll be glad to walk you through whatever you want, but for now let’s stick with ponies. Traditionally when a wizard learns to seance, the pony you call up is your teacher’s teacher. But since I dispersed Wintershimmer’s soul, that’s not exactly an option. I guess the right next option would be his teacher, Archmage Comet—she’s fun, . But skipping ahead to Vow will be fine, even if it means you’re seancing into Tartarus instead of the Summer Lands.”

“What difference does that make?” Gale asked. “Is it harder?”

“No, it’s just unpleasant. The Summer Lands is… we usually say ‘warm’, but it’s not actually heat per se. It’s like the feel of being in direct sunlight, but without the temperature. Sort of a glowy, tingly feeling. Tartarus is the opposite of that; I guess the best metaphor is being chest-deep in swamp water.”

“It’s wet? Cold?”

“Clammy?” I suggested. “But also freezing to the point you start to feel numb. Like the Summer Lands, there’s not actually temperature; you won’t get frostbite. But if we weren’t stuck in a haunted library, I’d teach you this next to a fireplace and have a bowl of candy for you like Wintershimmer did when he taught me.” I shook my head as I realized I was getting off topic. “I’m going to send just a tiny thread of my magic into the aura around your horn. I want you to hold onto it with your magic, just like if you were grabbing something telekinetically, okay?”

“Sure,” Gale answered. “Don’t you need to draw one of those stars on the ground, though?”

“No, those are mostly just for show. They help you hold your grip on the other pony’s soul if you’re going to be talking to them for a long time, or you need to cast other spells at the same time, but otherwise they just make ponies think it’s fancier magic. Now, close your eyes and light up your horn. Just focus on the feelings around your magic.”

I waited for Gale to ignite her horn before I pressed up next to her and put my horn against hers. I built up a tiny bit of my own magic, so small that its pain was no more than the sting of a too-hard pat on the shoulder from a close friend. Beside me, Gale tensed, and then let out a slight shiver, as she felt my pale blue magic slide into her raging aura. “Hmm…”

I nodded, letting her feel the motion on her shoulder. “Now, grab on to my magic and stay with me.”

As I moved my magic—and Gale’s with it—over her shoulder, she nuzzled against me. “Morty, is this some kind of foreplay?”

“Not in the middle of some library, but if you like it, I’ll remember.” I guided the magic further along, probably feeling like it was just under her coat (though in truth it no longer had a location in the physical sense), before stopping at the back of her neck, just below the base of her skull.

“Ooh, that tingles… wait, is this—”

“If it were cold, I’d be about to rip out your soul with the Razor, yes,” I explained. “A pony’s soul doesn’t really have a ‘location’ in the body, but when you touch it with magic, the mind tends to associate it with that spot. Nopony knows why. Now, focus; do you feel this?”

I felt Gale cock her head. “It’s like… like a thread? Or a really fine chain, like on a necklace?”

“That’s your body’s connection to the Summer Lands,” I explained. “Or, rather, the Between in general. When your body dies, this is what pulls your soul away to be judged.”

“What happens if it gets cut?” Gale asked.

“It…” I took just a moment to square away my thoughts. “It can’t. Without getting into too much detail, it’s not really a chain or a string or whatever you’re feeling. It doesn’t have length, or thickness, or texture, or anything like that. Even if I opened up the Summer Lands with the portal ritual, you wouldn’t be able to see it or touch it or hold it. Your brain only knows how to deal with sensations coming from the physical world. Since your horn is used to touching physical things telekinetically, your brain has taught itself to assume that the sensation of resistance against magic corresponds to a physical object, the same way it would if your leg touched a physical object. And since the bond between your soul and the Between is ‘tangible’ in a magical sense, your brain is making up its best explanation for what it's feeling in a way that makes sense in a physical world.”

“Huh.” Gale nodded again. “I think I kind of understand that. You actually can explain things.”

“This is my special talent.” I let myself nuzzle Gale a little bit forward, as if urging her to take a physical step, as I gave the next direction. “Now in a moment we’re going to move our magic along it. It’s going to feel like your magic is lurching away from you suddenly, very fast, but that’s just another of your brain’s mistakes, because the other ‘end’ of that soul cord is where we want our magic to go. When you’re ready, you push.”

“Okay.” I felt the slight lurch on my magic when she moved us, entirely comfortable and even welcome to me after a decade of practice, but beside me Gale tensed a moment as if worried she would collapse. “What is that feeling? It’s... floaty? Rippling?”

“Instead of physical air, our magic is just surrounded by more magic. The closest your body gets to having what’s inside it feel like what is outside it is when you’re swimming, so your mind feels all that magic like it’s water.”

“...you mean blood?”

“Well, you didn’t like the ‘scrambled eggs’ metaphor, so I was avoiding that. But yes, when I was learning, Wintershimmer described it as ‘floating in a sea of blood’. Which, in retrospect, should have made me less comfortable with him than it did when I was a little colt.” I shook my head to focus. “Alright; now here’s the hardest part for a beginner, so if you need me I’ll help. In the Between, what we think of as ‘weight’ comes from emotional weight instead of something’s mass. And right now, we want our magic to sink, since just like in the physical world, in the Between, Tartarus is below us.”

“Wait, Tartarus is a real place? Like, that you can dig to?

“You don’t need to dig; you can walk there. Well, climb; it’s mostly vertical, but there’s stairs if you know where to look. The upper layers really aren’t as bad as everypony thinks if you can get past the dog. I’ll take you some time when I need to make a trip for reagents. But for now, we’re going deep, where the damned souls are. So I need you to focus on something you hate. Something that makes you feel miserable.” I paused. “I’m gonna try not to be comforting, but if you need me to step away to focus, Gale, I can.”

“Not ‘Gale’,” she said. “Call me ‘Platinum’.”

“Really?” I asked, opening my eyes in surprise only to find her gritting her teeth and not just closing her eyes but squeezing them shut as hard as she could. “Alright, if that helps, Platinum.” When I saw her brow twitch, I realized exactly what she really wanted. “After what happened at the party, Your Highness, I’m afraid you really ought to marry High Castle—”

I gasped because of the ‘downward’ lurch on our combined magic; I had intended to hurt her enough to get our magic moving, but I hadn’t expected the rather shallow comment would send her plummeting so harshly. It took more than a bit of my willpower not to wrap a leg around her shoulders and try to comfort her as the clammy chill of Tartarus wrapped around our magic.

Refraining from praising her, though in every regard she was doing quite well for a non-mage, I focused on getting through the rest of the spell as fast as possible. “Now, focus on his name. Solemn Vow. Say it with me. Solemn Vow.”

“Solemn Vow.”

“Solemn Vow.”

“Solemn Vow.”


“Yes? I did hear you the first time.”

Gale gasped and I felt her nearly drop the spell. Like a coil of hose or cable under stress snapping under strain, the loss of her concentration snapped our magic back up from Tartarus, flying across the void of the Between and back to her horn in the physical world, where the sense of phantom inertia sent Gale tumbling back onto her tail. Still, her horn held the spell.

“Don’t let go of your magic, Gale,” I told her, shooting only a quick nod to the phantom of Solemn Vow floating a few inches off the floor in front of us. But apart from that brief flash of attention, my focus was on Gale. I spoke in a rush, the way one does when a joke lands poorly, when you see pain on a friend’s face. “You did great! I’m sorry; I didn’t mean that to hurt so much! It doesn’t need to be that bad; if we have to do it again, we’ll find a less painful thought. But the hard part is all over. I was lying, I’m still here for you.” I wrapped a leg over her shoulders and pulled her in for a quick but forceful hug, which she answered by latching on to me like a vise. “Now you just hold your horn lit while we talk.”

Behind my back, in plain view of Gale, Solemn Vow spoke with more than a slight amount of cheer. “Ah, I’m your first seance, miss? Congratulations. And I’m honored to be your first subject.”

Gale chuckled, and when she let go of me enough for me to pull back, I saw the hint of tears in the corners of her eyes before she wiped them away with a foreleg. “Holy shit; you’re Solemn Vow.”

“In the fl… well, no, I suppose ‘in the spirit’?” Vow folded one foreleg across his chest and offered a bow. “I’ve spoken to Morty once before, and slightly more recently had the misfortune of being forced to try to kill three of him, so he’s a familiar face… but I’m afraid my lady has me at a disadvantage.”

“Vow, this is Gale. Gale, Solemn Vow.”

Solemn Vow nodded, quirking a brow. “A pegasus name? Interesting. Well, Miss Gale, it is a delight. If nothing else, Morty, I’m astounded you’re alive. After Wintershimmer bound my soul to Luna’s candlecorn, I thought the fight was nearly over. Is Wintershimmer really gone, or did he escape?”

“He killed Wintershimmer,” Gale confirmed.

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” I responded.

“Forgive me for what might be an insensitive question, then; not that I’m anything but ecstatic to hear that, but how? You’re, what, eighteen? Twenty? And you killed Wintershimmer the Complacent?

“It would take a long time to explain, and I don’t know how long Gale can hold a seance, since it’s her first. So I’ll try not to waste time: how do we get out of your library?”

“How did you get in? There isn’t a door, and you’d have to have—oh. Hah!” Vow shook his head in amusement. “Of course.” Thankfully, the dead stallion had enough presence of mind not to simply leave us hanging as his mind raced ahead with his realizations. “I taught the house’s magic to recognize me by my jacket, since it’s a large enough visual pattern that I could use a second order divination matrix that could sustain itself on ley arcana instead of needing upkeep.”

“Does that explanation come in Equiish?” Gale asked.

“There’s a little bit of magical energy—’mana’ is the formal term—all around us constantly, in the air and the dirt. Some enchantments are magically cheap, like teaching a spell to ‘see’ our jackets and recognize them.” I gestured with a hoof in the direction of Vow’s spectre as I continued. “He could have used something that actually would have only identified him, such as by his soul, but that would taken more mana than the enchantment could pull out of thin air, so he would have had to recharge it every few months or years or so. That’s not the worst task in the world, but it is a chore.”

“Well said.” Vow nodded. “Keeping the enchantment self-sustaining also meant I could board up the wall where I drew the glyphs and embedded the crystals; I was going to some lengths to hide that I was a trained wizard, so I didn’t want it to be completely obvious my house was enchanted. And at the time I died, Wintershimmer and I had the only jackets from the Order of Unhesitating Force; and he wasn’t coming to visit any time soon.”

That’s why all the doors open for you!” Gale rolled her eyes. “You and your fucking evil cult robes, Morty!”

“They’re not ‘robes’,” Vow corrected sternly. “It’s a jacket.”

Gale very slowly let her gaze sweep from the ghost of Equestria’s most prominent murderer toward me. “So I’ve been told,” she said as flatly as possible.

“And you’ll be getting your own set soon,” Vow added. “Given you must be Morty’s apprentice—”

“She’s just a friend,” I interrupted. “I’m not training her. The seance was because we don’t know how to get out now that we accidentally teleported in.”

“Ah, yes. Well then… Morty, you know that as a fellow victim of Wintershimmer’s education, I’m always willing to do you a favor. Morty, you no doubt said Wintershimmer’s name while touching the little picture on the mantle in my reading room, correct?” Gale rolled her eyes, which caused Vow to glance over at her. “Something wrong?”

“Reading rooms, jackets… Just wondering if I should be worried that my coltfriend talks almost exactly like Equestria’s most famous serial killer.”

Vow shrugged. “I prefer to think of myself as more of a failed revolutionary, but point taken.” Then his shade turned back to me. “At the far side of the library, there’s a rather large portrait of Queen Platinum.”

“Why her?”

“My two mentors,” Vow explained. “They seemed as appropriate symbols for my place of learning as any. Say her name—just ‘Platinum’ will do, no titles needed—while you’re touching it. Or rather, while you’re touching the frame; obviously I can’t stop you, but I commissioned the portrait from Reinbray just before he passed, so it’s irreplaceable. If you’d be so inclined, Morty, I’d be grateful if you could give it to Her Majesty; no use letting it gather dust, and even if she may justifiably not want a gift from me, I had meant to make a gift of it to her eventually.” His idle note about the painting—I’ll note that I did eventually give it away, and that this is the same one hanging in the gallery at L’hoof today, and probably the one you picture when you imagine Platinum I—ended just as abruptly as it had begun. “And make sure your friend is in hoof’s reach when you do; you wouldn’t want to leave her behind.”

“Or Morty could keep it,” Gale muttered. “The house is his now.”

“Hmm…” Vow nodded. “Your reward for cleaning up Wintershimmer?”

“Something like that,” I agreed.

Vow nodded. “Well, I’d be more than happy to give you a tour and show you around the secrets; there are rather a lot. If you want to employ my services, that is.”

Gale chuckled. “Yeah, I’m sure that would go over well. ‘Hey, Morty, where’d you hire your butler?’” Gale’s voice dropped into what I can only assume was her impression of mine. “‘I dragged him out of the depths of Tartarus. I save a lot on payroll that way.’”

“Joking aside, I’ll consider your offer, Vow. Right now, my horn is still healing, but I promise you that in a few days when I’m back to my magical self, I’ll seance you and we can settle things.” Then I glanced to Gale, decided (or rather, reminded myself) that I trusted her with my life, and continued “I do owe you for telling me the truth about Wintershimmer’s attack on Smart Cookie and Jade. If you hadn’t, Jade would have killed me in the Union. So in thanks, I promise you this: even if I don’t take up your services, I would be willing to disperse you rather than send you back to Tartarus.”

Vow’s eyes widened. “You’re just going to admit it in front of her—”

“Gale and I are good at keeping each other’s secrets,” I noted, before turning to her. “In the swamp outside of Platinum’s Landing, Vow offered to help me learn the rest of Wintershimmer’s magic, since obviously Celestia won’t know that.”

“And a few things Wintershimmer likely didn’t know either,” Vow added, with just a hint of desperation in his tone. “As well as helping maintain the home, all joking aside.”

“I get the point, Vow,” I told him, before turning again to Gale. “In exchange, he wants me to get him out of Tartarus. I’d probably bind him to a golem body—one without a horn, most likely.”

“Well understood,” Vow agreed. “I’m not asking you to trust me; we’ve only spoken the one time before, after all.”

Gale put a hoof on my shoulder. “You’re serious? You’re going to go behind Celestia’s back?”

“I’m considering it.” I chuckled. “I mean, I went behind her back when I fought Wintershimmer too. But we can talk about that more privately.” I turned to Vow once more. “Unfortunately, with my horn out of commission, she’s just going to have to end the seance and send you back.”

Vow raised a brow. “Can I ask what happened?”

“I pushed past Palisade’s Threshold and nearly killed myself from mana burn while I was fighting Wintershimmer.”

“Ouch,” Vow offered sympathetically. “Hence why your friend is holding the seance, I imagine. I had the ice box in the kitchen cloud lined, and I enchanted it to carve ice cubes for drinks. It won’t heal any faster, but if you wrap some in a cheesecloth and hold it against your horn, it may at least help numb it.”

I nodded. “Appreciated.” I glanced to Gale,and then whipped back to Vow. “One other thing: where do I buy a new bed?”

“What’s wrong with the one I left?” Vow asked.

“Nopony’s lived here since you died,” Gale explained. “So it’s dusty as shit, and most of the fabric’s musty, if not fucking rotting.”

“There’s no need to curse at me, but again, point taken.” Vow nodded. “Well, my information may be a few decades out of date then… what’s it been, thirty years?”

“Nineteen,” Gale explained. When both my predecessor and I raised our brows, she added “I was born almost a year after Ty killed him.”

“You know Typhoon?” Vow chuckled nervously. “Yes, well… our disagreements aside I do hope she’s doing well.” Shaking his head, the dead mage continued “On the corner of the Ridge and Wayward Way, a few blocks north of here, the Hold Up Sisters Upholstery makes the best furniture in the city—assuming they’re still open, but I can’t imagine they would have gone out of business. It’s expensive, but if Her Majesty is as generous to you as she was to me it shouldn’t be a problem. For linens, while it may seem a little pedestrian for a young noble like yourself, I cannot endorse enough going to one of the earth pony street markets, like at Rank Road and West File.”

“A young noble?” I asked.

Vow frowned. “Her Majesty didn’t give you a title?”

I glanced to Gale. “The Queen can just do that?”

Vow chuckled. “I mean, how else did you think noble titles got assigned? It isn’t as if Celestia herself descends from the sky.”

“It has more political consequences for the Queen than whoever is getting the title,” Gale muttered.

Vow glanced Gale’s way with a hint of amusement on his expression. “Yes, I suppose that’s true. In any case, Morty, you ought to just ask Her Majesty. If she gave you this house, I doubt she’d hesitate to grant you a barony. If it weren’t for the ties to me, I’d suggest you’d make an excellent Baron Card.”

“You’d be surprised,” Gale muttered. “Look, my horn is starting to sting; are we done? And do I need to do anything fancy, or do I just let go?”

“When you’re ready, just let go. And Vow, thi—” Vow’s soul blinked away as Gale’s magic finished before I could finish my thought. “Ah.”

“Sorry; I thought you were done.”

I shrugged. “It’s no skin off my back; I usually just make a habit of saying goodbye.” I chuckled. “Vow knew how to seance in life, so what happens won’t catch him by surprise, but for the average pony you want to give them a bit of warning about the lurch.”

“The lurch?” Gale asked.

“You’ll recall when we followed the tie from your soul to the Between, and then down to Tartarus, there was that sense of moving forward sort of suddenly? I don’t know if it’s a formal name, but we always called it ‘the lurch’. When I was a little colt, if I had spells left at the end of the day, I’d trace my magic up and down that bond because I thought the feeling was fun.”

Gale shook her head and chuckled. “Reminds me of when I was small enough to ride around on Ty’s back. Or Aunt Luna’s.”

“'Look upon me, mortals, and despair' let you ride on her back?”

“Honestly, Morty, I think she just hates you in particular.” Gale shook her head, taking a first step toward the far side of the library, and our exit. “I think she liked showing off her flying stunts to a little filly who couldn’t get enough of it. Ty too; when she was younger she loved stunt flying.”

“Huh.” I shrugged. “And you didn’t… throw up?”

“You fucking lightweight… How the fuck is flying worse than teleporting? Or ‘the lurch’ when you cast one of those spells?”

“Well… Huh. I guess because in those cases I’m in control of the motion. That, and it’s just not as protracted. Even if I have to reach into Tartarus, once you’ve practiced seancing for a while, you can find who you’re looking for pretty fast.” I shot Gale a grin, though she didn’t look back at me to catch it. “You should think of a family member or a friend who’s passed for next time we practice; somepony a bit less, uh…”

“Controversial?” Gale nodded. “Well, that asshole we just talked to killed Dad’s sister, Twister, so I’d like to meet her. And I guess there’s Ty and Cy’s mom, Swift Spear. Dad’s first wife.”

“What happened to her?”

“Cyclone,” Gale answered. “Same as my grandpa.” I nearly choked behind Gale as she followed that thought aloud, and what it might mean for my promise to keep the elder Platinum’s conversation’s quiet. “He’s probably the best choice. King Lapis IV. You think I can do that?”

“I’m… sure it’ll be easier than Vow,” I answered after a moment of nervous hesitation that, mercifully, she didn’t press me on.

“Well, I’ll think about it. But hopefully he gives better advice than Mom. Speaking of which…”

The prompt was accompanied by Gale gesturing to a much younger picture of her mother that hung on the wall in front of us on the far side of the relatively small subterranean hidden library. Heavily done up in makeup and wearing elaborate jewelry, about the only similarity I could see between the metallic mare and her purple daughter was in the shape of their jawlines. I placed my hoof on the side of the painting, stepped to make sure my side was brushed up against Gale’s and announced “Queen Platinum”.

A moment of lurching magic and a ‘pop’ later, we were back beside the mantle in the reading room.

“I’m going to head back to Dad’s place and clean up after all this bullshit today,” Gale told me. She took a solid stride away, and as she moved, unsubtly flicked her tail so it ran up my inner leg, just past me knee. “You don’t want to sleep in a rotting bed here, right?”

And that, dear reader, is not another Tale; at least, not one I’m sharing with anypony else.

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