• 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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Interlude III - Apropos of Red Ink

Interlude III

Apropos of Red Ink

The last member of Sunset’s crew in her mission searching for me was Red Ink. Ink was born under the name Roscherk Krovyu, which in modern Stalliongradi would most often be translated as ‘bloody stroke’. To be clear, that is not ‘a pony from Trottingham describing the impacts of a blood clot in an elderly pony’s brain’, as in “Come quick, guv’nah; Gran’s ‘avin a bloody stroke!”. Rather, it means ‘to draw one line in a character or glyph, as will a quill or pen, using blood as the medium of coloring the paper’, as in “after I killed a giant wolf that was trying to eat me and my brother, I ripped a quill out of my wing, sharpened the end on a rock, and carved my name in the wolf’s back with the tip of the feather.”

Which, incidentally, was the real story of how Lieutenant Commander Red Ink, Equestrian Honor Guard, got his talent marks.

If that doesn’t tell you most of what you need to know about the stallion, don’t worry, it gets worse.

On the day before Sunset Shimmer, Somnambula, Tempest Shadow, and Red Ink set sail, or weighed anchor, or caught the tide, or whatever nautical term airship captains have stolen from the good and kindly seafaring ponies who know better than to artificially put a unicorn in the sky, Princess Luna and Sunset Shimmer found Ink standing in a long narrow hallway full of stained glass in one of the higher passages of Canterlot.

Red Ink was a short stallion whose stunted growth was owed to having been born in the middle of a series of draconic invasions over the Equestrian border that burnt down Stalliongrad twice and left the frozen city in famine as well as constant blizzard. Being a pegasus only worsened matters. As the middle foal of three colts, his stature had left him with something of a complex, which manifested obviously in adulthood by the fact that his legs were broader than the necks of most other ponies. Naturally a cinnamon-candy red, and wearing a darker red mane, he was rarely found outside the company of a black jacket—though unlike mine, his was fully for warmth against Stalliongrad’s permanent blizzards, with a thick fur collar and well padded shoulders. How he survived wearing it in Canterlot’s warm summers, I have no idea. Underneath it, not that Sunset could see, his mark was a quill writing fancy (but meaningless) cursive script in red ink.

The most important visual quality of Red Ink that day, though, was that he was not alone. Sunset Shimmer took note that amongst the many-colored rays of light cast by the stained glass, at least six other ponies were in the room… if one, indeed, did decide to call the creatures ‘ponies’. The only particularly common features the six beings shared were that their ears were tufted up into rough but sharper points than even the sharpest eared example of a conventional pony, and that their teeth were quite pointed and decidedly carnivorous.

Three of the number were pegasi, or at least had been. Now their wings were leathery, reminding the young mare (and everypony else who ever looked at one) of a bat’s wings.

Two of the group were unicorns, with curved horns like those common in ponies whose heredity favors the former Shogunate of Uma. Unlike even Mistmane or her kin, however, these horns were completely smooth, and though they matched the fur tone of their owners at their bases, their tips looked almost like polished crystal: partially translucent, and glowing with an interior magic that matched their owners' eyes.

The last of the number could have been called an earth pony. His only notable feature that Sunset recognized at a glance, other than his fangs and tufted ears, was that there seemed to be cracks in his forehooves running up his legs. After a moment of staring, however, she realized rather that the creatures’ legs did not end in hooves at all. Rather, he had something like a dragon’s talons, simply curled so tightly into fists that they took on the slender profile of forelegs; it was only in walking forward, when the light through the stained glass windows caught the razor-sharp edges of the claws, that she could truly tell how they fit together.

They were the Night Guard, and Sunset found her heart hammering in her chest as everything that I had revealed about Luna’s servants swept back into her mind.

“Princess Luna. Sunset Shimmer.” Red Ink nodded to the Night Guard he had been speaking with, turned, and gestured that the two ponies who had entered should approach with his wing. His heavy Stalliongradi accent tinged every word. “Something I can help you with?”

“There is not. In fact, perhaps I can help you. My sister has told me of the quest on which you will soon embark. Let me say, Lieutenant: I am glad my Sister hath chosen you and not one of the other Honor Guards.” With that thought concluded, Luna glanced up and down the line of her Night Guard. “For the purposes of assisting Sunset Shimmer and Lieutenant Commander Ink in their task, you are all permitted to speak of your lives before joining my service. You shall also pass this information on to the rest of the Night Guard, and fetch them as Lieutenant Ink, Sunset Shimmer, Somnambula, or…” Luna frowned, and her voice dropped. “Confound it, Celestia just named the mare… Assist me, my sister’s apprentice.”

Sunset nervously lifted her voice. “Tempest Shadow, Princess.”

“Yes, that is the name! Huzzah!” Luna jumped just a little bit, and if I didn’t know she were a millenia-old monster, I might have found the enthusiasm cute. “Tempest Shadow. If any of those ponies have questions or tasks for you, you are to heed them. This quest of theirs is most important to me.”

Sunset took a hesitant step forward. “So they’re really all…”

“Dead?” One of the pegasus Night Guards offered, closest to Ink. In her surprise at their shapes, Sunset hadn’t even noticed that in place of an armored black and purple breastplate, he wore what looked like a twenty year old tan trenchcoat, and was actively smoking a slightly bent cigarette. “As doornails. You can touch me if you want proof.”

“Uh…” Sunset swallowed, glancing up to Luna as if for permission. The alicorn nodded, so Sunset stepped forward, and to her own surprise, found the stallion’s body even colder than she’d been expecting. “Eeugh.”

“I know we get a little clammy, but I didn’t think it was that bad,” a dead unicorn quipped.

“Oh, uh… no, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean any offense.” Sunset jerked back. “Um, thank you, uh…”

The Night Guard shared a few chuckles at Sunset’s discomfort.

“Ninth Brother,” the winged corpse answered around his cigarette. “Or, if you don’t mind, since we’re apparently allowed to use real names with you, Chocolate Malt.”

“Do not become too comfortable, Ninth Brother,” Luna warned. “Thou art still on notice for how thou… fie and damnation, how you recruited Twelfth Sister.” Then she nodded to Sunset. “You need not fear them, Sunset Shimmer. They do not bite.”

Red Ink chuckled. “Well, not you, anyway.” Then, when Luna frowned at him, he held up his wings in mock defensiveness. “I’m not blaming anypony. I’m just saying, when I ran the Black Cloaks in Stol’nograd, usually if you didn’t find the perpetrator’s body, it meant something wild at them. And when I read incident reports with the Night Guard involved, well…” Ink shrugged and winked at Sunset. “Do svidaniya.”

Princess Luna frowned. “My Night Guard protect Equestria from magical terrors, not mortal ponies. And they do not write incident reports.”

‘Lack of accountability’ is a somewhat less damning criticism of a force of supposed protectors than ‘cannibalize the guilty’ (and at least under Nightmare Moon, quite a few innocents too), but it still ought to be condemned.

“Equestrian Intelligence is very thorough. I wish I had had spies like that when I led the Black Cloaks.” Ink smiled wryly. “Can I ask two favors?”

“You may ask,” Luna agreed.

“I need to speak to Third Brother and Twelfth Sister; can you retrieve them for me?”

“I certainly—”

Mistress,” another one of the pegasus night guards, a mare, interrupted. “I am sorry to interrupt. But I caution against summoning Third Brother here.”

“Oh?” Princess Luna raised a curious brow. “Do tell.”

“He and Lieutenant Ink… have a past. I would prefer not to discuss it further in his presence.”

Ink grinned. “Ah, I see. Thank you, Eldest.” Then he winked at the dead mare, before focusing once again on Luna. “I no longer need to speak to Third Brother.”

“Now I find myself concerned, Honor Guard. Who is my servant to you? Do I need to be worried you shall attack him behind my back?”

“What, because I killed him the first time?” Ink calmly placed a wing over his chest. “Princess, I promise you, I will not attack any of the Night Guard, even if one of them turns out to be somepony I really hated, like Baron Frostbite..”

Sunset Shimmer’s eyes widened. “Baron Frostbite is dead?”

Ink closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. “Right. You’re actually almost fifty despite how you look. Blyat, I knew I should have paid more attention to that part of the report. And you were Celestia’s student so you would have met him… Well, there’s no point hiding it now. Yes, Baron Frostbite is dead, by my hoof. If that’s going to introduce some kind of tension for our mission, I can ask Commander Flag to accompany you instead. She’s less well versed in history and she probably doesn’t have as many underworld contacts, but she can teleport the heart out of a living pony, so she’ll do the fighting part just fine. And if we’re being honest, that’s probably why Princess Celestia actually wants an Honor Guard with you.”

“If I may, Sunset Shimmer,” said Luna. “I would prefer if you kept Lieutenant Ink. Out of the current Honor Guards, I think I can trust him the most for this task.” Then, with a tip of the tip of her wing to Ink, she turned for the door. “I will return with Twelfth Sister.”

Ink collapsed onto his flanks at the sound. “Night Guard, I’m done with all of you; thank you for your time. Give me some privacy to talk to Miss Shimmer.” After his request, the red pegasus waited a few long moments for the assembled dead to shuffle off before he finally turned back to Sunset.

“Okay. As first impressions go, that was not my best. Can I start over?”

“Um… sure?”

“I am Red Ink. Well, actually, I am Roscherk Krovyu, but ‘Red Ink’ is a lot friendlier to ponies who don’t speak the language. I am Lieutenant Commander of the Honor Guard, though I spend most of my time as a history and gym teacher at Sparkle’s Friendship School in Ponyville--sometimes it comes as a surprise, but she does teach more than just ‘kindness’ and ‘generosity’ there. That’s supposed to be my cover identity to watch Ponyville, since everything wrong in Equestria seems to happen there these days, though most of the time, Sparkle and her friends just go solve the problem anyway. ‘Overwhelming violence’ is what I bring to that kind of table, and it is not exactly an Element of Harmony, no?” Ink offered a smile. “How about you? What is life like where you get to skip twenty years of age and walk around on two hooves?”

Sunset blinked, and then chuckled, and then laughed, and then finally had to hold a hoof over her mouth. “Sorry… I… well, I guess to start with, we don’t have hooves. Humans—that’s what the species on the other side of the mirror is called—have ‘feet’, sort of like griffons or dogs or whatever. There’s no magic, so I’m a little out of practice with having a horn… Did you say your real name was ‘Roscherk Krovyu’?”

“Ah, you pronounced it very well.” Ink smiled. “Why?”

“I speak enough Stalliongradi—” Ink visibly gritted his teeth. “—to know that doesn’t translate to ‘Red Ink’. But also, everypony here in Equestria has a version of themselves on the other side of the mirror where I’ve been living, and your name kind of shows up on the news sometimes.”

Ink’s smile remained pinned, but it fell from his eyes, leaving him looking mostly like something had disturbed him. “I… take it he did not get sent by human goddess Celestia, on pain of death, to go learn friendship at Sparkle’s treehouse?”

“What?” Sunset took a few long seconds to stare at Ink, during which time the stallion cursed heavily under his breath in Stalliongradi. “No, no; Celestia’s not an alicorn on the other side of the mirror. She’s just a high school principal. And you’re, uh…” Sunset hesitated. “Well, there are some very handsome pictures of you shirtless, riding a horse outside of Neighvgorod.”

Ink’s face flickered through several confused emotions that I suspect most readers unfamiliar with interdimensional portals have shared, before finally settling upon simultaneously the most telling and the least acceptable clarifying question one can imagine: “Was the… mare of the night at least good looking?”

“What?” Then a rich blush swept over Sunset’s face. “No, no, not like that, eww! Not that kind of horse. No ‘w’!”

“Oh… Now I’m even more concerned; is a ‘horse’ at least a mammal? And this is in the newspaper there? And why do you even know about—”

“Not that kind of riding either!” Sunset was redder than Ink by that point, trying to hide her face behind her delicious bacon*-colored mane, and was not helped at all by the unsubtle chuckles from a few of the Night Guard, who couldn’t help but hear at least the shouted parts of the conversation. “Nevermind about other you, okay? Sorry I brought it up. Look, I’m just living a regular life over there, or at least trying to. I promise it’s not as weird as it sounds”

* It follows from a basic principle of necromancy that bacon, unlike beef, isn’t meat. And no, this isn’t a post-hoc justification because bacon is somehow that delicious. I explain further in a later Tale, so I won’t prepeat myself here.

“I can respect that.” Ink glanced around the room and nodded at the windows. “Did you just want to meet me, or to talk about the mission?”

If only at the prompt of a less awkward subject of conversation, Sunset smiled. “Sure, let’s talk about that! Have you found anything out? What did you want to talk to the Night Guard for?”

“Nothing yet. When the Princess mentioned the amulet Morty is supposedly looking for, I remembered something I read in a report from one of Celestia’s spies.” Ink chuckled at the mild look of shock on Sunset’s face. “You can’t be that naive, or you wouldn’t be on this mission.”

“I… no, you’re right. I mean, it’s not like S.M.I.LE. is that secret. It’s just weird hearing somepony say ‘Celestia’s spies’.”

“She is very good at giving that image, isn’t she? Sort of like the implication that the ‘M’ in the acronym means they don’t spy on ponies.” Ink winked knowingly before his husky accented voice carried on. “There was a pendant a lot like the one the Princess described that got stolen a couple of years ago from a noblepony here in Canterlot in the middle of a Nightmare Night party. I dug up the report; it didn’t say much. But Ninth Brother was in charge of the investigation.”

“Were you kidding about not finding anything yet? That’s huge!” Sunset grinned. “So what happened to it?”

“After the thief wound up dead and the fence got caught, the trail went cold.”

“Oh.” Sunset frowned. “I mean, I guess we still know somepony tried to steal it. Do you think Morty was the buyer?”

The black fur collar on Ink’s neck rose and fell with his shoulders. “I do not know the stallion enough to guess. Fortunately, he did give us an example to follow, of how a corpse doesn’t have to be a cold trail.”

Sunset grimaced. “You’re asking me to seance the thief? Lieutenant Ink, look, I’m a pretty good mage, but I only got my necromancy license because Princess Celestia thought it was important for me to have studied the theory, and it probably expired twenty years ago! I can’t just call up somepony from Tartarus!”

Red Ink rested his wing on Sunset’s shoulder. “You don’t have to. I already did.”

“You what? You’re not a unicorn.”

“And the thief isn’t in Tartarus. Princess Luna is bringing her to us right now.”

“She—wait, Twelfth Sister is that thief?”

“That’s what Ninth Brother had to say, anyway.” Ink glanced to the door where Luna had left, and then closed his eyes. “As Honor Guard, I’m supposed to look out for Celestia and Luna. They don’t make it easy even on a normal day, and all the secrecy around this ‘Morty’ pony is giving me chills. Do you know what Celestia actually wants him for?”

“Not really…” Sunset shrugged. “I mean, part of it, I think, is about Starlight Glimmer being in his story.”

“The guidance counselor cyka?!” Ink growled. “What does she have to do with this?”

“You did read Beginner’s Guide, right? She’s Archmage Hourglass. Twilight told me she already knew how to do some kind of powerful time travel magic, so I guess I just took it for granted that wasn’t that weird, but I guess if you don’t know about that kind of magic it would be pretty weird.”

“Glimmer knows how to time travel? What’s next? Applejack actually is a plant?”

Sunset chuckled. “No, I don’t think so. It’s just Starlight. And don’t talk to her about it. Remember, that one is an order from Celestia.”

“Damn.” Ink nodded. “So that’s it? Celestia wants to set up her old supposed-to-be-dead student and the guidance counselor for some sort of time travel thing? Maybe stop Luna from having to be banished?” The red stallion massaged the bridge of his muzzle with the two leading feathers of his wing.

“Given what little I know about time travel, which admittedly isn’t a lot, that would probably destroy the world. Especially since Morty was there the first time.” As Ink raised a very concerned brow, Sunset shook her head to dismiss the impending question. “The only other thing I know is that Morty’s supposed to help Princess Celestia do some kind of favor for Princess Luna. Something about Rainbow Dash.”

“Ah.” Ink nodded, tilted his head back, took a deep breath, and let his wings sag to the ground in an open show of both relief and regret. “And here I thought I had left that chapter of life behind.” When the comment prompted Sunset to frown in curiosity, he took a long breath. “It is a very long story, but I’ll try to sum it up. An assassin named Masquerade tried to kill Princess Luna. With a poison made specifically to kill the Princesses, if you believe it. She hit Luna while she was flying; Rainbow Dash had to save her from falling out of the sky and dying from hitting her neck on the ground. So she made one of her sonic boom rainbow things—”

“A sonic rainboom?”

Ink nodded. “About at ground level. The explosion pushed Luna sideways enough that she didn’t die. But… well, Rainbow hit the ground before her noise did.”

“Wait, what? Is this world’s Rainbow okay?”

“Well, she’s fine now. Celestia raised her from the dead.” Red Ink managed to keep a straight face for what I would call ‘two beats’ as Sunset sputtered and failed to vocalize her thoughts. Then, finally, his calm broke into laughter. “Obviously, at the time, she kind of looked like spilled strawberry jam.” When Sunset winced and her shoulders tightened, Ink’s brief humor started up again.

“But— but— Rainbow Dash here is undead?!

“Well, not like them,” Ink noted, tilting his head toward the door the Night Guard had left through. Unfortunately, at that exact moment, Princess Luna had entered said door accompanied by a pegasus mare’s corpse, and Red Ink had to double-take at what he had just indicated. “Blyat. Nothing rude, just contrasting you with… well, I suppose that’s classified.” Then, with a nervous glance to Sunset, he added in a whisper “Do not mention that to Rainbow Dash if you see her. She does not appreciate the subject being brought up. And when she punches, she punches hard.” Then, much louder, he gestured a wing. “Sunset Shimmer, may I introduce Twelfth Sister. Twelve, this is Sunset, Celestia’s last student. She’s older than she looks.”

Thanks,” Sunset noted with bitter sarcasm, before extending a hoof to the approaching Night Guard. “I’m Sunset Shimmer, yes. You must be Twelfth Sister. Um, do you prefer that or your real name?”

The corpse in question was a pale purple pegasus pony whose fangy grin somehow managed to be charming despite its implications. She took Sunset’s hoof earnestly and gave it a quick shake. “Well, my real name is Eyewitness so I used to go by ‘Eye’, but you can just call me ‘Twelve’. Most of the Night Guard skip the ‘brother and sister’.”

Ink raised a brow. “Most?”

“Well, we call Eldest ‘Big Sister’,” Twelve noted.

Luna nodded. “Eldest has been a great boon to me; I permit her to use her real name, but she prefers to follow my restrictions for the others.”

“Can I ask why?” Sunset asked the bad princess.

It probably hadn’t seemed like much of a troubling question to Sunset, but Luna recoiled at the simple words. “I… would prefer you speak to her, if you wish to hear her story, should she choose to share it. Suffice it to say, she has my eternal trust and gratitude.” Luna closed her eyes for a very long few seconds, and then placed a wing over Twelve’s shoulders. “As I directed, you are to help them however you can. Now, I should take my leave.”

Twelfth Sister nodded, and watched Luna depart before she turned back to the living ponies in the stained glass gallery. “So?”

Ink nodded. “I understand you know something about a locket that was stolen from an art collector in Canterlot a few years ago?”

Twelve nodded. “Yeah. I’m the one who stole it.” Then she rolled her slitted eyes and added, “Then my friend ‘Wax Mold’ stabbed me in the heart over it,” making the injury sound like a chipped hoof or at worst a black eye.

“What happened to Wax Mold after he took it?” Sunset asked.

Slitted eyes avoided her gaze. “Um… how much do you know about us, Sunset?”

“She can guess what happened to him,” Ink observed. Then, when Sunset raised a brow in his direction, the short pegasus added “Do svidaniya.” Sunset held a hoof up to her mouth at the realization, which made Ink chuckle slightly as he directed his attention to the corpse in the room. “We’re more interested in what happened to the amulet.”

“I don’t know,” Twelve muttered, suddenly very interested in the floor. “I was the face, and a decent cat burglar when the situation called for it, but I just got the stuff. I didn’t know how to get rid of it; Wax was the fence. He was the one who came up with the deal too; usually, we just stole stuff and sold it ourselves. I was never gonna meet whoever was buying it. And Wax didn’t exactly talk before… well, you know—”

Yes,” Sunset interrupted forcefully.

Red Ink donned a scowl that seemed to fit his broad red face quite comfortably. “So that’s it, then? The trail’s cold?”

“That’s everything I know. Malt and I—uh, ‘Malt’ is Nine’s nickname—”

“We know,” Sunset interrupted. “He’s got an… interesting getup.”

“If it makes it make any more sense, I think he’s actually that old. Malt’s the only one of us I know about who actually died of old age. Not that you can tell; I guess the magic makes us look younger, but I was only about your age when I died, Sunset.”

“Remember, she’s older than she looks,” Ink teased, but his comment seemed half-hearted, distracted even from the humor. “You really just gave up on looking?”

Twelve frowned even as Sunset glared at the red pegasus. “Well, Malt and I got assigned to try and find it. That was my first job after I, um, got recruited. We shook down everypony we knew Wax had contact with. Well, I guess Malt did; he actually used to be a guardspony. Being a thief didn’t exactly teach me how to play ‘bad guard’. But nopony knew anything. Wax didn’t exactly usually deal in magic things; just art and jewelry and stuff he could move easily. I didn’t even know the necklace was magic when I stole it; I just thought it was expensive for some reason.”

Ink waved a frustrated wing in the air. “Blyat. We’re back to square one.” Bordering on stomping, he stepped away from the Night Guard and the unicorn to stare at the stained glass windows on the nearest wall. “Thank you for your help, Twelfth Sister.”

“Sorry I don’t know more. But, I guess if I did you probably wouldn’t be having to do this?” Twelve shrugged. “It was nice to meet you, Sunset, I guess.”

“Wait,” Sunset asked, nibbling on her cheek. “You stole it from Canterlot, right? Who actually had Morty’s amulet? Who did you steal it from?”

“Oh, that was Lord Barnacle. He’s an art dealer and sort of a recluse in North Canterlot; he’s always on some trip or safari or something. It was kind of a big deal we were going to target him in our circles. Everypony said he had some of the best security in Canterlot.” Then she let her eyes drift away, and one could tell at a glance, her mind with them. “He’s got a cute accent, but he’s easy to distract.”

“That’s a pseudonym. His real name is Dr. Grail Caballeron,” said Red Ink with an upswing in both his voice and mood as he turned away from the stained glass.

“From Daring Do?” Twelve asked with a raised brow. “You know those books are made up, right?”

“Only some of them,” Ink replied. “Trust one of those sorts to use an anagram for his name.”

“An anagram?”

“Lord Barnacle. Dr. Caballeron.” When Sunset raised a brow, he actually smiled. “I’m glad you didn’t think that was clever of him. Sparkle would have.”

“You learn that from those spy reports?” Sunset teased.

Red Ink groaned. “If only. I took a student to a Daring Do convention.” With a distant, glazed over look in his eyes, Ink noted “I lost five soldiers that day.”

“How do you…?” Sunset let the question trail off, shaking her head. “No, that doesn’t matter. You’re serious that this Dr. Caballeron pony is real?”

Ink groaned. “Yes. So is Daring Do.”

“Okay, Mr. ‘She’s-older-than-she-looks’,” Twelve interrupted. “We weren’t born yesterday.”

“No, hold on…” Sunset dutifully produced her copy of my prior work, A Beginner’s Guide to Heroism, and flipped to the back (though, obviously not the part featuring her that I wrote since). Finally finding Chapter 51 (Spoiler Warning, for those following along), she read aloud. “It’s part one of your autobiography. Oh, this is Archmage Hourglass… that is, Starlight Glimmer talking.” Then, with a wince, she added “I don’t know if you know her, Twelve, but Princess Celestia said not to tell her about this until Morty does… anyway, I think this is Starlight from our future, and she talks about this exactly. Let’s see… ‘A fun read, though personally I’m much more of a fan of the sequels. How To Make Undead and Influence Government…”

“You’re joking,” Twelve muttered.

“Nope. Although I don’t know why she lists them out of order. Tales from Everfree City should chronologically be next. She lists that and then continues with How I Learned to Stop Living and Love the SpellOh, and of course, Daring Do and the Very Handsome Necromancer. Though you had to ghost write that one.

“Where did you have that book?” Ink asked idly.

“Extradimensional pocket,” Sunset noted as casually as that phrase ought to be to a wizard, seriously concerning both pegasi in her presence. “That’s not important. Look, Morty writes a Daring Do book! There’s our link!”

“You think that there’s a link between Morty writing a Daring Do book someday maybe hundreds of years in the future, and the fact that Dr. Caballeron happened to have his amulet when she died.”

“Can we back up?” Twelve interrupted. “Daring Do is a real pony?! You two honestly believe that?”

“Compared to Morty, I feel like that’s fairly simple,” said Sunset.

“You’ll be happier if you just accept it,” Ink noted. “Even if you’re right, Sunset, what does that mean for us?”

“Well, it means we need to find Dr. Caballeron or Daring Do.” Sunset slapped her hoof on her (precious, arguably irreplaceable) copy of Beginner’s Guide. “I mean, Daring is a hero, right? And if anypony is going to know about weird ancient artifacts, or Morty for that matter, it's her.”

“She’s more of a tomb thief with good propaganda,” Ink noted flatly. “But you’re probably right that she’s a better lead than just trying to ask around for the amulet ourselves. And maybe she or Caballeron will have some idea who wanted to steal it.”

“Do your secret spy reports know where to find her?” Sunset asked.

Ink rolled his eyes. “I’ll ask Secret Service” When Sunset raised a brow, he sighed. “The head of the S.M.I.L.E.—and no, that’s not her real name. But I have a sneaking suspicion Princess Celestia’s advice about starting in Somnambula’s hometown is going to be the answer we get back. Past that, I would bet the other two are better off taking the lead.”

“Why?” Sunset asked.

“Somnambula probably remembers at least some of the tombs Daring Do would want to dig up. And as far as finding Caballeron’s latest job, I don’t have a lot of contacts in Klugetown, which is a big market for black market magical artifacts like the kind Caballeron is usually selling. Really, I don’t have contacts anywhere hot.” Ink then patted Sunset on the back with his wing—an action which involved a certain rather awkward reach up for the short pegasus. “You ask good questions, Shimmer. Is there anything else you wanted to talk about? Or should I go try and dig up what I can about Daring Do?”

Sunset raised both her forehooves frog-up. “That sounds like the best next step we have. Thank you very much for your help, both of you. I think that’s all we need for now from you, Twelve. I’m sorry to ask you about your, uh death...”

“No worries,” said Twelfth Sister. “I know normal ponies kind of get weirded out by it, but in the Night Guard it’s just kind of normal. So it was kind of fun… I still can’t believe Daring Do is real though…” Giving a flick of her leathery wing by way of a half-salute, half-wave goodbye, Twelve headed for the doors out of the gallery.

As the dead mare walked away, Sunset turned her attention back to Ink. “I’m gonna go back to my room and do some more reading before we leave tomorrow, and maybe brush up on my necromancy. I guess we might stop in Ponyville first to talk to Twilight.”

“That will be good for us,” Ink noted. “Rainbow Dash has met Daring Do a few times; she may know how to find her. And I need to drop off substitute plans.”

Sunset chuckled at the thought. “Are you going to do a unit on Morty and Gale?”

“I would be a lousy Equestrian history teacher if I didn’t cover Queen Platinum III. The Centralization Reforms aren’t something you can just skip.” Then Ink raised a brow. “Or did you forget you learned about ‘Gale’ in history class?”

Sunset winced. “I… I mean, I remember that, obviously. It’s just weird to be reading about her swearing all the time and compare that to who you imagine in history books. Morty definitely doesn’t make her look like that painting you always see pictures of—you know, the one with the pauldron and the fur cowl and her rapier.”

“By Hyacinth,” Ink replied with a nod. “Is Celestia allowing you to discuss it?”

“With you and the rest of the team, sure, but I’m not supposed to share it around too much.”

Ink grinned. “I’m not trying to spill state secrets. But since I teach history, I’m very interested in how Morty’s books feel different than what you learned in school. I want to make sure my students can remember history actually happened, with real ponies who aren’t so different from them.”

“Oh, it’s night and day. We definitely never learned about Morty, which seems weird. I mean, sure in the grand historical scale, killing Wintershimmer probably isn’t the biggest historical deal, and I can kind of see where Princess Celestia was going kind of covering him up. You wouldn’t want curious students trying to rediscover his spells. But it’s hard to believe after all that, that Morty just kind of disappeared from history. I’m kind of half-expecting to find out the history books are wrong somehow.”

“Because you think he must have had his hooves in Centralization?” Ink asked. “Or do you just want to believe he and Gale actually ended up together?”

Sunset winced, tellingly. “I—Kind of, yeah? It’s also really hard to believe Gale is the same Queen Platinum from history, since she’s so bad at politics. And with how much she loathes her suitors.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Ink answered. “I may have to ask Celestia if I can use Beginner’s Guide as a source. I’m sure Ocellus would love to hear about another good changeling in history. I bet she’d get a kick out of turning into a bear cub…” Ink’s words trailed off as he took a step away from Sunset, and he nodded her way as he passed. “Forgive me. I think I want to write this down before I forget.”

Sunset listened to the red stallion in the black coat as he walked away, muttering to himself. “Smolder’s angry enough to sympathize with Princess Platinum, and as for Morty… Heh. ‘Yaks best at necromancy?’ I wonder…”

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