• 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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5 - 1 The Many (Awful) Mentors of Coil the Immortal

V

The Many (Awful) Mentors of Coil the Immortal

I

Stars, It's Been a Week

You'll forgive me if I (the narratorial version of your protagonist) am a bit frustrated while writing this chapter. While to you, this likely just looks like the turn of a page, on my end it's been almost three months since I recorded the preceding chapter.

As I believe I've mentioned before, I am not what you would call an inspiring political figurehead. Don't get me wrong, I'm quite gifted with administration and delegation, but golems and corpses are better subjects in my book because they tend not to ask 'why?'. Nevertheless, with Celestia still moping about the moon bitch's absence, and said pock-marked goddess having actually killed Celestia's preceding secretary/understudy/fallback option, I find myself temporarily picking up the slack of 'ruling' over a rebuilding Equestria. And, as it turns out, Luna still has loyalists devoted enough not to go into hiding when we banished their leader literally to the surface of the moon!

I mean, stars, I'm not sure whether I call the past few weeks a janitorial exercise or a demonstration of natural selection.

In any case, I've put Angel VI (or VII? Unfortunately, I think that part of my memory was in the part of my brain that's smeared on Castle Midnight's walls somewhere…) in charge of interviewing some new candidates for a parliament of sorts, rather like the one we had back in the days this story is about, and stars above, I've just realized how much ink I've wasted rambling. The point is, I finally have time to write again, and if I don't, I'm worried I'll snap and actually declare myself tyrant king or something moronic like that.

Forgive me just one printed 'ahem'.

After I helped Gale to seance Satchel, I asked how I could help further. She, understandably, just needed me out of her mane—stars know I was even worse with politics then—and though that answer left me feeling more frustrated and impotent than I cared to admit even to myself, I grudgingly accepted it. I satisfied myself with being the shoulder for her when her duties were settled, and headed back to Hurricane's villa on the river.

Though I wouldn't admit this to myself either, the thought of just collapsing in one of Hurricane's cushy sitting room chairs was incredibly tempting. The reader will recall it was still the same day after I had lost most of my night of sleep to seancing King Lapis IV, and then subsequently tossing and turning in the agony of my aching horn. Even the most handsome stallion in the world looks and feels a good deal worse with sunken purple bags beneath his eyes.

When I arrived at Hurricane's villa, I found the Equestrian legend rocking like the crotchety old stallion he had become on an antique rocking chair as he nursed an ale from a brown glass bottle on his own porch.

"Morty? Hmm. Hadn't expected you back so soon."

"Gale… Her day at court—"

"I already heard," Hurricane interrupted mercifully. "That's why I'm surprised you aren't with her."

"I helped her with the dead pony. There's not much else I can do. I did offer." I shrugged. "Figured I'd come here and wait for her."

Hurricane grinned at that and offered me an understanding smile. "Welcome to my world, Morty. Well, you're welcome to sit and drink with me here on the porch, or I think Blizzard and your flying rock thing… Angle, was it?"

"Angel," I corrected gently. "'Guardian Angel' if you want the whole name, but we hardly ever use it. I'm surprised he's here; I expected he'd be back at the college with Grayscale."

The observation only earned me a shrug from the old stallion. "Well, they're in the kitchen working on some bread for dinner. Blizzard says it's something a friend of hers taught her in River Rock, so I'm looking forward to it." When my hooves answered Hurricane's offer simply by walking past him up to the door, I got yet another nod. "Morty, do me a favor?"

"Hmm?"

"I'm sure you're busy with your wizard business, but if you ever have a quiet day, take Blizzard out with you."

I couldn't help but raise a brow. "Haven't you already been dragging her out of the house?"

Hurricane stared down into his bottle, but refrained from taking another drink. "I do what I can. But when she's with me, there's always the risk somepony puts together her 'secret'. The entire city knows Typhoon's only got one foal, so I can't exactly introduce her as my granddaughter. But if she's with you, or really anypony else, she ought to be able to let her guard down, at least a little bit. And since you're apparently the only friend she has who isn't family..."

"Point taken. I'll see what I can do." One other obligation immediately jumped to mind regarding Blizzard, but given Hurricane's rather negative views on necromancy, I figured mention of Blizzard's late mother Summer was probably best kept between myself and the mares in question.

With an approving dip of Hurricane's head, I entered the villa and made my way back past the dining room into the legendary stallion's kitchen. I hardly had a point of reference at the time, since the only kitchens I was familiar with even in passing were those that served the entire Crystal Spire, rather than just a single household. Fortunately, with the benefit of hindsight, I can tell you that the villa's kitchen was easily where Hurricane had invested all his construction money. Cloudstone marble countertops (that I would later learn were magically chilled in some parts of the kitchen, and heated in others) topped an island and a wrap-around preparation space. In one corner, an enormous brick oven crackled with flame while somehow not baking the air in the rest of the room. In another, a perpetual waterfall provided water without the need for manual pumping. Two sturdy iron-bound doors sat on the left wall, but from the mist slipping around the edges, I inferred they led to a sort of enchanted ice house. Perhaps most impressively, not far from the waterfall, a slab of skysteel several feet across glowed a muted orange with inner heat, serving as a sort of stove and griddle in one, somehow without the need for any fire or logs placed beneath it—as if the heat were somehow coming from the metal itself.

I have a sneaking suspicion that in Hurricane's hooves I would have found the room pristine, given the old stallion's borderline obsession with disciplined tidiness in the other rooms of the villa, as well as how obsessively well preened he kept his sole remaining wing.

In Angel and Blizzard's care, the room was… less so. Upon entering the room, I had no idea why this was the case; Blizzard never struck me as one to tolerate that kind of chaos, and Angel certainly wasn't fond of messes, since it was usually his job to pick them up. Since neither being noticed me, I leaned in the doorway and resolved to try and solve the mystery.

It didn't take long.

"I can certainly try," Angel told Blizzard as I relaxed myself. "But if I may be so bold, a rolling pin is far easier to operate in a straight line with wings than with my halos."

"Well, yes…" Blizzard frowned. "But the point was to do it together. I guess I didn't really think about you not having hooves, but—"

"Oh, please don't feel bad. I was glad to help you with the dough… batter… substance. And I do apologize how long it took to clean me up. My gem fittings are rather fine, I understand."

"You sound like Morty," Blizzard noted with a chuckle.

Angel tittered aloud. "I mean 'having small details'. I am, as Master Coil so often loves to remind everypony, a flying rock."

Blizzard produced a rather heavy rolling pin and, wielding it like a club, smashed down a ball of potatoey battery dough stuff. "Well, I think you're quite handsome."

"I'm certain you've never seen any being quite like me against whom to compare my appearance." Angel's golden halos spun in place. "But I do appreciate the thought."

"I guess I was actually thinking about jewelry," Blizzard explained as she rolled out the dough, back and forth, transferring the wooden dowel to her hooves when it started to get covered in a floury residue.

"Jewelry?" Angel asked. "Forgive me if I'm being intrusive, but from what I saw of your family in River Rock, jewelry didn't seem particularly commonplace…"

"No." Blizzard chuckled sadly. "Maybe that's why I always wanted some. Lefse—my friend, who's named after this kind of bread—she had a couple of earrings, and they always seemed so pretty. Father said it was frivolous when I asked him; he told me if I wanted to wear gold, I should join the Legion and become a centurion."

I doubt Blizzard appreciated the way Angel's rock rotated, rather like a confused animal cocking its head. "Some soldiers wear gold armor? Would that not be incredibly heavy? And, for that matter, a bit soft to protect you?"

"It's just the trim on the edge," Blizzard explained. "You've seen aunt Typhoon's armor, right? That little bit of gold on the edges? It's not even solid; it's basically just a layer they melt on over the steel, to make it stand out on the battlefield." With another heavy thump, Blizzard flattened another ball of lefse dough.

"Well, forgive me if this is a question that a pony would think it is rude to ask; I find I am still getting a sense of those rules. But why are you against being a soldier to get your gold?"

"I did it for a little bit…"

That revelation caught me in outright shock.

"...I was maybe seven or eight? Basically, Father needed a messenger, and he wanted me to get used to taking orders and talking to the other Legion ponies. I didn't mind it much for a while. But one day, Father's imperator Crane—um, that's his second-in-command—Imperator Crane tried to take over. He waited until Father had me deliver a message to him, and then he... he put a knife to my throat and dragged me to meet with Father…"

It was obvious to me Blizzard was struggling with the memory, and though it was far harder to read Angel in most cases, owing to his lack of a proper face, it was also obvious from the way he was carrying his halos that the golem didn't fully understand where Blizzard's story was going.

"If you'll forgive me for interrupting, Blizzard, I think this is a great opportunity for you to have a lesson in understanding ponies, Angel."

Angel let out a sort of chirp and spun in place. "Master Coil!"

Blizzard's reaction, while similarly metaphorically avian, was more a shriek; throwing her wings up into the air, she dove behind the counter. Fortunately, it took my friend only a few moments to overcome the shock of my appearance and, clearly embarrassed by the blush on her cheeks, pull herself back up into view. "Um, Morty! Hi!"

"Hello, Blizzard. Angel. Blizzard, are you alright?"

Blizzard nodded frantically, as if enthusiasm would somehow undo the awkwardness of her reaction. "Yeah, yeah, um… I'm fine. I just… really, really don't like being snuck up on."

"I promise I wasn't trying," I offered. "But you have my apologies. And, given what I suspect you were about to say, I can hardly blame you. Angel, did you notice how Blizzard was slowing down in her story there as she went on? Hesitating a bit?"

Angel's halo's whirred as his tiny voice spoke out. "I certainly did, sir. I surmised it was emotionally impactful."

"Do you have a guess what kind of emotions it was bringing up?"

"Negative ones, I would imagine; at least, I would assume given the ponies involved that the matter ended in violence."

I nodded warily, letting my eyes glance to Blizzard even as I tried to teach Angel an important lesson about ponies; the last thing I wanted was to put his learning ahead of her comfort. "You really have gotten a lot smarter, Angel. How do you think remembering and reciting memories of negative emotions makes a pony feel? In the present?"

"Well, I would assume one feels those emotions again—ah, I see. Blizzard, I am extremely sorry to have caused you to relieve those events."

"It's fine, really." Blizzard put on her muted smile. "I could have just said no, Angel. It was a long time ago."

"True," Angel agreed. "But I believe we literally just now finished establishing it was still an emotionally… Master Coil, there is a word here that sounds like 'frogged', but my vocabulary is failing me, and—"

"Fraught?"

"Yes. Emotionally fraught." Angel let out the sound of a tinny huff. "I dare say I have made a mess of our little exercise in making bread, Blizzard, and for that, I offer my apologies. Perhaps, to make it up to you, I can tell you a story of when I was young with Master Coil and Wintershimmer. Those stories are often similarly full of violence and peril."

I couldn't help but rub my temple. Blizzard, at least, had the good humor to appreciate the golem's attempt with another small chuckle. "Maybe some time, Angel. I'm guessing Morty wants you for something, though? Now that his horn is back to working?"

"Not yet…" I suspect the bitterness in my tone made it obvious to ever-empathetic Blizzard that there was more than just a bit more waiting embedded in the comment. "I'm just here killing time for the moment. So I shouldn't offer my horn, but if you need another set of hooves…"

"Something wrong?" Blizzard asked.

"What isn't?"

Angel floated over. "We heard about the riot outside Gale's meeting. Is that what's bothering you, Master Coil?"

I walked over into the room, if only to let me lower my voice. "That's… one thing." I hesitated myself, and then had the awareness to regret having taught Angel how to interpret that pause, all in the space of about a second.

That was how long it took Blizzard to hold the rolling pin out in front of me, and to slide a ball of dough so that it sat on the counter beneath me.

"It'll make you feel better," she suggested.

One swing of a rolling pin later, and I realized that compared to the possibilities, there really was only a minor amount of mess in the kitchen after all. As Blizzard and Angel laughed at the smear of potato dough on Hurricane's cabinetry, I let myself focus on rolling out a thin, even sheet, as I had watched Blizzard do moments before.

"I'm feeling overwhelmed," I admitted, when the laughter passed into silence. "It's been, what, three days since I got out of bedrest? And already, I feel like fighting Wintershimmer was easier."

"Surely, you exaggerate, Master Coil?"

"I'm trying to best Gale's suitors and win her hoof in marriage, even though Platinum detests me. I'm doing my best to support Gale being Queen now, which has involved a lot more necromancy than I was expecting. I'm worried about Graargh, even though objectively I know he's better off with Aspirations than with me trying to raise him. Stars, to say nothing of my age, I'm losing my mind and hallucinating Wintershimmer."

"Truthfully?" Angel asked. "Have you spoken to Archmage Star Swirl? Or Lady Celestia?"

"I'm not exactly on the best terms with them right now," I admitted. "Because of the worst part: I have the Scourge of Kings."

"You what?" Angel's shrill gasp of shock dramatically overrode Blizzard's look of confused worry. I afforded the golem a short bob of my head as I continued rolling out the dough, then turned to Blizzard.

"What's that?" she asked.

I briefly glanced over my shoulder to make sure Platinum wasn't standing behind me, though it only moments later occurred to me she was almost certainly still out dealing with the fallout of the death outside the Stable of Nobles. "It's a disease that runs in the royal family. Sometimes ponies call it 'horn rot', because that's what it does. The more magic you use, the more your horn decays. Eventually, you can't do even basic magic, and your horn gets an infection that spreads to your brain. Ponies used to say it was a curse Celestia put on King Electrum—Gale's great grandfather a bunch of times over—for trying to look into the future too much. Turns out, it's actually just from using far too much magic without letting your horn rest."

"What's the cure?" Blizzard asked.

"There is no cure," Angel answered solemnly.

I made a point to shake my head. "There's a way. Chop off my horn and stick a new one on."

"You can do that?" Blizzard pressed, eyes wide and with her wings even popping a bit in surprise. "Do unicorn horns work like that?"

"I assure you they do not," Angel again interjected. "I fear Master Coil may be losing his mind in more ways than just hallucinations."

"No, Angel. Wintershimmer had a way to do it, decades ago. Actually, it's what got him kicked out of River Rock by Gale's grandpa and Star Swirl. Unfortunately, Star Swirl seems to think that because it was evil when Wintershimmer figured it out back then, using it now to help me would also somehow be evil, and—ggnh!" The last gasp I accompanied, without meaning to, with a violent jerk forward of the rolling pin that served to tear the already too-thin-by-half lefse dough into a scattering of jagged-edged ribbons. I tossed aside the rolling pin and collapsed onto my hindquarters, tilting my head back until my scalp was flat against a cabinet behind me. "If I don't do something soon, my magic will kill me. As Mage Meadowbrook put it, every spell I cast shortens my life expectancy by a year."

This time, it was Angel's turn to hesitate. "I… um… I suppose 'I'm sorry' is inappropriate, given I'm not at fault, but I feel as if I should say something…"

Blizzard, in contrast, said nothing at all. She walked up to where I had let myself fall on the kitchen floor, sat down beside me, and wrapped a wing over my shoulder. Then, gently but firmly, she pulled me against her side.

Hovering overhead, and unable to offer such physical support due to being made of levitating metal and stone, Angel settled for an encouraging question. "Do you… perhaps have a plan, Master Coil? Is there something I can do to be of assistance?"

I nodded. "Tonight, Angel, we're going to be doing some magic that I'll need your assistance for. I need to figure out the details, but I want to be here for when Gale gets back, and…" That sentence trailed off into a miserable groan, as my ailing horn chose that moment to twinge in pain. "Is there ice in that… frozen closet over there?"

"Probably," Blizzard offered. "If not, I can make some. Why?"

"My horn. Somepony said ice in cheesecloth would help…"

Blizzard released me with as much speed as was feasible without hurting me in the process, and then made her way over to investigate fulfilling my request.

Wincing, and so not really 'looking' at all, I still turned my head to point in Angel's direction. "If you want something to do right now, Angel, go to Diadem and have her bring the candlecorns to my house. Possess one yourself if it's a problem."

Angel scoffed. "Well, I suppose I have already had one viscous ooze in my halos today; what is another?" Then, with a change of tone I hadn't noticed in the golem before, I received a nod and a far more genuine tone—one even bordering on empathy, though I do wonder whether it was genuine or merely an imitation of Blizzard's speech patterns. "Do take care of yourself, Master Coil. I shall endeavor to help you as best I can."

"Don't tell anypony," I answered, before adding "Thanks, Angel."

Angel neither needed nor wanted clarification on that final order, but as Blizzard approached with wrapped ice in her wing, she did dare to speak up. "Why?"

"A wizard shouldn't tell the world about his weaknesses." Despite not only quoting Wintershimmer, but having directly referenced the figment of my particular flavor of madness (if, indeed, that was the source), he failed to appear yet again.

"That sounds lonely," Blizzard told me. "I'm glad you told me, at least, Morty. Will you talk to Gale about it? Or Graargh?"

"I doubt Graargh would understand. Gale… I don't know. I mean, I trust her—but she's got so much on her mind already, and I don't want to create more problems."

Blizzard shook her head firmly, and even through my squint of pain (lessened though it was by the blessed application of the ice to my horn), I could see she was fixing me with perhaps the sternest look she had ever directed my way. "She'll know something is wrong whether you tell her or not, Morty. If you don't tell her, you'll make her worry more, because she won't know why you're keeping it secret."

"Okay." I took a deep breath. "Thanks, Blizzard."

"You're my friend, Morty," Blizzard answered, still firm in her attentions.

"Where did you learn to be so… good with ponies? It obviously wasn't your dad."

That finally broke the wall of seriousness. "Oh, no, no. I… well, mostly I figured it out on my own, I think. Um, you remember I have a lot of little siblings, right? Well, I basically raised most of them. Really, all of them except Sirocco and Maelstrom, and only because they're not that much younger than me. Anyway, I guess you learn a thing or two about getting ponies to work together when you're helping lots of little foals grow up without attacking each other."

"Sounds like hard work." I forced myself to lean forward and get my forehooves back in front of me instead of at my sides; I immediately regretted the motion, though, and flopped back with a rather woody 'smack' as the back of my scalp met the cabinetry. "Fuck. Er, forgive my Gale-ish." The stupid joke won me another laugh from Blizzard, and I decided there was no better time to press my advantage. "You mentioned you liked jewelry? Would you humor me if I took you out to buy some?"

I thought the laughter was a sign it was a good time to ask such a question, but Blizzard immediately locked up. "You… you want me to go…" And then, to my infinite relief, she finished the question in a truly humorous way. "Morty, um, I don't know that I think of you that way. And if you and Gale—"

"No, no! Just as friends, right?" I offered as disarming a smile as I could muster through my pain (and believe me, even in pain, my smile could rival a master fencer's skill at disarmament). "Maybe tomorrow?"

"Um… sure," Blizzard agreed. "Actually, that would be perfect, I think. Grandfather and Misses, um… Oh no, I can't come up with her name; the older mare with the eyepatch."

"Iron Rain?" I offered; I had only ever met the mare twice myself, but she was not an easy mare to forget.

"Yes, she and her husband are going to be hosting me. Actually, um… would you like to join me for that too? Or, I guess, would you mind? Um, Misses Rain said I could bring a plus one, and I think she was kidding, but I don't really know them that well, and—"

"I'll be there," I interrupted the accelerating torrent of Blizzard's words. Then I let my shoulders go slack. "Give me just a minute longer and I can help you finish off the bread, since I stole your other apprentice."

Blizzard chuckled, and retrieved the rolling pin from where I had abandoned it. "Take whatever time you need."

And so the afternoon passed, making lefse and much lighter small talk in roughly equal proportions.

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