• 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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8-1 Dead Mare Walking

VIII

Dead Mare Walking

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VIII - I

The Morty-ifying Ordeal of Being Known

"...so all the illusion actually did was make her see as though her eyes were a hoof's width to the right. But she thought I had done something with her ear or her back or something. And the whole day, nopony would tell her what was wrong—because nothing was—but from her perspective everypony was staring just slightly off the left side of her face."

Blizzard's gentle laugh and raised brow made the crowded streets of Horntown seem more like home despite being surrounded by strangers on all sides. And, in turn, Blizzard seemed at least relatively less consumed by abject terror of said strangers learning her true origins.

The six reminders I had given her that as far as anypony knew she was just another pegasus probably didn't hurt either.

Vow had acquired for me (and, concerningly, somehow fitted for me) a midnight blue tunic with gold-colored trim and fastenings, which I think made me a bit less recognizable as well; in my trips through Everfree, I was noticing more and more ponies turning to look my way at a distance, and the change of attire from my signature black-and-red seemed to have alleviated that. While normally I enjoyed commanding attention, and some part of me was cross that my unusually handsome facial structure wasn't enough to stick in the memories of the general public, for Blizzard's sake, it was a welcome change.

"That's a cute prank," Blizzard observed. "How long did the spell last? A few minutes?"

"With my magic?" I scoffed. "Most of a week."

"Oh my…"

"Better than throwing them through walls, or letting them bash in my teeth. And a lot better than what Wintershimmer always said I should do." When I watched Blizzard's face trace that implication to the obvious conclusion, and sour, I decided to change the subject with a bit of force. "What all did the old kook wind up talking you into picking up?"

The pony in question was the owner of a jeweler's shop Vow had recommended to me in Horntown, and whose doors Blizzard and I had left minutes earlier. I pointedly don't refer to him as a jeweler because, while he did manufacture jewelry, the stallion's main craft was enchantment of minor common curiosities onto his creations (or, I suspected, more likely the creations of some unseen partner—if he didn't just outsource them from an external real jeweler).

But I didn't want to say any of those things out loud to Blizzard; she was so enamored with having her own jewelry for the first time in her life that I wasn't going to risk saying anything to break the spell of her wonder.

"Well, I got the unenchanted necklace you had me show you." In fact, she was wearing the item in question: a teardrop sapphire on a white-gold chain. I had nearly forced the choice down her throat, not because I particularly cared about the color (well, I did, but I would have looked the other way to make Blizzard happy), but because it was the only unenchanted piece in the jeweler's collection that would hold the magic I intended to provide. "And then Claddagh showed me these nice earrings that are supposed to calm my nerves, but I can't put them in until I get somepony to pierce them for me. Do you think Gale could do it?"

"I'm pretty sure she's got a lot on her plate." I chuckled at the thought as it continued alongside our hooffalls down the streets of Horntown. "Also, Gale's bedside manner isn't exactly the best in the world; she doesn't have a lot of sympathy for pain, at least in my experience." I smiled at a stray thought. "I bet I could convince Celestia to do it."

"I…" Blizzard turned very red. "The Goddess? I couldn't possibly—"

"Don't call her that, at least to her face. She doesn't like it. Honestly, I think you'd get along; she's another pony who just wants to be treated like everypony else. And she's got it worse than you."

"Yes, but… if ponies see me with Lady Celestia, they're going to want to know who I am, and then—"

"They won't," I promised. "They won't even notice you."

"Everypony notices you when you're around her," Blizzard countered.

"Well, I am usually the most attractive pony in any room," I pointed out, earning a slight crease of even Blizzard's usually unflappable expression. "But more than that, I'm not wearing an enchanted necklace that makes ponies minds not pay attention to me," I countered, noting toward her neck with a dip of my horn. "That story I told wasn't just because I thought you'd laugh about it."

"You can do that?" Blizzard asked, astonished. "Make ponies not notice me?"

I nodded. "Well, after a fashion. It's not as if I can make you invisible. Nor do I think you'd want me to if I could. If you do something to attract attention to yourself, or if somepony knows you're there and tries to focus on you, they'll see you. But if you're walking down the street, or standing behind Hurricane or me or whoever, you'll sort of just… fade into the background, I guess?" I shrugged. "Since you're always so worried, I thought you might like—"

I was almost bowled over with the force that Blizzard carried when she tackled me with a feathery hug. "Thank you, Morty!"

The hug nearly managed to make me feel guilty. Because, dear reader, much like the metaphorical neo-clothiers of the much fabled but ever unnamed emperor, I was lying through my teeth about the magical properties I intended to bestow on Blizzard's necklace. Not that I couldn't do what I had described, of course, but rather, that I had no intention to. The major difference between the characters of the infamous fable and myself is that, rather than pursuit of wealth for myself or humiliation for the subject of my efforts, I was working benevolently. My plan, you see, was to use what I will now dub The Necklace of Placebos as a form of therapy for Blizzard; if I could get her to go out and enjoy life wearing it for a few weeks or months, then the revelation of it being completely unenchanted would finally get her over her near-constant irrational fear and teach her that the odds of anypony identifying her secret were so improbable as to be not worth discussing, let alone calculating.

Despite that pragmatic logic, however, the heart feels what it will, and so in the next few moments, my mind was locked hard onto the struggle of convincing the more whimsical organ that what I was doing was, in fact, right. Hence, I was not paying attention to the fact that the path I was leading Blizzard down led into a side street that would more accurately be described as a crooked, shadowed alleyway.

The three thugs that I completely failed to see didn't help my obliviousness either.

"Um, Morty… Are you sure this is the right way?"

I nodded. "When Gale and I went to meet Misses Rain, their house was…"

The clearing of a voice cut off my explanation of my directions. "'Ey there, lovebirds," said a pegasus with an accent distinctly reminding me of Gale's other pegasus suitor, Caporegime. "Funny you should find yourselves down this particyalar alley on this particyalar fine day, isn't it?"

"Is it?" I asked.

The stallion—really, I should say, the colt; he was probably younger than me—nodded, and casually flipped some kind of flip-out-blade knife in the leading feathers of his wing. "Yeah, I thinks so, yanno? On account of, we've got a little tax—"

"Oh! You're trying to threaten us." I laughed, which put a worried look on Blizzard's face, and a very irritated one on the lead would-be mugger. "You must not know who I am."

"Oh yeah? Youse some kinda bigshot?"

I nodded. "Mortal Coil, apprentice of Celestia, at your service."

One of the other thugs, a unicorn, stepped up beside the knife-wielding pegasus, and spoke with a distinctly earth pony accent reminding me heavily of Lubuck. "Student of Celestia? You think we were born yesterday?'

"No, just uniquely stupid."

Blizzard gasped. "Morty!"

"What?" I turned fully away from the thugs to show how little concern I offered them, as well as to give Blizzard my full attention. "You don't think we're honestly in any kind of danger, do you?"

My companion nervously swallowed and refused to answer. Though she stayed quiet, two things happened over her shoulder to answer my question. The first is that another two ponies stepped into the alley behind us, blocking our path of egress (not that I couldn't just teleport out if I desired). The second, unique to my eyes, was that a translucent figure faded into being beside Blizzard.

"If you intend to wield my spell against them, you're in very serious danger, even if she isn't, Coil. Your lifespan is worth more than these pathetic infants," my hallucination of Wintershimmer observed.

I sighed, turned back to the lead trio of muggers, and nodded—thinking quickly, and asking two questions at once. "Alright. So what do you propose?"

The lead pegasus answered first. "Little miss pretty over there, your marefriend, she's got quite the nice jewelry on. Whaddya say we… liquidate that fors ya, to clear our toll fee for yusin our little stretch o' road here?"

Wintershimmer's 'ghost' walked up from behind Blizzard to stand by my side, shoulder-to-shoulder. I could feel his old robes beside me, even though they did not disturb the rubbish on the alley bricks, nor did his hooves click on the bricks themselves. "I tried to teach you this lesson more times than either of us can count. But perhaps, I wonder, now that the application of my mentorship is in the interest of the moral good, if you will finally see my wisdom?"

I couldn't think of a way to address both parties this time, so I settled on a different tact; one from my story to Blizzard a few moments before. I set my eyes to look over the lead stallion's shoulder, just far enough offset from matching his gaze for it to be uncomfortable. And then I spoke directly to Wintershimmer. "Which lesson is that, again?"

"What youse talkin' about?"

"Morty, we can just give them the necklace; I don't want anypony to get hurt—"

Even as Blizzard moved her wings to undo the clasp of her new necklace, I held out a hoof (straight through ghostly Wintershimmer's chest—not that anypony could appreciate the strangeness of that positioning besides myself) to halt her motion.

"You can best these fools with three casts of my spell, shorten your life substantially, and pass out in an alleyway desperately hoping some other scum of the underbelly of society doesn't find you before a benevolent passerby does. Or you can best these idiots without a single spell. You've grown quite dramatic, Coil; do you remember why I taught you that in the first place?"

"Nopony has to get hurt," I assured Blizzard, realizing Wintershimmer's point. "Can I ask, gentlestallions, which one of you five is the best fighter?"

"Me," muttered the foremost pegasus, continuing to flip his knife. "Why? Youse think we're gonna play nice an' fight equuo a equuo?"

I glanced to Blizzard, who begrudgingly translated "Pony-to-pony."

"Ah." I shook my head. "No, no. Not me, anyway. I wanted to know which one of your minds it would be the most efficient to take over. Since you're the best fighter, it stands to reason I should turn you on your friends. Since there's an even number behind us, it doesn't matter who I pick, but I want the odds to be as fair as possible for your trio here."

"Unicorn magic doesn't work that way—"

"You're confident in that? You're an expert on unicorn magic?" When the question gave an obvious hint of pause, I took a step forward. "Because here's what you're gambling. If you're right, you get that necklace—it's worth, what, a couple hundred bits, Blizzard?" Although she opened her mouth to answer, I didn't let her—I knew I'd paid not-quite two thousand for it, but understating the value was part of the speech, and judging by the fact I hadn't been interrupted (to say nothing of the expression on the muggers' faces) it was working.

"If you're wrong, though, out of you and your four friends in this alleyway, only one of you walks away. Four of you bleed to death on the bricks from one anothers' knives or whatever toys your friends have hidden away, and I let the unlucky winner—let's say its you, since you are, by your own admission, the best fighter—you get to sit quietly watching them bleed out until the guardsponies arrive to clean up."

A few of the muggers looked between one another in doubt, but the leader puffed up his wings in bravado. "Even if you could make us fight, I'd tell them guards what you'd cast—"

"You think you can convince them? When they find you with your fancy knife, that obviously matches their wounds, still in your mouth, covered in your friends' blood, and no sign of Blizzard or I having ever been here? You think they'll believe some 'evil wizard' took over your mind? When by your own claim, that kind of magic doesn't exist? No, they'll slap you in manacles faster than you can blink—and you'll let them; that's the best part of the magic. Then, when they drag you off to the dungeons, you get to spend the rest of your miserable, worthless life knowing that you killed the only friends you'd ever have, and every night you'd get to remember the coppery taste of their blood on your tongue and the look of betrayal on their faces burnt into your eyes forever."

The unicorn behind our curiously accented representative took a flustered step back. "Celestia… you… you're serious, aren't you?"

"Nah, he's bluffing—"

"Discount, look in his eyes! This guy is crazy."

I chuckled. "Oh, no, you'll find this is me at my most calm and rational." Then I glanced back over my shoulder to the other two would-be accomplices. "Have any of you heard about the duel on Her Majesty's birthday?" One pony nodded, and rather than explain further, I merely placed a hoof on my breast and grinned just a touch maniacally.

"You're… but I heard he was sleeping with the Queen. And you—" His words fumbling, the mugger gestured wildly at Blizzard, putting quite the blush on her face.

"He's… we're not… um—"

"We're just friends," I explained more calmly. "And lest you get any more ideas, while the Queen and I have a special kind of friendship, one… what did she call it? One 'hornjob' in open court does not a romance make."

"Discount, it's true; I heard about that!" the unicorn in front of our original path insisted. "He's the one from the fight that broke the top of the college!"

"Eh, so that's a real pony; how do we know he didn't hear the same thing you heard? I dunno that I buy this…"

"You're welcome to roll the dice, Discount." I nodded. "But for the rest of you: if you leave now, I'll leave you out of what happens next. But this is your only chance."

A moment of hesitation filled the alleyway, thick like the summer air. Street urchins and thugs glanced into one another's eyes in unspoken communication. Their fear was, if you'll forgive me for sounding just a bit evil, delectable.

And then the movement came all at once. In three seconds, Discount, Blizzard and I were alone in the alley.

I took a step toward him, every ounce as predatory as I could make my stride. "And then there was one."

"You're not so tough; look at you. You're all scrawny."

"Well, I'm not going to punch you. Look at my horn." I flicked my eyes upward to gesture. "See how tight the grooves are? More grooves, more magic. So even if you don't believe I can take over your mind, the real question now is: are you sure I can't just pick you up and slam you into the wall a few times? I know pegasi have hollow bones for flying; how does that hold up to skull trauma, I wonder?"

"Mobius, fine! You win, ya freak!" Stowing his knife, Discount held up his open wings and slowly walked backwards away from me. "But youse better be careful; you mess with the wrong bull, ya get the horns, capiche?"

I rolled my eyes as he turned and walked away, as quickly as I'm sure he thought he could without losing face.

Wintershimmer's voice, echoing from his still present figment, rose as he took a few strides forward to match my own progressed position. "Your hypotheticals and verbose diatribes give too much time for somepony to try and build up the courage to challenge you. But I cannot deny the efficacy of this particular attempt. Do you see now the value in what I was trying to teach you? How your reputation is itself a weapon that spares you the need for real violence?"

I sighed heavily, because (as seemed so common in those days) I had to admit he was right; even if ponies lacked the magical education (or the political awareness of who Wintershimmer was) to understand the magnitude of my achievement, the fact that I had made such brazen moves in the politics (and the gossip mills) of young Equestria had spared me at least a year of age to my horn.

But the display was not without cost.

Wintershimmer faded when my gaze moved to Blizzard, and even as empathetically illiterate as I could sometimes be, I read some pain in the way she refused to meet my eyes.

"Can you really do that?" she asked.

I hung my head and took a deep breath. "I know how. But I would never actually use my magic that way. I would have just teleported us away."

"Then why did you say what you said?"

"Because this way, I didn't have to cast a spell."

Blizzard didn't say anything in response to that, and by her look, I knew she understood my motives, but it still left me uneasy noting the way her gaze fell on me as we continued our journey to the House of Rains.

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