• 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 VIII - The Nest of the Windigo

Interlude VIII

The Nest of the Windigo

"This is gonna sound stupid, but I'm completely serious," said Tempest Shadow, turning to Sunset Shimmer on the precipice of the ravine that was the nest of the last windigo. "If we hold hooves and sing The Heart Carol, will that actually make it go away, or—"

Sunset shook her head dejectedly. "Even if we were good enough friends, or had a sudden connection or whatever, I think at best we'd just stun it or drive it off. The other two actually died because Commander Hurricane stabbed them after the song with his magic sword." Then, after a pause, she added "Did you read Beginner's Guide at all? "

The question was quite actively ignored. "And I don't suppose we're lucky enough that that sword is his?" Tempest nodded to the blade on which the Windigo napped.

This time, it was Somnambula who shook her head. "N-no; Procellarum had a slot in the m-middle of the blade."

"I should know I'm not that lucky. Now, one last question: we don't actually need Daring Do, right? We just wanted her to tell us where some other guy was?"

"We are not l-l-leaving a pony to freeze to death," Somnmabula snapped, then spread her wings. "Sunset, I have an-n idea. If I give you a signal, c-can you teleport me away?"

"Probably," Sunset admitted. "Teleporting is a lot harder when there's a ton of magic around. I can't promise anything… Do you have a plan? The way you're shivering, can you even fly?"

"I'm-m fine. And I've g-g-got an idea. Half of one, at least. I grab Cyclone's feather, fly in, m-melt Miss Do free, and then we both fly back here and you t-t-teleport all of us away somewhere so the windigo loses our trail."

"It's a crap half a plan," Tempest muttered. "But it's probably the best we're gonna get. Better than trying to fight the thing. Did Morty say anything in the book about whether they're smart?"

"Windigos?" Sunset gave a kind of half-committal shake of her head. "There was a lot of debate about that, but if he ever got a definitive answer, I don't remember him writing it down. But probably not; it seems like they behave like animals, just following wherever there's a lot of hatred to feed on, and hiding when they get hurt or scared off. Why?"

"Because if it isn't smart, I can get the half plan up to a full plan. When you're fighting an animal or a monster, you can pretty much always trust they'll prioritize a threat over prey. And I probably can't actually fight that thing… but I'm pretty good at making fireworks. If it wakes up, I can at least distract it enough to get its attention off your back." With a nod, the broken-horned unicorn offered Somnabula a small smile. "For what it's worth, good luck."

"Thanks."

With that, Somnambula fished around in Red Ink's jacket until she retrieved the little cleaned-out breath mint tin into which he had placed the last earthly remnants of the late Tsar Cyclone. And then, taking to wing with a visible shiver to her feathers, Somnambula left the comfort of her companions behind.

The desert mare had thought the ambient air of Stalliongrad was frigid, but standing in front of the breath of an incarnation of winter itself, she found it hard to even draw in breath. Hoping to keep her mind off the cold, she focused on trying to rouse up a little bit of fire in her wings. Tragically, it was a somewhat fruitless mental search for the perpetually chipper mare; there were certainly annoyances that came to mind, but (normally to her credit, if not in this rather unusual circumstance) she was not by her nature given to the kind of deep seated hatred that lends itself to flames.

When she finally landed, though she tried to do so as quietly as possible, terror slipped through her when her shivering, frost-laden wings dropped her with less than her usual flying grace, and the sound of her weight and her solid hooves made a mixture of a percussive tap and the spreading cracking noise of layered ice. Immediately, her eyes shot to the windigo; it was so much bigger up close. Whenever she'd heard the story from Clover, they were always described as alike to the Saddle Arabian ponies—'horses' if one didn't mind the homophonous slur—that lived near to her ancestral home. But this thing… despite its gaunt face and hollow cheeks, given it could easily have snatched her up whole in its mouth (were such a thing truly solid), it was certainly not wanting for food.

When the beast let out another snore that forced Somnambula's eyes closed, and she experienced the brief but pervasive horror of struggling to open them again before the layer of frost connecting the lids cracked, her heart at least was warmed with the confidence that she hadn't woken the beast—at least, not yet.

Another crack of thin ice issued from her side, and a scratchy voice spoke up in a not especially quiet tone. "Who… wait, you're Somnambula, right? What are you doing out here?" Daring Do offered a warm, if slightly skeptical, smile.

The explorer looked almost like she had somehow been buried into the ice at the top of the nest; it rose up to her nearly to touching the bottom of her barrel, covering at least half of all four of her legs, and though she had better control of her jaw than Somnambula, the rest of her body was undoubtedly the worse off of the two pegasi. Her wings may not have been frozen to the ground, but frost had clearly (if only thinly) begun to accumulate between her feathers, such that they'd be little good for flight. Tinges of blue could be seen on the tips of her ears, and her lips were cracked to the point that, had the weather been warmer, they might have been bleeding. But at least she didn't look starving; that, and the fact she hadn't died from the cold suggested at least that she hadn't been there long, though what 'long' meant was not in Somnambula's wheelhouse to guess.

"I am. I'm-m-m here t-t-to rescue y-y-you."

"I'll ask why later. Do you have a knife or something to cut me free? My hooves are pretty frozen."

"N-n-no. I brought-t-t fire."

"No!" Daring hissed, and when Somanmbula's ears pinned against her head and her eyes shot to the windigo, the explorer sighed and shook her head. "It's ok; don't shout, but its hearing isn't very good. Its senses are better at emotions and elements. So whatever you do, please try not to get mad at me. And no fire."

"B-b-but how d-do I get you out-t-t?"

Daring shrugged, and then visibly tried to lift a hoof before remembering their uselessness, and gestured with her nose to the sword jutting out of the ice, only barely in front of them. "It seems like the windigo likes that sword. I don't know why, but it… its like a mother bird with eggs or something. It doesn't care as much about the other treasures. I thought I could just toss the sword in the chasm to distract it… but you don't want to touch that sword."

"W-w-why not? D-d-did that wake it-t up?"

With a hint of a shiver, Daring shook her head. "I think that's Hiems Osculum. One of the legendary Stormblades." Somanmbula winced. "You know it?"

"Only s-s-second-hoof. Gale said it was c-c-cursed, and only T-T-Typhoon could even t-touch it-t."

"Who's 'Gale'?"

Somanmbula ignored the question, as her mind was already on to distracting the windigo by other means. She glanced back to the cliff where Tempest and Sunset were still standing, and drew an arc with a wing that she very much regretted having to move away from her body heat again, even for the few seconds of the motion. Tempest nodded and sparks gathered on her horn. And then, with a distinct whistle, a rather small ball of red light flew up into the snowflake filled sky.

One can hardly fault Sunset Shimmer for not having a better understanding of spirit lore, given the abysmal state of practical wizardry in that era of Equestrian history. What Sunset had not known, and so could not have warned Tempest and Somnambula of, is that spirits are intelligent—or at least capable of becoming intelligent—always. The circumstances that cause such a transformation are myriad and worthy of their own elaborate dissertation, but the one on which Sunset had most arguably failed to hinge her argument was the passage of time. The windigos of Hearth's Warming were born from the hatred of the three pony races (hence their equine forms), which thus could not have been much older than the Cirran exodus from Dioda; in other words, when our six national heroes banded together and (Hurricane) defeated the spirits of hatred, they were at best sixteen or so—and more likely a decade younger, given the harsh winter was still relatively recent at the time of their vanquishing. By contrast, the lone survivor of their number was—very slightly the elder of yours truly—almost two millennia old at the time that Celestia's chosen 'knights-errant' stumbled upon it.

Thus, when the last windigo was awoken by the crack and subsequent crackle of—credit where credit is due—an especially well constructed magical simulacrum of a paper-and-powder firework, it did not see it as unknowable sky threat the way that a small-brained sub-sapient animal might. Instead, its eyes shot open, recognized that the sound was farther away than the two half-frozen pegasi in front of it, traced roughly the path of the sparkles in the air where Tempest's projectile had passed, and only moments later, spied the two unicorn mares on the cliff.

Sunset's horn never stood a chance against the speed of its icy breath. In the space of a half-second, both unicorns were frozen solid; alive (if only momentarily) but completely unable to offer any aid to Somnambula.

What followed, as many acts of heroism do, happened in the span of perhaps twenty seconds. I remind you of this, reader, because it will likely take you longer than three seconds to read these words—and also because you should keep in mind that the thoughts and choices Somnambula made were not slow, carefully reasoned stratagems; they were instead desperate, fight-or-flight instinctual choices.

Since she was still keeping the box with Cyclone's feather in it at her chest, Somnambula tossed the box at Daring Do.

"What?!" the mare asked—that one syllable, at least fitting into the rapid pace of events, But the question fell on preoccupied ears.

As the last windigo had leaned forward to unleash its frigid breath, Somnambula threw herself forward underneath the beast's ethereal belly—and toward the sword that Daring Do had identified (correctly, not that Somnambula had seen Typhoon's sword often enough to recognize it—lacking as it was in a meaningfully non-standard shape) as yet another relic of our shared particular era of the Equestrian past. Gale's off-hoof warning—delivered only a few months earlier from the pharaonic mare's perspective (and somewhat in the future of this particular tome)—not to touch Heims Osculum would have to be broken, if only momentarily; if she could touch the sword, and if Daring was right that the monster was protecting it, then maybe she could get a leg underneath its crossguard and punch up (literally, though arguably also in the colloquial social sense) to free the blade from its icy prison and then give it one more swift kick to send it careening off into the depths of the crevice.

And, for once, at least the acrobatics of the maneuver worked. The windigo recognized the threat of motion from a mare it had thought was frozen to the ground, but beneath its belly, there was no swift way for it to turn and face her again.

The ground was icy enough that it was trivial to slide over to the blade, and in fact she had to reach up and grab its hilt to keep herself from sliding straight past it. But when her hoof touched the hilt of Typhoon's sword, for her at least, the world ended.

In the darkness that overcame the cold world, something spoke.

You are nothing.

Freeze and become still.

You hold them back: Star Swirl, Mistmane, all of them.

Stygian would never have fallen to darkness if you hadn't ignored him first.

Give up.

Give in.

Freeze and die.

Those words weren't true; given their target, they weren't even really valid accusations in that "from a certain point of view" way; but the sword didn't care, and undefended as she was, those words struck true. When the world faded back into light, Somnambula found herself on her back beside the blade with tears frozen to her cheeks and her wings wrapped into ice that bonded her to the windigo's nest. The last windigo had rounded on her, hovering overhead. And overcome with dread, she did not so much as struggle to move when it drew in an icy breath.

But the windigo's breath never came; it was stolen by a burst of flame behind the fallen mare.

"Get up!" shouted Daring Do. "Whatever you heard, it's lying to you!" Craning her neck, Somnambula could just see the explorer clutching Cyclone's feather in her teeth like it was a particularly militant cigar as she was engulfed in a nimbus of orange flame—only for that fire to be casually dismissed by the windigo's exhale.

Now, I should hope that any reader of these more modern segments would know already that Somnambula was considered a pillar of Equestrian virtue for representing the virtue of hope—so though a casual touch of the blade Heims Osculum would leave most ponies broken (or at least shaken) for minutes or even hours, it should come as no surprise that darkness wilted off her shoulders with just those words of encouragement. Alas, the damage was done; Somnambula was frozen to the ground, her hooves sticking awkwardly upward so that she could no more push off the ground to break her wings free than she could grow a horn and teleport herself free.

Thus, when the windigo settled its focus on Daring Do and turned back to the young (or arguably ancient) pegasus, she was still exactly where it had left her. This time, when it drew in its breath, there was no distraction, no tug of attention away. Somnambula fumbled in her jacket's pockets, and her forelegs were still wrapped in front of her when the ice came.

And then, once more, all was still in the nest of the last windigo.

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

Somnambula was not sure whether consciousness or breath was a bigger surprise. She couldn't move; at least, not more than the squirming her flesh would allow inside her icy tomb, but she was alive. And she was frigid, and she was sad.

But it wasn't her sadness. Perhaps, if she'd been more reflective, she might have admitted there was a touch of it there: a worry that she'd failed her new friends, or that she wouldn't get to see her much older friends again. But no, the sadness she felt flowed through her right forehoof, which had just managed to settle on a tan feather she'd tucked into the breast pocket of her jacket. Typhoon's feather was not a pleasant thing to touch, but then, somehow she was still alive.

Then the only question was 'what next?'. Trying to push her wings, to move the ice gently the way her more natural magic would move the wind, did nothing. The ice was unyielding. But she could feel it in a way she couldn't without touching the feather. It may have been rigid, but that made it brittle, and she was sure if she could just understand it—the thought, at least in her mind, was to understand its pain, then perhaps…

And the ice in front of her wing cracked.

So that's the trick with ice.

As she focused around her body, more and more of the ice gave way to cracks and fissures. And then, with a violent motion that sprayed flecks of ice and chunks of frost all around, the frozen mare sat up, crying as she did with feelings that were not her own. And then, she realized something.

The ice was hers… or rather, long-dead Typhoons? The line felt blurred in her mind, holding the feather as she was… but she knew, at least, that the ice beneath the cursed blade was not the windigo's ice.

Not that windigo's ice?

Above her, the windigo glared—confusion mixed into the perfect hatred that defined its existence.

"I can't move that sword," Somnambula announced. "But I can move your nest."

With her wings touching the ice, deafening cracks echoed through the chasm as the long, spindly, spider-web icicles that suspended the nest in the air in the center of the chasm began to crack. The monstrous creature's breath hung in its nostrils as it whipped its head around to turn and glare aside… but by then, it was already too late. And when the world lurched, and the nest began to fall, the last windigo dove after it.

Somnambula was left hovering as the mass of pure spiteful winter descended into darkness, clanking and scraping off the icy spires and the frozen stone walls on its way down. And then, still sobbing from memories that weren't her own, the pegasus rushed over to her friends and the subject of their search, touching the ice over each in turn and freeing them from where they had been frozen. Though it seemed like a lifetime, the battle had only taken a minute or so—most of it spent frozen in place under the ice as she figured out how to free herself—and though they were now all shivering and miserable (except Somnambula, who had gained something of an immunity to the cold from touching Typhoon's feather), nopony was permanently worse for the wear. Thus, our heroes gathered together with Daring Do, who pinched Cyclone's feather in her mouth once again not to do battle with it, but to warm them up and stave off what would otherwise have been a certain slow death to hypothermia.

I'll spare you reciting the extensive congratulations Somnambula received for her heroism, if only for the sake of not trying to stuff yet more paper into this already fairly full book (I may be among the world's foremost mages, but even I can only bend space so far), and instead skip us forward to a few moments later, when our heroes were no longer shivering and had instead huddled out of the winter wind a few strides back into the tunnel from which they had first emerged.

"Okay," said Daring Do. "I don't want to sound ungrateful; you saved my life. But I wasn't exactly expecting back-up. Especially not Somnambula, Tempest Shadow… and I'm sorry but your face isn't ringing any bells."

"You recognize me?" Somnambula and Tempest said in rough unison.

"I read the newspaper," she said to Tempest, before offering Somnambula "and you have no idea how much your face is carved on the sides of pyramids. Honestly, I'd been planning to come meet you since I heard that Princess Sparkle brought you back; just hadn't gotten around to it. And is the unconscious guy over there who I think he is?"

"He's dead," Sunset corrected, earning a wince from Daring. "But yes. And I'm Sunset Shimmer. We're all here because Princess Celestia sent us."

Daring cocked her head. "Princess Celestia sent all four of you? This Grogar thing must be more of a big deal than I thought."

"Grogar?" Sunset asked.

"Oh, I know this one!" Somnambula grinned. "He was an old story even when I'm from. But legends say there was this old ram who ruled Equestria—I guess it wasn't Equestria back then, but the land—anyway, Grogar ruled over all ponies as a tyrant in a kingdom called Tambelon. But a pony named Gusty the Great defeated him and freed ponykind."

Daring Do nodded. "That's the basic idea. The only other thing you need to know is that Grogar was—is—a lich."

"What's that?" Tempest asked.

Sunset leapt into a rather academic definition. "A unicorn… or I guess in this case, a ram, who puts their soul in a magical container and 'drives' their body from a distance. It's sort of like the inverse of what Wintershimmer did in… right, you skimmed the book."

"I didn't think there was going to be a test," Tempest muttered. "Okay, so let me guess: Grogar is coming back too?"

"Too?" Daring questioned, before glancing to Somnambula and letting the thought die. "We don't know that for certain, but that's certainly what it looks like. In addition to being a lich, Grogar was a master of music-magic, and he made a set of magical bells to strengthen his power. We don't know where all of them are, but I kept hearing stories from some of the places where we think Gusty hid the bells about weird magic and the dead rising. And I'd heard one was at Onyx Ridge, so I came here. Of course, I didn't know the Vault of the Windigo was here, or I would have been better prepared." With a glance into the tunnel, she grudgingly added "Then again, I wasn't expecting my whole expedition team to suddenly turn into zombies either. And then you showed up, right on time… If you aren't here for Grogar, what are you here for?"

Tempest and Somnmabula both offered glances to Sunset, who sighed before she spoke. "We're looking for an amulet that we think was stolen from Dr. Caballeron. We don't know who stole it, but we're hoping if we can find him, that might give us a lead on who took it from him. And Rainbow Dash said you were here. We weren't expecting the zombies, or… whoever killed Lt. Ink, either."

Daring cast a glance at the red dead stallion once more flung over Tempest's back. "Ink? You know that's not—"

"We know," Sunset interrupted. "You have history?"

"Stalliongrad doesn't look as kindly on my kind of… 'treasure hunting'... as a lot of the other domains. But mostly, I know him by reputation; he almost killed one of my ghost-writers." With absolutely no pretense of elegance, the 'archeologist' flopped herself back against the tunnel wall and folded her wings across her chest. "Is this amulet some kind of artifact? I might be able to tell you something about it."

"If it's got a fancy name, we don't know it," Sunset answered. "It's got Gale—er, Queen Platinum the Third's cutie mark on the front."

"Gale?" Daring asked with a raised brow, turning to Somnambula. "I'm guessing you knew her… but why does she use that name? The Warrior-Queen isn't back too, is she?"

The question, though in jest, put a frown on Somnambula's face. "No… Celestia says she died… Morty must be heartbroken."

"Morty?" Daring leaned forward at that. "As in—" but then abruptly, she cut herself off and craned her neck to stare downward at her own chest. "I… Really? You haven't spoken in ten years and that's… Yes, it's Somnambula. Were you asleep?"

"Uh, Miss Do, are you… ok?" Sunset asked.

"Hmm?" Daring looked up, now wearing something of a scowl. "What do you know about Mortal Coil?"

"Well, we're actually looking for him," Sunset explained. "Princess Celestia wants to talk to him, and… why are you taking off your jacket?"

While the mere mention of my name has had that effect on mares a non-zero number of times throughout history, in this particular case, the actual answer to Sunset's question was that Daring proceeded to remove the tan safari shirt she wore beneath her 'bomber jacket', and then turn it inside out. Our heroes saw a particularly colorful patch of fabric on the inside of said garment, which she proceeded to bite into, yanking the stitches out with her teeth, until a small circular medallion, about the size of a bit, dropped into her waiting wing, followed by a fine steel chain. "Apparently this is for you," she muttered, thrusting it in Sunset's direction.

"What… is it?"

"It's called the Mentor Medallion," Daring explained, flicking the object in question rather violently toward Sunset with her wing until the mare finally grabbed it in her magical aura. "It's been passed down through the Sparrows for like a thousand years… but I guess I've learned enough from it."

Sunset quirked her brow. "What's a Sparrow?"

"A secret order of…" Daring rolled her eyes midway through her explanation. "Just put it on. Then it can explain."

Sunset wore a look of confusion and concern even as she donned the medallion in question, but no sooner had the metal touched the fluff of her chest than she heard a voice—skipping her ears, and instead speaking directly into her mind.

That unusually suave, elegant voice, bearing just a hint of an accent suggesting a far older form of Equiish than Sunset was used to, spoke thusly: "Hello. I'm the Mentor Medallion. You said your name was Sunset Shimmer, correct?"

"Uh… do I speak aloud to you, or…?"

"If you focus on me, I can hear your thoughts, but I'm not so intrusive as to read your mind constantly. Most of my students prefer to just speak aloud to me, as long as they're in private."

Sunset nodded, before realizing there wasn't actually somepony there to nod to. "Well, then, yes. I'm Sunset Shimmer. Nice to meet you, uh, Medallion."

"She's talking to the necklace?" Somnambula asked, earning a nod from Daring Do.

"Well, let me cut to the chase. I doubt Celestia realized what a task she'd given you, but this is no minor quest you've embarked on. Morty cut himself into pieces and scattered them across Equestria; you're going to have to track them down if you want to get him to stand in front of Celestia again."

"What, like, his legs and his torso are just laying around?" That question, lacking the preceding explanation as context, put very worried expressions onto the faces of the other ponies present; Somnambula moved to protectively stand between Sunset and Red Ink.

"No, no. Nothing so grotesque. I mean his… we'll say 'soul', but that isn't strictly correct."

"How do you know all this?"

"Because in addition to being a fetching piece of neckwear, I also happen to be the most intelligent accessory in the world."

Sunset quirked her brow at that, and then a small smile broke across her muzzle. "Are… are you Morty?"

"Ah, good, you're smarter than you look." That comment put a sour expression on Sunset, and saw her ears fold back. "I'm something like an eighth, or maybe more like a twelfth, of the pony you're looking for. Specifically, I'm a big chunk of his early formative memories and learnings about heroism."

"Does the long silence mean 'yes'?" asked Somnambula. Sunset gave her a small nod, still listening as she was to 'me' in her head.

"Who in Tartarus is 'Morty'?" Daring grumbled. "I'm pretty sure Mentor was never a donkey."

"To expound a little more, I was created because I… that is to say, all of Morty… you know what, let's just pretend he's a different pony than me; that will make this a lot easier. I was split off from Morty about a thousand years ago, as a way to provide mentorship to young heroes without overshadowing them completely; a lot of the most fundamental lessons of world-saving heroism are kind of 'get it right the first time or you're dead', so having somepony who fell into the mistake of the latter can be very helpful in extending the lifespans of well-meaning would-be world-savers, like Daring here. Though if we're being honest, she took to the craft more quickly than most, and she hasn't meaningfully needed my advice in years. To that end, I suspect you'll be needing my assistance. I have a little magic and a great deal of experience in life-threatening situations, but if Celestia is looking for me—that is, Morty—for any practical magical purpose, I'm afraid we'll have to look elsewhere."

"Okay…" Sunset looked up to her friends. "So, this has part of Morty's soul in it."

"Morty!" Somnambula rushed forward. "I knew he wasn't trying to kill us!" And then, rather violently invading Sunset's personal space, she put a hoof into the medallion. "Do I just touch it, or—?"

"Hello, Somnambula. Long time, no see? Or, I suppose it probably hasn't been nearly so long for you. I'm afraid this bit of me isn't going to be as fun for you as I used to—"

"Ew, no! " Sunset shouted, pulling away from Somnambula's hoof. "No flirting like that! You can wear the medallion, but I don't want to hear it!"

"My apologies." After a pause, Mentor-me added "I wouldn't think that brief comment would produce such a vivid reaction. Or are you already aware by other means of our escapades in the pyramids?"

"You had a threesome in a pyramid?!" Sunset shrieked—and if her prior comment had produced concerned looks on the other ponies then that one caused the others (less Somnambula) to be outright disturbed.

Somnambula, who was really one of Gale's best friends in the world, donned a wide grin and indulged herself to mutter "Everypony knows a tomb is the best place to find a bone."

"Oh Celestia…" muttered Daring Do. Tempest merely rolled her eyes.

And Sunset, extremely red in the face, turned her attention back to some of me. "I know more than I want to, believe me. Princess Celestia gave me Tales, and she warned me—"

"She gave you Tales? This must be serious. What was that Somnambula said about other-me trying to kill you?"

"When we got here to Onyx Ridge, we were attacked by the, uh, zombies of the excavation team. And we fought them off, but then Ink—that one back there—said something about his neck being cold, and then he dropped dead. Well, his body's still alive, but… it sounds a lot like Wintershimmer's Razor. And I'm pretty sure I saw a unicorn in a coat, though he was far away. I teleported us before he could cast the Razor at anypony else. I did hear a bell, too…"

"Hmm… Well, the bell suggests a relationship with Grogar; unsurprising given what brought Daring and I here in the first place. But obviously, Grogar was a ram; he certainly wouldn't match such a slimming, elegant physique, even in silhouette."

"Celestia, you actually do talk about yourself like that."

"Like what?" After a moment's silence, the voice in Sunset's head continued "Grogar is older than I am, so it's unlikely he'd know the razor either, and there are very few ponies who do. So it is very likely you saw 'Morty Prime'—my real body… well, insofar as you can call it 'real' with all the changes I've made. My best bet would be the timing of your arrival was supremely inconvenient, and he assumed you were in league with whoever created the… ugh… 'zombies'."

"You don't think you… er, he, made the zombies?"

"A craftspony is only as good as their tools, and a zombie is about as useful as a rusty hoofsaw with every other tooth missing, a grip lined with spikes to poke your hoof while you're using it, and cupholder on top. And the job you're trying to do is write a novel. Even when I do make undead, which is already a supremely rare occurrence—at least, I assume Morty's opinions haven't changed since we went our separate ways—I create them with enough finesse that it isn't obvious they're even dead. Daring's working theory (which I wholeheartedly endorse, given that Somnambula just sent the Besmirching Bell, one of Grogar's famed 'Knells of Hell' bells, to the depths of this chasm) is that Grogar is returning and some side effect of that process issuing from his bells is creating these infantile acts of undirected necromancy." (I should note here that those parentheticals were 'audible', so that sentence was not as evil in Sunset's mind as it would be if you tried to say it aloud; alas, that is not a skill I can easily teach in writing.) "Which is a long way of saying 'no'. That being said, until we know more about why he decided to cast first and ask questions later, I encourage keeping a healthy distance."

"Yeah, that was our plan. That just leaves us with the problem of how to get out." Sunset glanced up the tunnel toward the windigo's chasm. "Even if we teleport up to the surface, I don't want to risk going back to our airship if he might still be there. And we'll freeze if we try to walk to Stalliongrad from here."

"Ah. That I can help with."

"Oh?"

"I can get you a ride. It does come with a difficult condition, though: you can never tell Luna about it."

"Uh… deal?"

"We'll work on your skepticism. Do you mind if I drive?"

"Drive what?"

Sunset's head received a somewhat fraught sigh. "Your body."

"You can do that?"

"Only with your consent. Or… well, if we're being honest, that's 'I only will with your consent'. I just need to cast a spell."

"Oh, um… sure—but!"

"Yes?"

"While you're at it, can you bring Lt. Ink back?"

"You can't? Wait, did Celestia really send an inept necromancer… I'm sorry; that's rude of me. I'm not mad at you, I'm mad at her. Yes; even without most of my talent mark or my brain, I can do something that trivial. Shall I?"

"Um… go ahead," said Sunset. And then, in the very same voice, but with a very different affectation, she gave a rather prolonged foreleg stretch and said "Goodness, it's been a long time since I drove, hasn't it, Daring?"

"Mentor?" Daring asked.

When Sunset's head nodded, Daring stepped forward, and then abruptly threw a hard right hook at the unicorn's face. With martial arts skill that Sunset definitely did not possess, her own forehoof flew up, parrying the blow with ease. "Now Daring; it's not my face; that wouldn't be fair."

"You were just going to leave with like two words?" Daring Do asked, hurt in her voice. "You've been there since I was a filly."

Sunset chuckled and shook her head. "You've outgrown The Young Daring Do Adventures. And let's be honest, those books were schlock compared to what you've been turning out recently. You don't need me anymore. I have to go back to who I used to be, before I was a medallion. But assuming these idiots don't get me killed or broken, I'll come find you when I'm back to being me."

Even as 'she' spoke, Sunset's horn glowed with golden magic that swiftly enveloped Red Ink's body. After a moment, the stallion let out a groan and began to massage his neck—a pain which was not helped when Tempest, realizing that she now had a very conscious adult stallion straddling her back, forcibly threw him onto the tunnel floor. I won't bother transcribing the words that flowed out of his mouth in a stream of Stalliongradi here.

Shortly thereafter, a bolt from Sunset's horn flew up the tunnel and into the sky above the chasm, where instead of exploding like a firework, it began to thrum and pulse for a few long seconds before finally flickering out.

"Alright, Sunset; back to you." With a full body shiver, Sunset's body language got less refined and more befitting the body it was lingual of. "That was kind of unpleasant. Also, ow, Daring. My forehoof hurts."

"Sorry. I… forgot it wasn't him." Sheepishly, Daring scratched the back of her neck with a wing.

"I don't know how long it will take her to get here," said a voice in Sunset's head. "So you would be smart to find a way to kill some time. I can tell you where the other parts of me are, but that might be better delivered after we get somewhere safe. Ideally, somewhere with a chalkboard."

"It can wait. I'll get some reading done," said Sunset, conjuring Tales from her extra-dimensional storage pocket.

"Ah; a wise decision. Would you mind passing me to the others so we can talk?"

And so, as a great deal of discoveries began to be shared between the group, Sunset once more buried her muzzle in this tome.

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