• 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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I - V

The Alchemist

I felt like I was inside the eye of some sort of storm, walking beside Gale through the streets of Everfree. Even the random passersby going about their business in the city could sense it, rushing out of our way. All the while, I ignored the grumbling of my stomach from missing lunch due to Gale’s anger with Puddinghead. The wisest course of action, I thought, was not interrupting my companion’s anger with a request for her to buy us a meal. Besides, the silence gave me plenty of time to silently panic as I struggled to come up with any sort of an idea for a gift that might be appropriate for my friend with less than a day’s notice and almost no resources to my name.

About ten minutes back into the streets of Everfree proper, the silence finally broke when Gale snapped at me “Are you starting to see what I mean about these assholes?”

“Peanut seemed nice enough before his dad showed up,” I told her with a shrug. “Even if he made me feel more like he was my suitor. Not that I can blame him. He has a fine taste in stallions, but—”

My words collapsed into a groan as my body collapsed onto the street. Gale had clocked me on the side of my face with a full cross punch that left stars in my eyes. I wasn’t knocked out, but given I missed most of her ensuing angry words, I can only assume the blow got me good.

I don’t think it was damage to my ears, but my mind struggling to regain its footing that meant when I finally heard Gale speaking again, it was when her face suddenly softened into worry. “Shit, you’re bleeding!”

“Well, you punched me!” I groaned, trying to find my hooves on the cobblestone street. “You could at least aim for the jacket; then Star Swirl’s enchantments might help—” My first attempt at standing up sent a feeling like fire down my spine, and I slipped in something wet, clapping my jaw straight back down onto the street and biting my lip in the process.”

“No, your neck! Where the crystal bitch tore you up with her weird metal arm.” Gale struggled to help me up, not only with her magic, but by actually tucking her neck under one of my forelegs so she could support the weight of my chest on her back.

Once I had settled into a standing position, I brought my hoof up to my neck, felt the sting of touching an open wound, and brought it into view to find a modest, worrying, though hardly life-threatening smear of red. “Oh. Fun. Well, I guess we should go find Meadowbrook.”

“That’s too damn far.” Gale took about two steps under me before I lifted my leg and stepped away from her to try and walk on my own. Though my pace was slow and shaky, it was still much easier than trying to let her half-carry me. “This way; We’ll talk to Spicy; that’ll be faster.”

“Who?” I asked—really, more grunted in pain as Gale hauled me forward down the street by tugging on the shoulder of my jacket. “Who’s ‘Spicy’?”

“An alchemist,” Gale insisted. “Come on! You’re bleeding everywhere!”

“It’s really not that…” for just a moment, my vision went fuzzy and I felt a distinct sense of vertigo threaten to topple me from my stance. “Alright. I’m coming.”

The path toward this ‘Spicy’ pony saw us pass larger and larger estates on more and more egregiously decorated grounds on a road I would later learn was named Orichalcum Way. At last Gale stopped us in front of a wrought iron gate, styled to appear vinelike despite its cold metal material. It was obvious to me that ‘Spicy’ was another noble, yet the estate shared almost nothing in common with High Castle’s metaphorical castle, save their unnecessary size. While the former home had been a fairly standard, perhaps even boring elaborate estate, the home before me was anything but. Bricks not made of stone but baked iron-red clay supported towers and spires of smoky, blackened wood. Several of the the towers didn’t even touch the ground, instead hanging suspended between the taller structures; the net effect was something like a copse of three or four giant trees… if the trees were on fire. That latter effect was the result of more chimneys than I have ever seen in my entire life on a building; the vents of smoke seemed to be everywhere, to the point that I found myself wondering if there was any room left inside the building for ponies.

Gale showed not one whit of hesitation as she rushed me up to the door and banged on the heavy brass knocker—a circular knocker with a decorative cross hanging off the bottom—to signal our presence. It took only a few moments for the door to be opened; to my considerable surprise, the face behind it wasn’t there. In front of us stood what I immediately recognized as a homunculus—a pony-shaped mass of plant life and chemicals brought to life not with necromancy but alchemy. This one was especially well made, since instead of visible sticks and dead leaves and mud, it looked like it was comprised of a uniform, nearly dry, slightly shiny red-brown dirt—like a dorodango, if you’re familiar with the art form. In addition to its uniform appearance, the homunculus also appeared in a uniform: a black and white maid’s uniform, wrapped tightly around the shape of a mare.

“Can you—” Gale started to address the creature, before it preempted her request with a nod, beckoning us in and then darting off down the long hallway that served as the entrance to this home. About halfway up the hall, it skidded to a halt, made a show of slapping its forehead, sprinted back toward us, and closed the door behind me just as I had stepped inside. Then it… well, despite not having a mouth on the lump of its muzzle, nor even eyes to close in a friendly way, it cocked its head in a way that I could only interpret as an embarrassed smile, before flying back up the hall.

“Well.” I said. “That’s… one way to decorate.”

“They might not be as smart as your flying rock, but I think they’re cute.” Gale winked at me, and though I now know exactly what she meant, at the time I was nothing but confused. “Think you could make one?”

I looked at Gale with the absolute flattest expression I could manage, given my rather sorry bleeding, hungry state. “Are you asking if I should put Angel’s core into a body shaped like a mare and dress him in a maid’s uniform, or if I could make golems that are shaped and dress like that to keep around my home? Because I can do both, but I will do neither. The last thing I need is a reputation like that. And frankly, I don’t know what I’m expecting out of whoever made these, but he obviously doesn’t care about his own reputation one whit.”

Her reputation, sir,” called a voice from the far end of the hall, where it spiraled up into a staircase, clicking with a refined accent that would put even Gale’s exaggeration of a noble voice to shame. “Princess Platinum, to what do I owe the pleasure of a visit?”

The mare wore a white doctor’s coat, stained all manner of colors from powders and burns and liquids alike, and hanging from her neck like a macabre necklace was a plague doctor’s beaked mask, though rather than grim black leather, hers was colored in the pattern and fashioned into the shape of a vibrant red parrot. Clearly, she was an alchemist, and likely the one responsible for the homunculus who had opened the door; a fellow practical scholar of the magical arts. Underneath her practical working garb, however, she wore a beautiful, shimmering, almost liquid dress of silver. It complemented her burnt orange coat and piercing blue eyes, and accentuated the subtle curve of her horn.

“Well, to start with, Spicy, this is Morty.” I noted that, although she said nothing, a small twitch showed itself in the slight bag under ‘Spicy’s’ eye at that address. “We were hoping you could help him heal his neck.”

Despite my active bleeding, now dripping onto her floor, Spicy took the time to first approach Gale. The greeting the alchemist offered was two quick kisses, one on each cheek just below Gale’s eyes. “You look beautiful, Princess.” Only then did she turn to me. “Hm…”

“Coil the Immortal,” I introduced myself, giving as proper of a bow of introduction as I could without hurting my neck further. “But you can call me Morty like Gale does; it’s nice to meet you, Spicy.”

“My name is Spice Menage, Lady of the House of Three and Grandmistress of the Alchemical Sciences; you may refer to me as Lady Menage or Mistress if you prefer deference to my achievements; only Her Highness may address me as ‘Spicy’.”

“Whoa, Spicy,” said Gale, drawing out a huff of frustration but not a word of protest. “Easy. He didn’t mean anything by it.”

Spicy scoffed. “Stallions are rarely so innocent in their intentions.” Then she glanced at my neck for a moment, before immediately turning her back and pacing straight down the hall toward the distant stairs. “Follow me; I have some Flash-in-the-Pan’s Clotting Agent that we can apply to the wound; it will produce more scar tissue than natural healing, but it will resolve the injury.” Then, somehow more scornfully than her already icy demeanor, she added “Keep your eyes to yourself, colt.”

“Colt? I—” I wish I could say that I caught myself from snapping at being addressed so bluntly, but it was Gale’s hoof tapping my shoulder, and her silent shake of her head that actually stopped me from picking yet another fight with yet another of her noble acquaintances. “Who does she think she is?” I hissed in a whisper, once Spicy had taken enough strides to get out of earshot in front of us.

“Spicy’s family run the alchemists’ guild, on top of being nobility. I think she’s used to dealing with ponies who aren’t as educated as she is.”

“And her hang up about stallions?”

I had thought I was being quiet as we walked up the sturdy spiral staircase, but ahead of us ‘Lady Menage’ called back to answer my question. “If you have questions about my family, ‘Morty’, you would do better to address them to me than to waste Princess Platinum’s time. You’ll find that rather than humoring you, I know when to simply stop answering questions because they exceed the questioner’s intellect.” Spicy opened a door directly off the staircase that led into a room brimming with strangely shaped glass receptacles whose contents bubbled and frothed in vibrant and occasionally shifting colors, each sitting in a glass-faced cubby either alone or with matching vials beside it. Brass plaques would have told one the potions’ names, if one were literate. “Do not touch anything. Lay on the floor, away from any of the cases. And take off that jacket; I’ll need clear access to your neck.”

“Believe it or not, Lady Menage, being trained as a wizard means I know a thing or two about alchemy.” I worked to slide my familiar jacket off with my hooves, struggling a bit with getting my forelegs out of the sleeves without my magic. Again, Gale had to help with a pinch of magic, as she had at the baths, though this time there was less humor and more sympathy in the act. Once I was undressed, I rested as the alchemist requested.

“A wizard?” Spice Menage rolled her eyes in dismissal of the title. “I am well aware Archmage Diadem’s school teaches alchemy only as an elective; perhaps Archmage Star Swirl could manage to make a homunculus, but I doubt even Archmage Grayscale could manage a rudimentary one.” The mare did not look at me as she spoke, instead, her hoof traced along the labels of what I assumed were her own hoof-made potions, looking for the medicine she had offered me. “Do not try to impress me with your time at that school.”

“I’ve only been to the building twice,” I replied, honestly. “And once was to kill my mentor to save Celestia’s life.”

Spice Menage raised a brow, glanced over her shoulder at me, and then turned to Gale. “Typical of a colt to brag about murder. Is that what this wound is from?”

“No…” Gale let her eyes slide down at me and then she sighed. “Well, originally yes. But it was healing fine until I forgot about it. I kind of punched him. In the face.”

The alchemist donned a smile at the mention of her violence before she returned her attention to the wall. “That would explain the bump; it will bruise, but it should leave no permanent mark. As for the bleeding... Ah, here. Flash-in-the-Pan’s Clotting Agent.” Spice’s horn lit up, pulling a potion bottle from the wall, just as brown and square-sided as the rest. “Unlike the pure arcana of a wizard, it is possible to create true regeneratives in alchemy. That being said, your wound isn’t nearly life threatening or serious enough to waste such valuable ingredients. This potion—” which was all the lead in she gave me before pouring a sizeable portion of the liquid onto my wound, giving me a sensation not unlike being swarmed by literal fire ants. “—should suffice to close the wound before any dizziness or other complications arise from blood loss. Now, unless you have other business for me, Princess, I would be grateful if the next time you visit, you leave this one behind.”

As I glanced over to Gale for further word, I saw her shuffling with the envelopes for her invitations, and took the liberty to speak up. “I don’t think we have any business with you, but is your brother home?”

Spice scowled at me, showing by far the most spite of any of the expressions she had offered me since we arrived. “I have no brothers, Morty. There is only myself, my mothers, and my two sisters: ‘Sugar’ and ‘Everything Nice’.”

“What?” In confusion, perhaps stemming at least a bit from blood loss, I turned to the more helpful mare present. “Gale, what are you—”

“She’s one of my suitors, Morty,” Gale said, finally producing the correct invitation and handing it directly to Spicy. The other unicorn proceeded to produce a sizeable knife from somewhere inside her alchemist’s jacket, and wield it with surprising grace as a letter opener, before removing the folded parchment inside.

“Hmm...” the other unicorn noted.

As she read, I massaged my stinging neck, which felt cold, but the hard dry texture suggested scar tissue was already forming. It was wider than I would have liked a scar, and the hairless spot would probably damage my otherwise ideal appearance, but it was far preferable to bleeding to death. I climbed up to my hooves and began putting my jacket back on as I voiced the sole question on my mind to Gale. “Isn’t having her as a suitor kind of defeating the purpose of requiring you to get married at all?”

Gale cocked her head. “…no? Morty, what do you mean? She’s just as much a noble as High Castle.”

“Yes, but…” I nodded toward Spicy, taking a moment to bob my horn in an outline of her obviously feminine form. “How do I put this? You can’t take much meal if you have two mortars and no pestle…?”

Gale’s mouth hung open for a moment in confusion before she rolled her eyes. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“He is alluding to the fact that neither of us has a penis,” Spicy explained bluntly, not even looking up from her invitation as she continued to read. (Apparently, Queen Platinum had seen fit to write quite the narrative on the letter.). “He then falsely infers, as is so typical of a mage, that because the magic from his horn cannot remedy that problem to create fertile, functional genitalia, that it must be impossible for two mares to continue the royal line.” Only then did she look up from her reading to address me directly. “You had asked earlier what my ‘deal’ with stallions is, so let me clarify: your sex is redundant, a biological flaw that hampers society. Your loins consume too much of the blood that we can better devote to our brains. Your testosterone—since you likely do not know, that is the name of a chemical in the blood which generates brutish, physical, male bodily development—leads invariably towards violence and juvenile competition. If you need proof of our superiority, not only can I grow myself functioning male genitalia superior to yours in every conceivable metric, but I can be rid of it when it is no longer of use to me. If it were possible to produce enough of our family’s masterwork to be rid of the male sex entirely, I would gladly make it my life’s work, but alas the ingredients are rare. So I must settle for satisfaction in the fact that, stretching back to the days of the Wise Five Kings, my foremothers have not known a stallion, and we are the better for it.”

I don’t know if there was any merit to her claims about limited blood flow to the brain, given I didn’t feel particularly aroused, but I certainly felt like I needed more blood flow regardless given the flabbergasted empty feeling the sudden rant had left me enduring.

Unfortunately, the same blood flow was not lacking in my tongue, which grabbed hold of the very first thought my mind produced. “If you have two mothers and both of them only have female parents, but your family are the only ones who know how to make this potion, doesn’t that make you massively inbred?”

“Morty!” Gale snapped. “What the fuck?!”

Spice shrugged. “It doesn’t bother me, Your Majesty; if anything it might be his most reasonable question since I’ve met him. Since my family does not have paternal and maternal distinctions for grandparents, we refer to the line of mothers who already belonged to the House of Three at birth as our ‘foremothers’. We generally still have one grandfather, on the side of the mother who married into the family—in our case, that would be Prince-Consort Hurricane, for… I assume the foal would be Queen Platinum the Fourth?”

I could hear the gears in my brain churning for want of lubrication, and what my tongue spat out was “Prince-Consort Hurricane? That’s the title you’re going to go with?”

“It is a superior title to Commander emeritus, at least among true-blooded unicorns. What you think is most appropriate to call him does not concern me, wizard.” Spice Ménage made a show of folding up her birthday invitation and tucking it into her breast pocket as she addressed Gale again. “I’m grateful to be considered for your hoof, Your Highness, and I can’t say how glad I am to accept your invitation. I know it might be a bit blunt of me to ask you to your face what you would like as a gift, but given I already have you here in the repository, I can’t pass up the chance to let you browse with me, and find a gift you’ll truly appreciate.” Then she spared only a moment to glance over her shoulder at me. “Something a mere wizard could never match. Perhaps now that his wounds are tended to, we of nobility and the better sex can be left alone.”

Gale, to her credit, tried her best to stand up for me. “Spicy, Morty’s fine—”

“No,” I barged in, being very deliberate about my breathing and speaking slowly to make sure I didn’t say anything I didn’t truly intend. Wintershimmer would have been proud. “You two need to talk about birthday gifts, I assume? I wouldn’t want to intrude in something I know nothing about. I’ll just go find lunch. Or something.”

I was left hoping that Gale understood the implications of my painful overemphasis as I stepped out of the alchemical repository as gently as I could. Behind me, I heard Gale growl in frustration toward Spice “How about a sword? Can you do that? So the next time one of ‘us nobles’ decides to be that much of an asshole, I can fucking impale them.”

While I appreciated her support, I still knew that I needed my own answer to what gift to get Gale. Though my legs had only grown shakier from hunger and injury, I all-but-sprinted down the spiral stairs, past Spice’s uniformed dirt-mares (whose physical appearance now carried even stranger questions in my mind), and out onto the streets of Everfree City in search of an even greater wizard.

After all, even Gale could hardly turn down something enchanted by Star Swirl the Bearded.

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