• 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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Bear Witness

The first pony to dare to speak was not yours truly. "We came here hunting changelings per Mistress' orders, and—"

Celestia cut Summer off, shooting her not a proper glare (if you have never seen Celestia truly glare, count yourself fortunate, for I swear it shaves a decade from the health of one's heart), but merely a harsh look. "I know what kind of ponies you must have been in life to be member's of my sister's 'Night Watch'. Morty's word carries more weight with me." Only then did my mentor level her eyes toward me, much softer than they had been toward the living dead mare who had been my foe moments before. "Are you okay? Is anypony injured?"

"I'm technically undead at the moment, but my body is alive. I'm poisoned with changeling venom, though, and I'm also past passed-out from overcasting again. I… actually, let's see…" Then I sat down on my flanks. "I teleported here from my house, then I used the Razor… or no, actually, I didn't flare from that, since it pointed back at me. But then I did rip Husk's shoulder off."

"Husk?" Celestia asked, glancing around the room and setting her eyes on what was very clearly my shoulder—complete with signature identifying jacket.

"One of the changelings," I clarified.

"There were two?" asked Fifth Brother, only to wilt when Celestia fixed him with another strong look. "Um… sorry."

"Yeah, after I ripped off his shoulder, he left because he wasn't 'well-fed'. That was two. After that, I got bit, and I had to get Cherry to paint a glyph in my blood to seance me; great job by the way!"

"You're welcome, Master Coil," Cherry replied with a grin. "It was a lot of fun!"

Celestia glanced between the glyph, Cherry, and myself, and quietly whispered "What have I done?"

I chose to ignore that comment. "Of course, I had to use the Razor on myself, so his seance could work—that's when I popped up in your weird judgment demi-plane or whatever that is. And then once I was back in my body, I used the Razor again on Fifth Brother to take over control of his animation—"

"You did what?" asked Celestia—those italics denoting shock, not anger—as she took a half-stride back and her wings slightly unfurled. "You stole one of them from Luna?"

I shrugged. "For about… what would you say, Five, ten seconds or so?" The dead stallion, thoroughly confused to even be included in the conversation, shrugged. "Yeah, something like that. Remember, Celestia, I may be the Pale Master, but Luna has a pretty unfair lead on me in terms of experience. And also functionally infinite mana. Come to think of it, maybe that makes that achievement more impressive."

"Coil," said Summer dryly, rolling her eyes, "you're telling these stupid jokes while you're dying of poison."

"Eh, it's not that urgent."

Celestia sighed, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. "So you cast five spells? Was that the point of listing that all out?"

"Hmm? Oh; yes, that was the point. Five years down the drain." I let out a sigh; after all the excitement, it was all the emotion I could muster. "But it was worth it, since Graargh is okay. I think…" Then worry crept into my tone. "How long should it take him to come to, now that he's out of that cocoon?"

"That's—?" Celestia asked, concluding the question not with an Equiish word, but with the roar of a grizzle bear. The alicorn took only two strides to clear the distance to where Graargh was laying on the schoolhouse floor. Then, reaching down her head, she gently nuzzled his cheek. "Hey little guy. Are you ready to be awake now?"

"No," grumbled Graargh in a voice far less ursine than his usual—possessing instead what I can only describe as an insectile rasp. "I am hibernating now."

I couldn't help but gasp. "Was that a conjugation of the word 'is'?"

"You must be so proud," Celestia teased gently, before nudging Graargh again. I was again surprised by her unique vocal capabilities when she uttered his ursine name in a much quieter growl, like a den mother addressing a young cub. "Morty and I need you to wake up."


"I'll buy you a salmon," offered Celestia in a sing-song tone.

Solid sapphire, multi-faceted insect eyes shot open. "Salmon!" Then, realizing how close he was to Celestia, Graargh's hooves (not his familiar claws) struggled to push him upright—only hurt more by the fact that they slipped and slid in the slime that had spilled on the floor with him from when Metamorphosis had opened the cocoon. "Ah! I—What happened? I was with Aspirations, and—" Frantically looking around, Graargh finally realized I was in the room, and his weird chitinous expression (somehow—given how inflexible chitin normally is) turned to a smile. "Morty!"

"Hey Graargh." I smiled. "Your Equiish has gotten better."

"I do-ed many drills," he answered proudly, before taking stock of the quite thoroughly destroyed classroom. "You hurt? Was there fight? And who are these pony?"

"Ah, I see there's still some improvement to be had." I gestured to the two dead ponies in the room. "Fifth Brother and Su—" and then I caught myself (though Celestia raised a brow silently). "Second Sister. They, uh, work for Luna. You know Cherry already."

"Hi Graargh!" Cherry announced with an enthusiastic wave whose cuteness belied his being a thirteen-year-old colt (damn him). "I'm gonna be a wizard!" Again, Celestia silently raised a brow—having to first lower it solely for that effect.

"And yes, there was a fight," I concluded. "But it's mostly sorted out now. I got bit by a changeling, and I used too much magic… and died again… but it's all sorted out and I'll be okay. Unfortunately, you won't be seeing Mrs. Aspiration anymore."

"I… live with you?"

I took a deep breath and nodded, glancing harshly to Summer. "I think for everypony's safety, that's probably best."

Graargh leapt in the air and (presumably on instinct) fluttered on transparent gossamer wings. This momentary hangtime shocked the young changeling, as he finally looked down at himself and promptly dropped to the ground in shock. "Aah! I—this is not good! Green fire! Bad, bad!"

Celestia roared like a bear quite loudly. "Look at me!" The forceful demand from the mighty figure was enough to shake Graargh from his worries. "You and Morty and I are going to talk about this soon; it isn't a problem or anything to be ashamed of, and you have not done anything wrong. But, for now, do you know how to change?"

"Change?" Graargh asked.

"Pretend," I offered, filling in the term Graargh had learned for the use of his talents. "Can you pretend to be a bear?"

"I am a bear," Graargh corrected, with just a hint of hurt in his voice.

"Graargh," I began with heavy heart, but Celestia cut me off with a wing.

"You are a bear," Celestia agreed with a smile, lowering herself to be closer to his eye level. "But you're a very unique bear," Celestia observed, ending the thought with Graargh's 'native' name. "Most other bears can't change their form like you can. And right now, you're in a different form. So you need to concentrate—to pretend, as Morty put it—so you can go back to being a bear, the way you like."

Graargh smiled, closed his eyes, focused, and in a flash of green flame, my little ursine companion was back. "Better?" he asked.

"Considerably," I answered. Then, when he rushed toward me, I winced and held up a hoof. "Woah, Graargh, hold on; I got bit, remember? I can't carry you on my back right now."

"Aww…" Graargh's disappointment turned to shock when his body was enveloped in a golden glow, though it turned to considerable joy when he was deposited between a pair of gigantic white wings. "Yay! Slestia, thank you!"

"My pleasure," said Celestia, ending the phrase with a small, tasteful roar of address.

"Look, Morty; I'm am bigger than you!"

I couldn't help but chuckle as I shook my head. "Graargh, every time you turn into an adult bear, you're bigger than me. It isn't that unusual for you."

"Oh. Yeah." Graargh smiled at that. "So we go home now?"

"Well, I need Celestia to help me not die again," I admitted. "I'm guessing that means a trip to Mage Meadowbrook?"

Celestia nodded, and then turned to the two undead standing silently in the room. "Go back to my sister, and inform her I wish to speak to her."

"She already knows," said Fifth Brother, before nodding to Summer; then both walking corpses departed through the schoolhouse windows.

"Ominous…" I muttered. "Well, Cherry, you want to walk with us as far as a doctor?"

"Of course, Master," he answered.

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

We made it all the way out of the schoolhouse door and into the street before everything went to Tartarus, and as it surprisingly often did, it went there accompanied by the tinny voice of my greatest creation.

"Master Coil!" shouted Angel. "I got help!"

The 'help' in question was a sizeable mass of Cirran legionaries (I would later learn they made up two contubernia of the Praetorian Guard), led by Luna herself. Behind them, though, were a substantial throng of everyday ponies following eagerly to see just what fuss would bring both a small army and the goddess Luna herself out into the city together.

"Sister," Luna bellowed as she approached on wing, gliding downward and then alighting on the street. Upon seeing me, she added with considerably more disdain "Coil. I should have known"

"Luna," I nodded. "You're late, but the sentiment is appreciated."

"Do you think me blind?" Luna demanded, her eyes pointed in hatred. "You think you can tamper with my creations, with my magic, and that I would not notice?"

Celestia shot Luna a warning look. "Sister, may I caution you that this isn't a conversation you want to have in the middle of the street, with the whole city watching?"

At first, the lesser alicorn winced. Then a stubbornness and resentment flashed across her features, and she answered the warning with indignity. "We are goddesses!" Luna proclaimed (much to Celestia's silent disapproval). "I won't be ashamed of what I do to protect these ponies. And I need not be tended after like some newborn foal, Celestia," Luna snapped in answer. "Mind your student; if he interferes in my affairs again, I will end him."

"Luna—" Celestia began to protest, only to stop (not so much in recognition as in surprise as the audacity) when I raised a hoof against her side to indicate that I would speak for myself.

"Your creations wanted to kill Graargh," I explained calmly, gesturing to my friend. "I would have preferred to talk them out of the issue with words, but they took offense at his…" Here, I had at least enough wherewithal to recognize the masses around us, and euphemized "...particular nature, and I had to resort to magic."

"They were defending ponykind," Luna countered. "If they judged he was a threat—"

"They were going to murder a child!" I snapped. "My little brother!"

"Don't be preposterous, Coil; you've known him for, what, three months?"

"Not matters!" Graargh shouted, pulling Luna's attention in a hateful glare. "Why are you so angry? Morty saved me! Why is that bad?"

Luna took a long slow breath, and I watched the muscles in her muzzle slowly relax. "My objection isn't your ongoing life," the alicorn stated. Under her breath, quite audible to me, if not the crowd, she added "No matter how objectionable I may know it to be." Then, again lifting her voice, she continued "I take offense because Coil oversteps his station; in his ambition, he plays at godhood, when he knows nothing of the burden—to say nothing of the responsibility—of our station. And he dares to interfere in my work, to second guess my defense of ponykind from threats you cannot even imagine."

"We are not gods, sister," Celestia warned.

"Aren't we?" Luna snapped back spitefully. "Perhaps you should let one of them raise the sun tomorrow then, sister. If Coil really is our equal, I admit, I might enjoy seeing what is left of his horn afterwards."

The pale face of Celestia flashed with… some emotion, complex and deep enough between the two ancient sisters that I would not presume to describe it casually here. "There's no call for that, Luna. If you feel that strongly, I'm sure Morty will agree not to get involved with your Night Watch—"

"Night Guard," Luna corrected.

Celestia let out a small sigh. "I'm sure Morty will give them plenty of space in the future. Right, Morty?"

"I'm not sure I want to make that promise," I observed. "Who knows what innocent pony I'll have to save from her 'protection' next."

"I meant what I said," Luna warned, taking a towering alicorn-sized stride to loom over me. "If you interfere with them again, my sister's patronage won't protect you. Or are you still high enough on your victory over your decrepit teacher that you think yourself my equal in magic?"

"Luna, I don't even think I'm Wintershimmer's equal in magic yet," I answered defiantly (an odd phrase on which to be defiant, in retrospect). "If you think I went into that duel expecting to come out alive, you completely misunderstood why I did it in the first place."

"Then I suggest you find a method of suicide less irritating to the mare who may be judging your soul."

I shook my head. "You really still don't get it? Let me be blunt: I was willing to die for Graargh. I almost did, five minutes ago. That's not because I think I can best you with magic, or because I expect everything to just work out somehow; it's because it's worth the effort anyway, even if it does kill me." I nodded to Celestia, and she offered me a small smile of approval (which would prove to be quite short-lived indeed). "So go ahead and threaten me. Smite me, mighty goddess; I'm waiting right here. Show all these ponies who you really are, and see how many of them still worship you. But I'm telling you right now, you and Star Swirl and Platinum and whoever else might want me to sit down, be quiet, and find somewhere to die: I will not go quietly into the night. I won't stand idly by while my friends are hurt. And when my real time finally comes, if I find myself standing in front of you instead of Celestia, I'll spit in your face and walk into Tartarus on my own hooves. And I'll do it with a better smile than you'll ever wear."

Luna's horn flickered briefly, very much like a cat's claws briefly extending and contracting from its paws. All was quiet in the street for a very long moment. Then she spread her wings to their full extent—much as Celestia had when she stood behind Gale at her coronation—and fixed me with a rather calm stare. "So be it, Mortal Coil. If you and yours wish to exist outside my protections, I shall not force them on you. But do not think you can call to me in desperation in your dreams again."

"Morty, Luna, can we please—"

"No Celestia, we cannot," Luna interrupted her sister. "Iacta alea est. I advise you teach the colt what dangers lurk in real nightmares." With that ominous threat, the worst pony who ever lived took to wing and departed into the sky.

There followed a somewhat concerning silence, which Cherry Tomato finally broke with the most chipper and banal of observations. "Wow. That sounds scary, Master Morty."

"Why do you keep calling him that, Cherry?" Celestia asked.

"I'm gonna learn to be a wizard!" Cherry answered with a mile-wide grin. "And since wizards call their teachers 'Master' instead of 'Sir', he's Master Morty, right?"

"It's Master Coil, if you're being formal, young sir," Angel corrected, hovering over.

"But when I drew on the floor to do the spell he taught me, he said the name I was supposed to say was 'Morty'. And he got very grumpy when Mrs. Aspirations—or I guess her real name was Metamorphosis—called him just 'Mortal'."

"It's fine," I told my new apprentice and my assistant before their discussion could turn to bickering. "Angel, go home, and pass along that I'll likely be late for lunch; maybe even dinner. Oh, and Graargh will be joining us going forward, though probably not for dinner tonight."

"Of course, sir. I'll see we keep some tea on, and perhaps some soup?" When I nodded, the little golem darted off.

"Cherry, do you have somewhere to go home to?"

"Oh, of course." Cherry smiled. "My mom and dad are very encouraging."

"You're not an orphan?" I asked with a raised brow. When Cherry shook his head in oblivious denial, I did catch Celestia raise a brow beside me. "I guess I just assumed between being a squire to Count Halo, and then asking to be apprenticed to me."

"Nope," Cherry replied. "I just had a good feeling about it. And I still do." He smiled. "It was a lot of fun getting to be in a fight and do real magic with you! Should I come by your house tomorrow?"

I smiled, and midway through my nod, felt the barest hint of a pain in my flank. "Er, actually, better give it two or three days; poisons are notorious for taking a while to heal."

"Three sounds good!" With a wave and a chipper smile, Cherry departed with two more adieu-s. "Goodbye, Lady Celestia! Bye-bye," Cherry then attempted to emulate Celestia's roaring, and for once demonstrated a lack of an uncanny natural ability.

"Just 'Graargh' is ok. Bye Cherry!" shouted my little bear, rolling his eyes. Celestia merely smiled and waved a wing.

And then there were just the three of us…

…or so I thought, until the multitudinous masses of Everfree City realized that our little party's internal chatter was over, and the more ambitious and journalistic members of the observing crowd rushed in on us.

"Archmage Coil, Held Presses, Ridgeline Review! What just happened? It sounded like Lady Luna was responsible for the fight that destroyed the schoolhouse?"

"I'm not an archmage yet," I gently tried to correct, though even midway through that sentence I was already being shouted over.

"Sir, April Kneel, Equestria Daily! What—"

"Loose Lace, Pony Planet—"

"Roan Burgundy—

"Any comments on rumors that you're sleeping with the Queen?"

"Can I request an exclusive interview?!"

"Peter-Out Parks; Bugle's Call, can you—"

"Ahem!" Celestia said, accompanied by (all things being equal, knowing how much strength she actually commanded) a completely calm and moderated stomp of one hoof. And then, instantly, almost everything was quiet.

I say almost everything because one little voice had the audacity to carry on right through Celestia's call for peace.

"Ey, don't step on me, idjit." Pushing past the mass of adult newsponies was a remarkably familiar and audacious young face. "'Ello, Mistah Coil. Reed Allaboutit, Equestrian Journal."

Celestia turned with a very concerned look on her face to me. "I'm starting to be worried by the number of foals a pony your age is acquainted with."

I rolled my eyes. "Look, I bribed her for directions to get to Gale after the whole debacle at the… what was it called, Parliament?"

"Th' Stable 'uv Nobles," Reed offered.

"Right, that. Speaking of which, don't you just sell the papers?"

Reed donned a broad grin, showing off at least one missing tooth I hadn't noticed before, and brandished her newscap. "I got pro-moted, on accounta' knowin you, Mistah Bigshot. By Mistah Hearse 'imself."

One of the other newsponies coughed heavily into her foreknee. "Ahem, Mister Coil; could some of the rest of us treat you some questions?"

"Well, I'm slowly being poisoned to death… but I can probably field one or two. Calmly. And you'll have to walk with me. Um… you, in the red hat; did you say your name?"

The stallion didn't re-introduce himself, instead pushing straight on to the business of journalism. "Would you like to elaborate on your conflict with the goddess Luna? And perhaps her desire to, per your accusations, kill your little brother?"

I took a deep breath before answering, but Celestia beat me to the punch. "My sister's subordinates demonstrated a lack of judgment which I will be discussing with her privately later. Morty has no further comment at this time."

"Morty?" one of the newsponies asked.

"Ooh, I know this one!" Graargh exclaimed from my back. "Gale make up name because Morty do not like his name, because it is like 'Bucket Punt'."

As one, about thirty journalists cocked their heads in confusion.

"Alright." I sighed. "I'm gonna have to give longer interviews if you want me to unpack that one. Let me make try and make this simple. I'm a wizard, which means I fight monsters to protect my fellow ponies."

"Do Archmage Star Swirl and Archmage Diadem fight monsters?" one of the wizards asked.

I couldn't help but roll my eyes. "Star Swirl certainly used to. Diadem, I couldn't tell you, but I get the sense she's too busy being a schoolteacher to actually be a wizard."

Celestia set a wing on my back, leaned her neck over to put her mouth near my ear, and gently whispered "You've already made more than enough enemies today, Morty."

I made a point to cough into my hoof to clear the air. "Anyway, I discovered there was danger from a monster in the schoolhouse there, and I went to confront it before any foals got hurt."

"What kind of monster?"

"Don't answer that," Celestia snapped, perhaps too quickly to make the response seem remotely comfortable to a group of newsponies—but in her defense, she did at least catch me before I spoke further.

"A particularly insidious, venomous kind," I offered, with a glance to where my leg was still bleeding as I walked down the road. "Hence my comment about slowly dying. I dealt with the monsters, but not before Luna's… helpers… arrived. And, suffice it to say, we had a little bit of disagreement about Graargh."


"I defy you to put the right pronunciation in your paper," I replied with a chuckle. "Celestia, can you pronounce your name for us?"

Graargh, of course, let out an ursine roar, and to my immense satisfaction, it was followed by dozens of ponies frantically scribbling onto little notepads with tiny pencils.

Celestia donned the tiniest, cheekiest grin, and noted "You need to say it slower if you want them to be able to spell it," and then echoed the roar—as she had prescribed, drawing out each 'syllable' in the ursine bellow.

The scratching of pencils stopped abruptly, as the journalists were briefly reminded that behind her gentle demeanor and generally positive attitude, Celestia was the still the primal, nigh-immortal being who defined the passage of day. And she, in turn, could not resist a wry wink with her one visible eye.

I took the silence that her noise left behind to speak up. "If you want to ask about Wintershimmer, or the Battle of Platinum's Landing or what have you, I'll invite you to talk to my butler at Twenty-Four Ridgeline Road."

"The haunted house?" one of the newsponies asked with a gasp.

Much more calmly, Celestia queried "You have a butler? Do you mean Angel?"

I briefly winced, but given (as Luna had put it in Cirran) the die was already cast, so I elected to tell her as… well-trimmed of a truth as I could. "That's what I needed the ponyquin for, that night you taught me about glyphs. Angel is wonderful as a mage's companion, but he isn't the best for keeping a house."

"Ah." Celestia nodded, and I had no idea if she suspected anything further. (Truth be told, I still don't, though the point is rather immaterial now.) "Well, mares and gentlestallions, as Morty has indicated, he is actually dying. And while asking questions of the already-dead might not be much of an issue for his talents as a necromancer," (Celestia's comment got a few gasps, though it seemed Everfree City was getting more familiar with that idea following my encounter with Count Halo), "I promise you're all going to have a much easier time getting your stories out of him if we get him to a doctor first. Thank you for your dedication to keeping Equestria informed."

With that conclusion, perhaps less elegant than her more modern practiced standard but certainly still possessing her timeless grace, Celestia dispersed the crowd and led me on toward sorely needed medicine.

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