• 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 IX - The Black Carriage

Interlude IX

The Black Carriage

Sunset Shimmer frowned when an earlier copy of this book was pushed down from her line of sight by a red hoof. "You having fun with book time?" Red Ink grumbled in his thick Stalliongradi accent. "We need to talk."

"Something wrong?"

"I died," Ink replied with a tone bitterer and flatter than I have often heard, before offering the Mentor Medallion to Sunset in a proffered wing. "Magic necklace wants to talk. Also, Celestia is coming here."

Sunset quickly donned the magical amulet, and almost immediately heard its suave voice in her mind. "You should kill him for a minute or two so he can tell Celestia that won't be necessary. Also, given how many things have gone catastrophically wrong in Canterlot in recent history, I'm not sure it's the best idea for her to come somewhere this dangerous."

"You're worried about Princess Celestia's safety?" Sunset raised a brow, then winced as her mind caught up with her 'mental ears'. "Wait, did you just say—"

"Somepony has to; although I deferred that job a long time ago…"

Ink (despite not hearing that comment) rolled his eyes. "There will be an Honor Guard contingent with her."

"Oh. Well, that's better then." Sunset looked down at the medallion with a brow raised in confusion, and it expounded. "In all seriousness, I was wondering why she hadn't sent Hurricane in the first place."

"I'm sorry, what? Hurricane? And you still didn't explain—"

"Yeah… You said she gave you Tales, so obviously she trusts you; is this really a surprise?"

"What about Commander Hurricane?" Somnambula asked, ears perked up and wandering over.

The medallion sighed. "Okay… I'm going to need to drive for a moment, Sunset, if that's okay."

"Uh, I'm not sure about that; I—" And with a quite distinct tone, even in Sunset's timbre, her voice continued. "Mr. Ink, was it?"

"Am I talking to Morty?" Ink asked in reply. "You're just going to steal her body?"

Sunset's head nodded. "We were about to have a very long talk about ethics, and out in the field not far away from the last windigo is neither the time nor the place for hesitation—so I decided this was in our group, and Equestria's, best interests. Tell Celestia she can meet us in Stalliongrad if she absolutely—what's with the wince?"

"It's pronounced Stol'nograd," Ink corrected.

Mentor put a mild smile on Sunset's lips. "Ah, a native. Well, if you prefer archaic names, tell her she can meet us in River Rock tomorrow afternoon—though there's really no need, everything is under control. Ask her why she hasn't sent Hurricane, and if he's free, have her send him, or at least somepony with his armor. The two of us should be able to sort this whole mess out a lot faster than the four of you—no offense intended."

Ink frowned. "I can't fly back to Canterlot in one day; I'm not a wonderbolt."

"I had no intention of asking you to fly anywhere," Mentor told Ink, right before murdering him.

That turn of phrase is, I admit, not appropriate to the magnitude of violence in the events that took place; namely, Sunset's horn lit, Red Ink went very rigid, and then he likely would have collapsed onto his side were it not for magic keeping him upright.

"Morty! What the hell?!" Sunset demanded, relegated to a voice inside her own head.

Ignoring the voice in his head (which continued even through the following conversation, impotently and frustratedly), Mentor asked aloud "Anypony have a watch?"

"What for?" Tempest replied, wandering over, before raising a brow at the glow of magic around the short pegasus.

"Celestia can be a bit long-winded when somepony drops in unannounced to have their soul judged, and I want to make sure this Red Ink character has enough time to get the whole message across before we bring him back again."

"Soul judged?" Somnambula asked, and then her eyes went wide. "Wait, you killed him?!"

"Only for a couple minutes," Mentor replied, only to let Sunset's face grow sour at the look of condemnation Somnambula shot him. "Really, Somnambula? It's efficient. And I'm driving Sunset to avoid having this conversation."

"You can't just kill ponies because it is convenient, Morty. I wouldn't want to just be killed any time you wanted to talk to Celestia. That seems very rude. At least do it to yourself."

Sunset's eyes rolled at Mentor's whim. "What I have in place of a soul doesn't work that way anymore. And even if it did, I don't trust this 'Sunset' pony to resurrect a normal soul correctly, let alone mine. I mean, come on, she had to have me bring him back the first time. Besides, he was already dead when I found him. It's like… returning the favor."

"Morty." Somnambula chided, folding her wings onto her hips.

Something about that five-letter name changed Mentor—perhaps it was Somnambula saying it, perhaps it was the tone of condemnation. Whatever the cause, immediately the bumbling justifications stopped, and a hardness settled over Sunset's body. "'Morty' hasn't been my name in eight hundred years, and even then, I haven't been the pony you remember for a thousand before that, Somnambula. Don't presume to chide me when you're one one-hundredth of my age."

That chastisement deflated something in Somnambula; certainly, her firm stance failed, but more than that, a weight fell across her features, and she stepped back behind the rest of the group in the small gathering; after a moment, she even wandered away up the tunnel to gaze down into the ravine into which the last windigo had disappeared.

"Harsh, Mentor," Daring Do muttered. "You that much of a jerk to most new wearers, or this one just get on your nerves?"

"I'm a thousand years old, and I just found out I'm about to die," Mentor snapped in reply.

"Can you die?"

Tempest shook her head. "Celestia wants us to bring 'Mortal Coil' back to her. And if the medallion is part of him…" She shrugged. "He used to be a real pony, and not a necklace."

"I used to be part of a pony with a real body," was the reply. "Daring, here's the first lines for your next book: Once upon a time, there was a very handsome necromancer who took a razor and carved up his soul."

Daring Do rolled her eyes. "I'm not writing that schlock."

(She did, sort of. Her name's on it, anyway.)

"After the Twilight War, one of the things Morty did, around the time he was writing Tales and trying to get Equestria back to working order, was to make me: the Mentor Medallion. The Order of the Sparrows—a sort of secret knightly order of do-gooders—had been instrumental in the war, but while a few had survived, their leadership had largely given their lives in the fight. The idea was to pour all the lessons he learned about how to be that kind of wandering hero—both moral and practical—into me, and then let me get passed down through the Order, from initiate to initiate, until they've learned enough that they're not likely to get themselves killed."

"You didn't mention it was that temporary of an arrangement," Daring noted with a touch of venom in her voice.

"Well, normally that's obvious when I get hoofed off by the senior pony. But since you got me off a corpse… and I guess I have to clarify for present company, an inanimate one…" Sunset's body sighed. "That should be long enough." And then, after a surge of magic, Red Ink's eyes opened. "Message delivered?"

"Fuck you, necklace cyka. Yes, I gave her your message. If you ever do that again, I'll melt you."

The threat was answered with a scoff. "Don't be a foal; it doesn't even hurt. And for the record, I doubt you could hurt me. We're both fine."

"You killed me."

"For two minutes? These days, ponies are dead that long in hospitals and come back without magic. Sunset, I'm gonna give you back driving, but before I do: driving like this to do magic drains me; I'm gonna have to sleep for a bit. In a couple minutes, you're going to see a black carriage flying in the sky up there. Flare it down with magic or fire or something; I don't know what the mare driving it will be named, but ask her to take you to Stalliongrad to meet up with Celestia. And if she gives you any trouble, you can tell her you're calling in a favor from Midnight Castle. But since she saw that spell, she should know it's me." After that word, Sunset resumed control of her body with a rough shudder.

"What an asshole," muttered Ink.

"He… he stole my body!" Sunset shouted. "And then he killed you—Mr. Ink, I'm so sorry! I tried to stop him—or at least to ask what he intended, but he just—"

In reply, Ink patted the unicorn on the shoulder with a wing. "It's fine."

"No, it isn't! For either of us. When he wakes up, I'm going to give him a piece of my mind!"

Ink plopped his hindquarters down on the frozen stone and shrugged. "More power to you. But trust me: you can't talk to that kind of asshole."

"Saying that from experience?" Tempest teased. "Or because you used to be one of them?"

"Thank you for cutting my legs out from under me—but yes, that was the point." Alas, nopony had the wherewithal to point out that, judging by his diminutive stature, somepony had already beaten her to the cut long before.

Daring Do walked up to the short stallion's side and patted him on the shoulder just as he had Sunset—a motion the soldier rather forcefully and brusquely stepped away from. "I'm sorry, but trust me: he's nice when he's just hanging on your neck, whispering in your ear tips on how to deal with problems."

"So he never used your body to just kill somepony?" Ink snarked.

Tan wings indicated a smooth pegasus brow. "Would be kinda hard."

Tempest chose that moment to speak up. "So now we're just giving up on the Constellation?"

"The Princess and the rest of the Honor Guard will bring it in for us," Ink explained.

Sunset donned an expression of concern. "Isn't that a bad idea? What if Morty—the one out there—attacks them?"

Ink shrugged. "I don't get paid to second guess the Princess. She wanted to bring Luna at first, until I mentioned Hurricane."

"Are we going to talk about Mentor telling you to ask about Hurricane?" Sunset asked.

"Not unless you've got aspirin, or a whole lot to drink," growled Tempest. "Let's just wait for our ride, and then we can all get in the same room with Celestia, demand a straight answer for a change, and tell her we're out if this whole thing doesn't start making sense right away."

"It's here," called Somnambula, her voice still notably flatter than its usual chipper tone. "The carriage, I mean. I see it."

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

The black carriage, trimmed in brilliant red, flew on no wheels—cloud lined or mundane—and it likewise lacked anypony (or any griffon or dragon or any other sort of creature) to draw it through the sky. And as Celestia's questers watched, it descended to meet them at the mouth of the tunnel. There, the door was opened by a hoof so pale pink that you'd be forgiven for calling it white.

"Oh," said a voice with an overpowering Trotsylvanian accent. "It is you."

Red Ink immediately piped up "And here I thought dying was the worst part of my day."

"You going to introduce us?" Somnambula joked, some of her usual cheerfulness returning to her tone. "Or should I start guessing?"

Ink sighed. "Countess Solstice of Trotsylvania. Blyat, these are Tempest Shadow, Somnambula, Daring Do, and Sunset Shimmer."

Countess Solstice was a unicorn of the aforementioned color, whose rich red mane hung heavily down the side of her body and over one shoulder, rather closely matched to the thick and somewhat old-fashioned (but undeniably warm) dress the noblemare wore. "A war criminal, a pony who was born two thousand years ago, a made-up foal's story, and the personal student of Princess Celestia. My, you keep interesting company, Commandant. But where is… what is the stallion's name? The wizard?"

"You're expecting Morty?" Somnambula asked.

Solstice shrugged. "I never caught his name… you know what? Hop in; let us get out of here, and I can tell you as we fly."

Even as the mass of mares climbed into the carriage, Red Ink hesitated. "I'm tempted to fly back on my own."

"And I'm tempted to make you," Solstice noted. "But Predvidenie would be very unhappy with me, so do your brother a favor, get over your pride, and get in."

Grudgingly, Ink climbed into the carriage, and squeezed his incredibly brawny form in amongst the mass of mares (perhaps the most uncomfortable he had ever been in such a mass of his preferred gender).

"You two know each other?" Sunset asked.

Solstice chuckled. "Everypony in Stalliongrad—" (Ink winced heavily) "—knows Commandant Blood Stroke. But yes, we have a history between the two of us."

"Please, if it's that you're exes, we don't care," Tempest grumbled.

Somnambula looked at the rugged mare in shock. "Of course we do!"

Countess Solstice chuckled at the disagreement, even as Red Ink tried very hard to slip himself fully into the cushions of the carriage.

"No, no," said the unicorn noblemare. "During the most recent Stalliongradi revolution, I was the only noblemare who sided with your friend's father and his uprising. To that end, we were often at a war table with one another."

"What actually happened?" asked Sunset. When Solstice looked to the unicorn with a raised brow of incredulity, Sunset explained "I, uh… I was in a different world."

"Ah," said Solstice with audible skepticism. "Well, to tell the story shortly, some thirty years ago, young dragons rampaged across the domain in a series of Dragon Wars."

Sunset nodded. "I remember that. They reached as far as Baltimare Bay before the Royal Guard drove them back."

"The Domain of Canterlot was largely spared damage; I'm sure a few buildings in Baltimare burned, but nothing like what Stalliongrad suffered. All our great cities—Stalliongrad, Saraneighvo, my beloved Trotsylvania—were razed and ruined. The Last Windigo fed on the hate and the bloodshed and the winter grew colder than it had been in centuries. So Baron Frostbite—the ruler of the domain—instituted mandatory work to rebuild and make sure the population didn't starve or freeze."

"Harsh," said Tempest.

"It was necessary," Countess Solstice observed. "Princess Celestia herself endorsed it at first, as a stop-gap to get the domain back on its hooves. And even Frostbite himself intended it to be temporary—at first. But, like so many things, power corrupted Frostbite, and many of the nobleponies of Stalliongrad. Forced labor with pay controlled by Frostbite made his inner circle wealthy. Very wealthy."

"Ah," said Sunset. "But why didn't Princess Celestia step in before it turned into a war?"

"She did," Ink explained, with distinct fury bubbling at the back of his voice. "But the Princess, she likes to wear velvet shoes—that's the idiom, right?"

When a few ponies nodded, Solstice picked up where Ink had left off. "Frostbite's laws were challenged in Equestrian courts, ponies spoke out against him; some of the other domains even boycotted us, for a time. But Frostbite was cunning—"

Ink interrupted fiercely "Frostbite was a fat oaf. My brother was the cunning one, little shit."

"The, uh… the one we met in Canterlot?" Sunset asked with notable hesitation.

Ink let out a sigh. "No. And now, because Solstice knew both of my brothers, I have to tell her—Solstice, you can never talk about what you just heard. That's a 'Honor Guard will kill you' kind of issue."

"Luna raised Polnoch?!" Solstice asked, and a distinct fury (along with, Sunset could have sworn, worry?) were audible in her tone.

"I… How do you know about that?" Ink asked.

Solstice sighed. "Let me finish telling Lady Shimmer this story, and we can continue."

Sunset quirked a brow. "Nopony has called me Lady Shimmer in years. You know me?"

"You forget we met before, at the Grand Galloping Gala, when you were just a foal," Solstice replied. "And I am very good with names. But to return to the story: yes, your friend Roscherk's older brother, Predvidenie—which means 'Foresight' in Equiish—worked for Baron Frostbite. And together, they were terrifyingly effective at stalling the courts, working around protests, and generally getting very rich. So eventually, Princess Celestia turned to other solutions."


Ink turned in his seat to face Sunset. "You must have met him when you were the Princess' student; did you meet 'The Commander'?"

"The leader of the Honor Guard?" Sunset nodded. "The stallion who wore Commander Hurricane's armor?"

"The very same," said Countess Solstice, with a hint of scorn. "Celestia sent him to… how did she put it, Roscherk?"

Ink shrugged. "How should I know? He said she knew revolution was coming, and he was there to make it as painless as possible. But I do not think that is Celestia's words." Ink rolled his eyes. "He convinced Predvidenie and my brother and I to turn against Frostbite… and then we had a war. And, at the end, I killed the baon." Ink scoffed. "There is more story after the end, but that is the revolution. Now, Predvidenie rules Stalliongrad for all purposes that matter, using all the same tricks he learned helping Frostbite to try and make the trains run on time and fix winter and whatever other issues he thinks he can throw money at to get to go away."

"You'll be surprised how successful he's been since you left," Solstice teased. "Now, to address your other question: I know about the Night Guard for the same reason I know to have expected the pale unicorn stallion to be with you. Namely, because Trotsylvania Hall is the closest fortification to Castle Midnight. Generations ago, my great grandmother however-many times over fought alongside Celestia and this 'Archmage Coil' pony in the war against Nightmare Moon. We were given this enchanted flying carriage, though it came with the debt that someday, it would call on us to go to somepony's aid, and that we would have to offer them whatever help or hospitality we could." Solstice chuckled. "But after a thousand years, this wasn't exactly what I was expecting."

"You didn't think you'd be the one called in?" Sunset asked.

"Well, certainly not twice," said Solstice, causing the rest of the carriage's eyebrows to rise and eyes to widen. "The pale pony called on me ten years ago, shortly after the revolution."

"What?! You've met Morty?!" Sunset leaned forward. "We're looking for him for Princess Celestia! Do you know what he was doing? What he wanted?"

"It wasn't a long conversation," Solstice explained. "As I said, I didn't even get his name. He needed to use the carriage for a few weeks, and I know he wanted to go to Stalliongrad; it was rather inconvenient, I had to hire a completely separate carriage for the trip home. But I left him to his devices, and a few weeks later, he brought the carriage back to my home."

"Do you know anything about where he went?" Sunset pressed. "Other than Stalliongrad?"

Solstice could only give a shrug. "There was some dirt on the floor of the carriage, so I assume he went somewhere outside of the eternal winter. Beyond that, who can say?"

"That doesn't seem like Morty," said Somnambula with a frown. "He was so obsessed with being clean."

"Maybe it wasn't on him?" Tempest offered as a guess. "He might have given somepony else a ride."

"Hard to know without just asking him," Ink muttered. "I second what Tempest said earlier. I need a drink to wash all this ancient time bullshit down. Let's talk about something else."

And so they did, until the carriage arrived in the city I knew as River Rock.

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