• 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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Yet More Talking

- or, as a wittier author might put it -

The Calm Before Several Storms

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

"Well, apart from Jade and Cookie… Wintershimmer notwithstanding, obviously, the next most important pony in the Crystal Union is Commander Silhouette. Chancellor, could you pass the potatoes? They're delectable."

As Puddinghead leaned across the table with the plate in question in his hooves, Commander Typhoon cocked her head and sent a red lock of her tricolor mane falling across the opposite side of her forehead. "I never got to meet my crystal counterpart after what happened with Wintershimmer. And I don't recall a crystal warlord named Silhouette. What's she like?"

"Well, she wasn't somepony you got to fight back in the Compact Lands," I explained, somewhat proficiently using my hooves to transfer a potato onto my plate. "She's our age."

"You wouldn't have any trouble taking her in a fight, if it came to that," Gale added with a chuckle.

"You fought her?"

"Yeah, in Lubuck." The queen of the unicorns leaned back in her seat, indulging a very generous swig of earth pony whisky, and then looking up across the table to stare over Typhoon's shoulder with obvious concern. "What in the…" She looked down at her glass, and then up again. "I haven't even finished my first glass; do the rest of you—"

"Yeah, I see it too," I cut in, standing up and even daring to light my horn at the swirling maelstrom of magic that appeared in the air of the parlor. "I have no idea what it is though."

As three of the four of us were making ready for some kind of magical violence, Chancellor Puddinghead lunged between us and the portal, waving his forelegs frantically. "No, no! It's okay!"

"You know what this is?" Typhoon asked tersely.

Puddinghead shook his head. "Nope! But I've got a good feeling about it. And my horoscope today said 'You will be reunited with an old friend.' Let's see who it is."

I couldn't help but stare at the earth pony in unabashed confusion. "Chancellor, we're literally talking about taking you up to see Smart Cookie tomorrow. Isn't that—"

A voice from within the whirlwind cut me off. "The image should be coming together momentarily; I'm sorry, this was a lot more useful before it got broken." The voice was familiar to me, though it didn't quite ring a bell.

A much heavier, gruffer, and more masculine voice followed. "I didn't do this, did I?"

"No; Archmage Comet broke it when she was an apprentice around a hundred years ago. Which I guess is fine; if it weren't broken, we probably would have dragged it to Everfree and—" Through the swirling of the starry blue and mint green, we began to see a face to put to the voice: Archmage Clover the Clever, hovering in the air life-size above Chancellor Puddinghead's parlor carpet. "Ah! Hello, everypony. I'm so sorry for interrupting. I… my goodness, Morty, you're sharing dinner in high places since we last talked."

"Archmage." I folded my foreleg to give a formal bow. "The, uh, Triumvirate?" (Gale gave me an encouraging nod. "They just wanted my insight on the state of the Crystal Union, since we're all flying north tomorrow. Chancellor Puddinghead was kind enough to host us since the Commander has… justifiable objections to my house."

"Are you that bad of a decorator?" Clover joked.

Ever the straight mare, Typhoon bluntly cut to the point. "Platinum gave him Vow's house."

"Ah. Well—"

"Ty?" A second pony stepped into view (or rather, what took the form of a single stride in River Rock led to him fading into magical view in Everfree) beside Clover, and when he did, Typhoon let out a small gasp.

"Cyclone? Is that… really you?"

Cyclone showed an uncharacteristic good humor with his sister when he answered "Is it the beard?"

"Yeah, probably. Did it do something for one of your marefriends?"

Cyclone rolled his eyes. "No, but it keeps my face warm."

Clover the Clever let out a very pointed cough. "Ahem. Much as I don't want to interrupt this little family reunion, Electrum's Orb wasn't magically easy to use even when it was in one piece."

"Electrum's Orb is broken?" I asked. When Typhoon and Puddinghead glanced my way for clarification, I offered briefly "It's a crystal ball an old unicorn king made. The best one in the world. I'm assuming that's what you were saying when the spell was coming together, that Archmage Comet broke it?"

"Oh, you heard that? I thought we hadn't made the connection yet. Yes, she managed to shear about a third of it off while she was exploring whether it was possible to cast her dueling spells through a scrying focus. 'Scry and die', I believe, was the title our grand-master proposed for the theoretical thesis, had it worked."

I was the only one who laughed, so I take some hope in writing this down that you, dear reader, will also appreciate Archmage Comet's grim humor.

"Anyway," Clover continued, "I didn't just dig this old relic out of the secret vaults here in River Rock just for some fun chit-chat. Morty, do you know what became of Wintershimmer's staff?"

I nodded. "It's in my house right now; we're taking it up to the Crystal Union tomorrow, since some of the locks on Wintershimmer's vaults use it as a key."

"We need it," said Cyclone bluntly.

At that, I couldn't help but frown. "Setting aside how ominous that sounds, is this another case of Star Swirl trying to take my inheritance away from me?"

"Another?" asked Clover.

I let out a small sigh. "I suppose you have no way of knowing. Star Swirl and I have an ongoing disagreement about some of Wintershimmer's research. What do you need the staff for? I trust there's a good reason?"

Clover nodded. "It's made from the remains of Lord Krenn's son. He'd like to lay it to rest."

"Well, that's a pretty damn good reason," Gale admitted.

"It is," I agreed, grudgingly.

Cyclone spoke slowly as if I weren't his intellectual superior when he explained "Krenn offered an 'advance' of some of his magic, even though Clover hasn't yet broken the dragons' curse, if we return the bones."

(I will here remind the reader that I was not present for the earlier exchange at Hurricane's villa when Sirocco delivered Cyclone's letter.)

I took a long slow breath to remind myself this wasn't some scheme by Star Swirl (which wasn't hard for my rational brain to accept, given he'd handed me the staff only a few days before, but went down harder for my more emotional self), and then dipped my head. "Once I'm done with it in the Union, I'll get a sky carriage to fly me out to River Rock; Commander Typhoon, I assume I can borrow a couple pegasi for the trip?"

To my shock, both Typhoon and Cyclone firmly shook their heads. It was the sister of the pair who spoke first. "I can't have the Legion supporting Cyclone."

"Even to feed the innocent ponies—" Gale silenced herself when Typhoon shot her a look, and though the glance wasn't lost on me, what it implied certainly was.

"It's a tricky problem," Puddinghead agreed, looking at Gale with some insight hidden behind his eyes. "For all three of us; you've probably got it worst, Gale, since he killed your grandpa, but there's a lot of ponies my and Typhoon's age who still remember the uprising."

"How about Celestia?" I asked. When all the heads, both in distant River Rock and present in Puddinghead's home turned to me, I couldn't help but look a bit sheepish. "Look, I get it's kind of weird to ask the mare who moves the sun to play chauffeur; it's even weirder for me since she's my mentor. But we all know she'd be more than happy to help if it meant helping the ponies in River Rock."

A chorus of quiet and grudging affirmations sounded around the room, until they were cut through like… well, rather like a gigantic enchanted flaming blade the size and rough shape of a boat oar. Cyclone, the owner of the voice, said simply "That isn't a good idea."

Gale slapped a hoof on the dining table. "You're fucking joking, right? You don't trust Aunt Celestia?"

Typhoon shook her head. "I think he may have a point, Gale."

"Okay, seriously, what?" Gale's question was answered with a glance I missed at the time, where Typhoon flicked the eye beneath her scarred eyelid in my direction without turning her head. Gale's nostrils flared in frustration, and her ears fell half-back, but she didn't speak up in my defense, given both I and Puddinghead were in the room. "Fine."

"If you send Blizzard to Lubuck or Platinum's Landing, my soldiers can get Morty that far to hand the staff off," Typhoon suggested, before glancing to Puddinghead and adding "If he sends somepony else he trusts for the purpose of an escort, I'm sure we can look the other way for a day if they cross the strait."

This was, I have to admit, a clever lie for the mare whose talents normally lay in war over subterfuge; she obviously meant Tempest (or perhaps Rain), but didn't want to admit their presence in River Rock to the earth pony politician (or me) in the room.

"Yeah, that's fine. We'll keep it between us," Puddinghead agreed. "But don't push it, Cyclone. And don't send anypony famous."

"I have a few soldiers young enough not to be subject to my exile," he answered (managing not to wink at Typhoon that he'd gotten the message). "So you won't need to make an exception. But the kindness is appreciated."

"This is a bad idea," I cut into the pleasantries. "The staff isn't just some dead bones; I don't know exactly what Wintershimmer did to it, but having somepony who doesn't know their way around magic carry it puts them in considerable danger. I'm definitely not putting Blizzard in that kind of a situation. It really is best if I bring it to River Rock myself. If you seriously don't trust Celestia for whatever stupid reason—and I want to emphasize the word 'stupid' there, Cyclone, given you're asking us to trust you over her—then we can meet in Lubuck or wherever and I can swap carriages."

Clover chuckled. "I'm going to save us all a bit of trouble, I think. Morty, do you trust me to handle the staff?"

I couldn't help but raise my brow at the question. "You certainly have the talent. But I would think you have better things to do than to come all this way."

Clover shook her head. "Quite the opposite. I need to consult with Master Star Swirl on some of my research for breaking the dragons' curse anyway; honestly, I've just been putting off coming back to Everfree because it's such a long trip, I didn't want to make it for something small."

"Well," said Puddinghead with a smile. "Now that Cookie is back on his hooves, we can call it a trip to Re-Union City!"

"Smart Cookie is better? That's fantastic news! Did Wintershimmer finally… ah."

"Please don't start him on this," muttered Gale.

I ignored her. "He was technically dead," I explained briefly. "Wintershimmer snuck his soul past Celestia and Luna—into the Summer Lands at least, rather than Tartarus—as a way to test his ability to possess multiple bodies at range via… reverse-seance, I guess you'd call it? Rather unfortunate means of testing, but I'm only just beginning to scratch at all the applications. But, uh, in the immediate term I was able to heal Cookie. Obviously, he's been in a coma for twenty years so he's probably still going to be building up his strength for the next couple of years, but since he's an earth pony, he should make a full recovery and still have plenty of life ahead of him."

"I would love to hear more, but again, tiring spell," Clover offered with a smile, gently cutting me off at an elegant point in my explanation. "I'll plan on having some of Cyclone's forces give me a ride to Union City; I assume like with the other plan, that won't be a problem no matter who winds up in the harnesses?"

Typhoon offered a firm nod. "Technically we can't enforce the exile in Crystal territory anyway."

"Hmm," said Cyclone (more a grunt than a pensive utterance), but when he earned a harsh glance from Puddinghead, he waved his good wing to diffuse the situation. "I'm only thinking about making trade and acquiring food less painful for the ponies in my care, not causing a scene myself, Chancellor."

"Good," said Puddinghead with unusual harshness, before jumping into a jovial tone. "Then I'll arrange for Hurricane and Pan Sea and Platty to join us!"

"Just be careful, Clover," warned Gale. "You're not exactly in Dad's good graces."

"Oh? Why not, Your Majesty? My congratulations, by the way."

"Thanks," Gale muttered half-heartedly. "He hates the play. A lot."

"Well, thank you for the warning," said Clover. "When should I plan to arrive?"

"Queen Jade is hosting us for a week starting tomorrow," said Typhoon. "So leave as soon as you can today, and we'll expect you in a couple of days by air."

"Sounds like a plan," said Clover. "We can all talk more there."

"One more thing before you let go," said Cyclone urgently. "Typhoon, tell Father: 'plural'."

"Plural?" Typhoon frowned, and then something like horror flashed over her eyes. Gale let out a quiet gasp. "You… what does that change?"

"For you—all of you—nothing. I might be a blunt hoof at politics, but I know I'm toxic to all three of you. Don't concern yourselves. For me, it changes the urgency of food, but 'Morty' has already given me your generosity by providing the staff Lord Krenn is asking for. That will be enough; I'll make do." With a sigh, he added "It's good to see your face again after all these years, Typhoon."

"Bye, Cy," Typhoon answered, almost wistfully.

Clover chose that moment to close the scrying spell.

"Well, that was some fucking useful magic. Can you do that, Morty?"

"Not without Electrum's Orb," I answered, before indulging a bite of a potato skin filled with molten cheese and butter. "Ah, these are fantastic. Um, can I just rip the bandage off here: plural what, exactly?"

"You trust me, right Morty?" asked Gale. I, unsurprisingly, nodded. "Dad feels bad for Cy because River Rock is starving, so he's calling in some favors to get food for them in the short term."

"Gale!" Typhoon hissed.

Gale rolled her eyes. "Come on, Ty; it's not like Puddinghead and Morty weren't going to ask questions. If I just said 'it's a family thing', Puddinghead especially would fucking have to look into it, because that sounds shady as hell and he'd be right to worry we were going behind his back. I trust Morty, and I know Puddinghead's a good enough stallion that if we're honest, he won't cause problems for us—especially if he's willing to make an exception in the exile to help get food over anyway."

Then she looked between the earth pony chancellor and I, and took a sip of her whisky before continuing. "Cyclone asked for our help with a quiet message a while ago, and we agreed that Ty and I couldn't do anything, but since Dad's retired he decided to try and help as best he could off-the-books. So our understanding, that I trust you two will follow, is that we didn't hear anything, and if something does go wrong Dad has to take care of himself."

"Oh no," I couldn't help but sarcastically remark. "Commander Hurricane has to take care of himself."

"Exactly," Gale agreed. "So what Cyclone and Ty are talking about with the most unsubtle fucking codeword ever is that River Rock needs that food a little more urgently than Dad thought. So Puddinghead, all I'm going to ask is, if you or anypony you're dealing with runs into Dad acting a little weird, do him a favor and look the other way."

Puddinghead nodded. "Of course, Gale. Thanks for being open with us. Nice not to have to play spies all the time; your Mom liked that game too much, in my opinion."

From there, our dinner progressed on mostly as it would have without the interruption.

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

"Where in Helheim have you been?!" Aela snapped as one of the doors off the short hallway finally swung open, revealing a very nervous looking apothecary. "I sent Tsume for you two hours ago!"

"Iron Rain is here," the old griffon hissed, before glancing over his shoulder with fear that bordered on paranoia, and then violently pulling the door shut behind him.

Though most of the griffons had taken up residence in the cells of Burning Hearth (albeit with the doors unlocked to allow them comfort and the ability to mingle), Aela's quarters were made in one of the guard rooms, serving to give her 'council' some privacy. At that moment, beside herself and the apothecary the only such trusted griffon was Tapfer, who sat with his broken-off beak held silent if not ever truly 'shut'.

"I know," Aela answered. "I had the pleasure of talking with the mare. She seemed quite happy when Artorius gave her back her family's shield. She even agreed to teach him some magic. Why?"

Here, the apothecary nervously adjusted his glasses. "Iron Rain will recognize me."

"Oh," whispered Tapfer, and the concern in the syllable spoke wonders.

Aela frowned. "You crossed paths with her in the war? Hopefully she has forgotten you over forty-some-odd years."

The Apothecary shook his head. "I don't think you understand, my lady. I was at Altus. Magnus had given my talents to Yngvilde."

"You didn't…" Aela whispered.

The old tercel shook his head. "I am afraid I did." Fully removing his spectacles, the griffon continued "Though I doubt she sees it this way, I am the reason she found the magic that she needed to kill Yngvilde. She and… Pfadfinder. My masterpiece. I cannot describe how happy I am that Frau Rain is still alive, but I am afraid that my past is now putting us all in danger."

Aela nodded. "Then we shall keep you quiet."

"Will that be enough?" the apothecary himself asked. "If you need me to leave… I have lived a very long life already, Aela."

The leader of the griffons shook her bald white head. "You are the only apothecary we have. And I doubt there are any ponies left who know medicine for our kind, let alone who would be willing to perform it if they did. So I'll tell you the same thing I tell Artorius when he gets it in his head to do something suicidal: a sacrifice is only noble if the only life you're sacrificing is your own. I trust that, unlike with Artorius, I won't have to repeat myself with you?"

"Surely not," the apothecary answered. "You make a compelling point."

"Good. Until I tell you otherwise, you're confined to quarters here. Your apprentice will convey requests for medicine to the ponies from now on."

"I… I thought you had heard; Þögn did not survive the flight from Dioda."

Guilt flashed over Aela's face, and her beak opened for a moment only to click shut with some force. Finally, finding some words, she said "I am so sorry. I thought I had tallied the lost when we were welcomed in."

"Ah, no; it was more recent. The exhaustion and the cold made her sick; many of us are still ill from those deadly hunters. She was recovering until the rebel ponies forced us to flee to the stone fortress. She died two days ago."

Aela dipped her head. "At least perhaps now that Cyclone Haysar is back, we will have peace."

"I would not count on it," answered the apothecary. "We may have blankets and some straw but we are still confined to a dungeon with bad air and cold stones. And there is very little medicine can do to make up for empty bellies."

"You can't be suggesting we leave again? Or fight Cyclone?"

"That is an answer for our leader, and not an old doctor, to give. I only want to make sure you understand: we are not yet safe just because we are out of the storm."

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