• Published 14th Feb 2019
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Cadence of the Crystal Empire - Coyote de La Mancha

Two ancient evils from the Age of Chaos. The lost princess they desire. And between them, stands Celestia. Alone.

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3: In the Village.

“How’s your boy?”

Mira shrugged. As the village’s only unicorn, Mira lived in her cave as a borderline outcast. On the one hoof, the earth ponies assumed she couldn’t be strong enough to do anything they thought of as ‘real work.’ On the other hoof, when they needed enchantment, who did they seek out? Her, of course. So, over time, they’d learned to stay civil, if not friendly. It helped keep her prices down.

Except for Pyrite, of course. He was simply an irritant. Pity he also ran the dry goods store.

“About the same,” she replied.

“Thought I saw him flyin’, over to the meadow yonder,” Pyrite gestured halfheartedly. “Gatherin’ you herbs an’ whatnot, I guess?”

Again, she shrugged. It was a safe gesture. “Daydreaming, more likely.”

“Huh. Yours an’ mine, both,” he said. “Gotta beat respect into ‘em, seems like. Sure as hell weren’t born with any.”

“Colts have their own ways, Pyrite.”

“They ain’t the only ones,” he nodded as he counted up her order. “You hear ‘bout that princess, one that ours is lookin’ for?”

Mira rolled her eyes. “Of course.”

“Well, word is, some fella says he found her, away in Manehattan.”

“Of course he did,” she scoffed.

“Yeah, kinda my thinkin’,” he nodded. “If she was gonna turn up, figure she’d a done it by now. Still,” he considered, “plenty a’ folks seem ready to try their luck.”

“It’s like playing a lottery,” Mira pointed out. “The princess is many things, but a realist isn’t one of them. Eventually, she’ll find one she believes, because she wants to believe. She needs to. And once she does, somepony’s set for life. She just hasn’t found a ‘Mi Amore’ convincing enough.”

Pyrite kept nodding. “That, or she’s not desperate enough yet,” he added.

Mira shrugged again. “That, too, most likely.”

“What about you?” he winked. “Been thinkin’ ‘bout my offer?”


“Aw, c’mon. It’ll be fun.” he leaned over the counter and grinned at her. “Make ya sweat.”

She managed a thin smile in return. “You might. But there are too many ponies who would miss you afterwards. So, no.”

For a moment, the shopkeep just stared. Once, he might have laughed. Now he just gave a sour chuckle.

“Alright,” he said as he went back to tallying up her purchase, “I had that comin’.”

“You did,” she agreed, still smiling.

The chiming of the bell above the shop’s door announced a green-maned colt’s entrance. His yellow coat matched the older stallion’s perfectly, even more than the dullness in both their eyes.

“Hey Papa, what’s for dinner tonight?” he asked.

The shopkeep didn’t look up from his counting. “I dunno, why?”


His father thought for a moment. “Likely.”

The colt wrinkled his snout. “Yeah, think I’ll head over to Mom’s, instead.”

The stallion snorted. “Fine, if she’ll have you. You just stay out from underhoof, you hear me? Don’t wanna hear about you later.”

The colt was already on his way out. “Whatever.”

The shopkeep shook his head. “Maybe he’ll stay there, this time,” he muttered. “One less damn thing to worry about. Anyway,” he turned back to Mira. “that’ll be eleven bits.”

She moved with a fluid grace through the village market, a jet black unicorn with leaf green eyes, a golden goblet on her flank. It was impossible to blend in with the villagers, even if she’d wanted to.

Bits were only sometimes used in the village, and never by her. So, she traded some of her recent embroideries for what she needed. More glassware, a few spices and staples she didn’t grow herself.

Granted, it would have been preferable if Blue had done more about gardening – or anything at all, really – and she could focus entirely on other things. But after a time, punishing him every day had just seemed pointless. Still, while switching the colt was hardly pleasant, apparently it was something he needed from time to time. And at least now he let her ignore his laziness.

Well, mostly. She thought back to Pyrite’s comments, about his seeing Blue flying over that damned meadow. If he was showing off again, that might have to be dealt with.

Mira paused by the sweets shop, and its proprietor looked at her hopefully. Carob Bar made the best confections and candies in the village, and Blue had long ago fallen for her mint cookies. They especially went well with tea. Mira didn’t care for sweets herself, but she knew her son did…

No. Resolutely, she turned away from the shop and continued her way. The last thing that colt needed was to be spoiled, especially when he wasn’t doing even a lick of work. Most especially when he was flying about like some damned bird. She snorted. He had to toughen up, somehow. Or he wouldn’t survive.

“Miss Pisaurina?”

The unicorn turned her head with eyebrow upraised. None of the earth ponies addressed her formally unless they wanted something.

The approaching mare was younger than she looked. A few years ago, she had been in the summer of her life, with a new husband and new home. Her red mane had been full back then, with a pink coat and deep blue eyes, all shining with life and health. Now, her mane and tail were matted and dull as her listless eyes, same as all the rest.

“Miss Pisaurina, can you help me? I mean…” her voice trailed off and she looked away.

Mira saw little sense in making things easier for the young mare. She and her kind certainly didn’t make things easier for her. But Mira did have a home to get back to, and a meal to cook.

So she said, “Silk Rose, is it a potion you’re needing?”

Sighing, Silk Rose nodded.

“What happened to the last one?”

Silk Rose sighed again. “She didn’t last.” She looked down as she went on, “I think Roman Pearl’s going to leave me soon. I know he is. He’ll be happier. Maybe that’ll be best, it’ll be quieter. I don’t know.” She looked up at the unicorn with dead eyes. “I just know I have to try again, before he does. Please.”

Mira nodded. “Twenty bits.”

“We just brought in a bunch of yams, and we’ve got some corn.”

“That’ll do fine. I’ll have your potion tomorrow morning.”

“Thank you.”

“You can thank me when you’re carrying again,” Mira shrugged. “Bring me the goods, and I’ll have it ready for you. Try to be with him that night, if you can.”

“I remember.”

Mira nodded again. “Good enough.”

For a moment, she watched the mare wander away. Then, returning to Carob Bar’s shop, Mira bought a small bag of mint cookies.

It was just a little snack here and there, after all. It shouldn’t spoil him too badly. She could pick up some tea on the way home.

The sun was setting by the time Mira was done with the village, and the wind was picking up. Making her way up the winding trail to their cavern home, she listened to the leaves scuttling their way along the stone. Most of the flora was still green, but autumn was turning the leaves quickly, and some had already started to fall.

Turning around the last bend, she stopped. There, blocking her way, was an old sawhorse somepony had thrown away. Now it had been set in her path, draped in an old cloth for a cloak. A jack-o-lantern leered at her from beneath its cowl.

She examined the makeshift ghoul, eyebrow upraised. She supposed it was supposed to scare her. Of course, she didn’t scare easily. Never had. But it was a colt’s prank, and she could just imagine Blue giggling to himself as he set it up.

And if he’d gotten a pumpkin from the garden, he might have actually done some weeding today…

She snorted. More likely he’d started, then gotten his fool self distracted again.

Oh, well.

Casually, she raised a foreleg to just swat it aside. Then she changed her mind, and walked around it instead.

The door to their home was a simple curtain she’d woven. It kept the cave warm, and gave some semblance of privacy. The cavern beyond was a single room, high-ceilinged and spacious. Different areas had come to be used for different functions, however, and she had a few more curtains she had made hanging as separations.

Bluebottle turned at her approach, his features brightening at once. “You’re home early!”

She nodded. “Village didn’t need much upkeep today. A fertility potion, but that’s nothing.” She put her bag down, and considered her son. “I know this is a ridiculous question even as I ask it, but did you get the weeding done today?”


“You did. So if I go outside right now and look, I’ll see a weeded garden then. No grass, no weeds, just the plants we need. Is that right?”

He looked uncertain.

“Or did you start the weeding, and then start daydreaming, and then see a ripe pumpkin and spend the rest of the afternoon carving that springheels-jack I saw on my way home?”

As she went on, Blue’s ears slowly fell back, his head steadily lowered.

“Of course, that would only have taken the afternoon. The sawhorse was already cut, you just needed a gourd and a few rags. I suppose you spent the rest of the day in that damned meadow of yours, larking about like a filly on a tether. Playing with flowers and dreaming about the stars alone know what.” She shook her head.

Blue’s voice was quiet. “I’m sorry.”

“Some of us have to work, you know,” she sighed, putting away the supplies she’d bought. “I don’t ask for much. It’s just disappointing how you manage to do even less. That’s all.”

“I’m sorry,” he said again, even softer. “Should I get a switch?”

She wasn’t even looking at him anymore now, just rearranging jars and bottles. “Why bother? It doesn’t do any good. You were a dreamer yesterday, and you’ll still be one tomorrow. You’ll die a dreamer, likely sooner than later the way you’re going.”

“But…” Blinking back tears, Bluebottle took a deep breath. “Maybe… maybe I could do something else? Something to do with my cutie mark. Maybe there’s something I could do, down in the village. Something we don’t know about yet.”

Her back still to him, she stopped, her eyes narrowed. “The village?”

“Sure,” he said. Then, before his courage could fail him, he went on, “I mean, I used to go there all the time. I used to have friends. Having my cutie mark doesn’t have to stop that, does it? And they…” His voice faltered, and he made himself finish, “They can’t all hate us now, can they?”

When she said nothing, he looked down again, saying, “And yeah, you’re right. I got distracted. Again. And I am sorry. It’s just… sometimes, everything feels so wrong. I don’t know how else to put it. I mean, I know you’ll be mad, but sometimes, I’ve tried to fly to the village. I’ve tried to go lots of times, even when I knew you’d be there and I’d get in trouble.

“But, I couldn’t. Somehow, something always stops me. I don’t know what. I just… I can’t go there anymore.”

“You don’t belong there,” she said, still not looking around. “Neither do I. And don’t think they can’t all hate us. You don’t see how they look at me, or hear some of the things they say. And I don’t want you to.”

He looked up, saw that she had turned around to face him at last. “But why?”

Her mouth was a thin line. “It’s the way of the world.”

“It’s not fair!”

“Nothing is.”

“But why?” he cried. “Why? Why do I have to feel this way? Why does anypony? I shouldn’t have to feel this way, always alone, always unloved—”

With startling speed, his mother was across the room, towering over him.

“You-selfish-spoiled-little-brat!” Mira Pisaurina slapped him rapidly, alternating cheeks as she spoke.

“You feel alone and unloved?” she hissed. “Well, welcome to the world, everyone feels alone and unloved! The world is a mad, carnivorous beast! All life is its garden! It preys upon the weak, even as it tries to break the strong!”

Fighting back tears, she ended in a hoarse whisper, “And at the end, no matter what you do, it harvests you!”

Then, she sighed, turning away as if defeated. “And, just for the record, I love you. So… you’re not alone.” Suddenly exhausted, she began walking slowly back towards their storage area. “Now, go set the table. I’ll have dinner ready soon.”

The colt paused, then closed the distance between them in a rush, embracing his mother fiercely. She gave one of her startled gasps, as she always did when suddenly hugged. Then she turned, and hugged him back.

Bluebottle closed his eyes, squeezing tighter, desperately treasuring the moment while it lasted. He never felt so secure as when he was in her embrace, as if she could somehow envelop him completely.

“Alright, alright,” she said at last, pulling away from him. She looked at Bluebottle fondly, shaking her head. “Ah, my son,” she said, stroking his mane. “What am I going to do with you?”

He grinned. “Spoil me rotten with mint cookies?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes, and brought out the treats she had bought for him. He whooped and soared in the spacious cavern, even as she shook her head and went back to preparing his dinner.

Most of dinner was taken in silence. Mira ate little, when she ate at all, and tonight was no exception. She mostly drank her tea, and nibbled on a few sprigs of parsley. Blue, on the other hand, more than made up the difference. And at his inevitable Are you gonna finish that? she rolled her eyes and pushed her plate over to him, watching him devour the remaining potatoes and mixed greens.

Eventually, reluctantly, Mira broke the quiet between them. “I’ve been thinking about moving,” she said.

Bluebottle swallowed the last of his dinner. “Why?”

She gave one of her shrugs. “I think our time here has about run its course. We should try our luck someplace where there are more ponies.”

His ears perked up. “Like Manehattan?”

She frowned. “Why is it when a city comes up, that’s the only name anypony thinks of? There are other cities in the world. Even just in Equestria.”

“Like Canterlot?”

She shifted uneasily. “Well, that might be a bit too big. And I don’t relish the idea of hiking up and down a damned mountain. This cliff side’s bad enough.”

“I bet you could manage.”

“Probably I could.”

He grinned. “I could fly you.”

She tried not to smile and encourage his foolishness, but it leaked through despite her best efforts. “Maybe you could, in a few years,” she conceded. “But not yet. You’re still finding your strength, and I’m heavier than I look.”

“And stronger,” he pointed out.

Mira’s smile vanished. “I’ve had to be,” she said. She looked away, her eyes full of memories.

Blue sighed. After a long pause, he asked, “Well, where do you want to go?”

His mother gave another of her shrugs, as she often did when she didn’t want to share her thoughts.

Bluebottle tried to think of something else to cheer her up, but now that the food was really hitting, he was having trouble just keeping his eyes open. Finally, he pushed away his plate. “I think I’ll go to bed.”

She looked back to him, frowning. “So early?”

He nodded, yawning. “Uh-huh. Can you make my hammock?”

“Of course.” She rose, started towards the section of cavern they used as his bedroom. “Do you want a goodnight kiss?”

He shook his head as he followed her, yawning. “Nah, don’t need it. I’m really tired.”

“Alright then. Come here, let’s get you wrapped up.”

She lifted him up, rotating him carefully, lovingly, so as not to disturb him. Meanwhile, he curled into a semi-fetal position, already starting to doze. In a short time, he was suspended in his hammock, in a deep and exhausted sleep.

She caressed his sleeping form through the protective silk. “Sweet dreams, my son,” she smiled. “Soon, we shall find a better place for you than this. You will see.”

And, illuminated by the dying embers of their fire, her many-legged shadow dancing on the wall beside her, Mira Pisaurina began to sing lullabies to her son.