• Published 9th Jul 2019
  • 3,208 Views, 570 Comments

Scarlet - Skijarama

Forced to leave her peaceful hometown and flee for her life alongside a mysterious orphan filly named Primrose, New Equestrian war-veteran Scarlet Frost will have to use every resource at her disposal just to stay alive.

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Scarlet was acting almost entirely on autopilot, everything around her fading into nothingness. The second she and Primrose came out of their teleport in front of her home, she sprinted inside and scoured the entire place. In just under two minutes, she acquired a pair of saddlebags and loaded it up with a few stray fruits from her kitchen, an old combat dagger, and a pouch of bits she had kept on her nightstand.

After that, it was a frantic dash through the rain-soaked streets of Swanrun, guiding Primrose as she ducked into alleyways, only ever using her horn to light the way when absolutely necessary. With every step she took, every drop of rain that drowned her in more moisture, the fear and anxiety of her situation swelled in intensity several times over.

Finally, they came to an outside balcony that overlooked the ocean and waterfront. Scarlet slid to a stop there, giving Primrose a second to catch her breath while she swept her eyes over the area for any sign of their pursuers. Sadly, with things as dark as they were, and with only minimal arcane lighting on the docks, she wouldn’t be able to see a Nightblade even if they were in plain sight.

“Shit,” she swore under her breath, her face contorting with strain and frustration.

Primrose looked up at her before gulping down a lungful of air. “Where… where are we going?” she asked between her pants, her own eyes scouring the area below them intently.

“Somewhere safe, I hope,” Scarlet answered, her eyes following where she knew the shoreline was to the south. “But we need to get down to the beach without drawing attention. If I teleport us, though, the flash of light will draw attention. If we take the stairs, we’re likely to be seen by anypony below, and you can be sure that Silent already has Nightblades scrambling to block any ways out of the city.”

“I don’t think there are a lot of ponies down there,” Primrose said, squinting into the darkness. “I’m not seeing anypony, at least…”

“Welcome to a cloudy night in Swanrun,” Scarlet bit before shaking her head. “Still, teleporting is faster. We’ll just have to risk it and hope nopony’s looking. Grab on.”

Primrose nodded her head and curled her hoof into Scarlet’s cloak. Once her grip was firm, she nodded up at the unicorn and closed her eyes in anticipation. Scarlet looked down at her for a moment before igniting her horn and focusing on the spell. She needed somewhere out of the way, somewhere hard to spot. The only problem with that plan was that most of the good places for that were too far away for her to reach, tired and out of practice as she was.

Grimacing, she realized she would have to settle for the bottom of the cliff itself. A risky move, given they could very easily get caught up in a bunch of shrubbery and brush, maybe startle a sleeping bird or wild animal using the docks to get out of the rain. But there weren’t exactly many other options.

Scarlet closed her eyes and focused. Her magic flared brighter on her horn before, with a loud pop, she and Primrose vanished from their elevated position. The world around them flashed away before they re-emerged at the base of the cliff, thankfully none the worse for wear. Soft sand and small pebbles shifted under their weight as they landed.

And then Scarlet fell, a sharp gasp fleeing her lungs. All at once, her skull was filled with a fiery migraine, and her lungs were finding it difficult to get enough air. Her legs trembled and shook, feeling as if they may give out at any moment.

She had overdone it. She was spent. She would be casting no more spells tonight.

“Scarlet, get up,” Primrose whispered to her, shaking her shoulder. “C’mon, please get up!”

“Stop shaking me,” the unicorn eventually grumbled before forcing herself to stand on wobbling legs. She faltered once or twice before finally regaining her balance and composure. She looked down at Primrose to see her looking over her shoulder towards the stairs that worked their way down the cliffside.

“Are we safe?”

Scarlet shook her head and turned to the south. The beach stretched that way for quite some distance, and heading that way would leave them in the open for longer than was ideal. But, if she was remembering the layout as well as she thought she was, there would be shelter before long. “Not yet. Come on, and stay low and quiet,” she ordered before starting forward, her ears up and her body low to the ground.

Their progress was slow, but it was steady. Thunder occasionally rocked the world alongside flashes of light, providing brief instances of perfect clarity before the world was plunged once more into darkness. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore to their right was soon all that could be heard above the constant roar of the rain and the howling of the wind.

Scarlet looked up at the sky every so often, searching for any signs of pegasi following them. Thankfully, there didn’t seem to be anything, and soon enough the docks and the rest of Swanrun became obscured by a bend in the cliff face. She picked up the pace the moment the city was out of sight, turning her attention instead to the natural white stone wall on her left.

Finally, their sanctuary came into view. In the side of the cliff was a cave entrance, no higher than six feet tall and ten feet across. Relief flooded her system at the sight, and her power walk turned into a full-blown gallop. “Here, right here!” she shouted back at Primrose to be heard over the din of the weather before ducking into the cavern.

It was pitch dark inside, something that would normally be easily rectified. Sadly, with her magic as drained as it was, creating illumination would be difficult. She had to try, though. She took a deep breath and then channeled all of her remaining strength into her horn, just trying to get a tiny bit of light. Her skull pounded in protest to the action, and her chest constricted painfully, but she was able to get a faint glow on the very tip of her horn, just enough to let her see.

The cave was small, but it didn’t need to be anything more than that. She could imagine that were it not for the low roof, a collection of ponies could set up a campsite with a fireplace and three tents arranged in a circle before things became too cramped. Stalagmites and stalactites rose and fell from the floor and ceiling around the edges of the cavern, while the central floorspace was thankfully smooth and unmarred, save for a light dusting of sand blown in by the ocean wind.

Scarlet visibly relaxed, seeing that the place was both unoccupied and as she remembered it. She took a few steps before turning back to Primrose. “We’ll be safe here until the sun comes up,” she explained matter-of-factly.

The filly dragged herself into the cave, finally able to truly catch her breath and collect herself. She glanced around the cave for a few seconds, looking profoundly relieved. Then, with a whimper, her legs buckled underneath her, and she slumped to the ground with a thud.

Scarlet cussed bitterly, shed her saddlebags and marched over to the fallen filly. With a grunt of effort, she hefted Primrose up onto her back and slowly trudged for the end of the cave, kicking her saddlebags along with her the whole way. Once they were there, she deposited her passenger and promptly collapsed next to her to catch her breath.

After that, the two of them fell into a heavy silence while they rested. In that wordless quiet, Scarlet’s mind began to wander and catch up with everything that had just happened to her. She looked down at Primrose thoughtfully, gauging the filly’s condition. She was worn out and covered in even more mud and dirt than before, but she was otherwise unharmed.

Scarlet exhaled with relief, some tension fleeing her system. Her efforts had paid off, then. She saved the filly.

...But why had she?

Scarlet gazed out into the world outside and allowed the light on her horn to wink away. Without the spell clogging up any of her mind, she was able to think clearly and rationally again. And with that clarity came the return of a horrifying realization.

“...I’m such an idiot,” she muttered to herself, despair gripping her heart.

Primrose shifted beside her, and Scarlet could practically feel the filly’s eyes boring into her. “What do you mean?” she whispered.

Scarlet’s nostrils flared while the back of her skull began to tingle with anger. She turned her gaze down on Primrose, just able to see her shrinking down in fear under the unicorn’s ire. “What do I mean…?” Scarlet parroted slowly, one of her eyes twitching. “I just went and made a fugitive of myself by fighting members of the most elite group of assassins in all of New Equestria, interfering with them on a mission!”

Primrose cowered even further away with every word she heard, her ears falling completely flat.

Scarlet, too blinded by her own self-deprecation, couldn’t be bothered to give a damn. She rose to her hooves and began to pace back and forth. “My entire life has been uprooted! My job at the academy, my home, my friends! My mother lives up in Swanrun, did you know that?!” she ranted, her hooves stomping harder as time went on. “She’s going to learn that her only daughter, who barely made it out of the war alive, is now a wanted criminal! What is she going to think of me, then?! Will she hate me? Will she be disappointed? Is she going to grieve because the daughter she knew is long gone?!”

Primrose whimpered and screwed her eyes shut.

“What the hell was I thinking?!” Scarlet finally bellowed, idly sweeping her hoof out against one of the spikes of stone jutting up from the floor. Her blow carried enough force to break it, sending a long piece of rock falling to the floor and sending sand scattering aside. But with that, thankfully, Scarlet’s fury was spent. She heaved a tired sigh and turned back towards Primrose before crumpling back down onto her belly.

The silence returned, so thick and intense that being choked to death would probably be more comfortable. Scarlet’s ears twitched when she heard Primrose shifting in the back, though she didn’t bother lifting her eyes to look. Instead, she kept them glued firmly onto the cave floor, her mind lost in its own dread.

“...I’m sorry,” Primrose suddenly spoke up, causing Scarlet to jump and stare at her in bewilderment. The filly adjusted herself some more before speaking again. “I’m sorry you’re being hunted. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have broken into your house. I’m really sorry.”

Scarlet stared at her for a long while before sighing and shaking her head. “Ugh… apology accepted…” she grumbled before setting her chin down on her hooves. “But tell me something: why is Silent after you?”

Primrose’s ears perked up at the question, her head tilting to one side. “Huh?”

“I know him,” Scarlet went on, her eyes wandering back to the cave mouth. “We fought side by side a few times during some of the bloodier battles in the war. You don’t go through that with somepony and not develop a strong bond. I know his modus operandi, and I know he isn’t the sort to kill without reason. And try as I might, I can’t think of a single reason for him to want to kill a homeless filly like you...” she lifted her head in thought, her eyes narrowing. “So either he really hates you for some reason, or he’s operating under orders. But then that just begs the question of who on the Lunar Council would want you dead… any ideas?”

Primrose was utterly still, her eyes wide. She curled up a little more before finally sliding off her saddlebags and reaching into them. When she withdrew, she held the crystal lamp in her hooves again, its surface reflecting more light than anything else in the darkened chamber. Primrose eyed the family heirloom with curiosity, as did Scarlet before the filly at last answered. “I think it has something to do with this…”

Scarlet frowned. It made some degree of sense, now that she thought about it. Silent had been demanding that Primrose hoof it over when he had her cornered. If that was the case, though, then…

Scarlet hauled herself to her hooves and dragged herself painfully over to Primrose’s location, her eyes affixed to the odd object. “I remember him mentioning it, yes. What is this lamp of yours if it’s so important Silent would be ordered to kill you for it?”

Primrose shook her head. “I dunno… My mom gave it to me right before Silent killed her. She told me to run and keep it safe for as long as I could before going to draw him away. He killed her, and he’s been chasing me ever since. It’s been years, and every time he catches up to me, he tries to kill me and take it…”

That gave Scarlet pause. “Silent has been after you for years?” she echoed in complete disbelief. “And you’re still alive?”

Primrose tore her eyes away from the lamp and nodded at Scarlet. “Mhmm. Somepony was always there to help me, or I just got lucky,” she explained. But then her ears fell, and her gaze returned to the lamp. “But… h-he gets closer and closer to getting me every time. If you hadn’t shown up, he w-would have k-killed me… and I would have broken my promise to my mom.”

Scarlet watched Primrose for a few seconds before giving a quiet sigh and holding out a hoof. “Let me see that,” she instructed simply.

Primrose immediately clutched the lamp tighter against her chest as if to protect it, and her entire body compressed around it.

Scarlet rolled her eyes. “I just want to have a look. If somepony wants you dead over this, and I’m mixed up in it, I’d at least like to know what I butchered my entire life to defend.”

Primrose hesitated for a few seconds, but she eventually conceded the point. She slowly uncurled herself and timidly hoofed the lamp off to Scarlet.

Once she had it in her hooves, she restored the glow to her horn, painful as it was, to get a better look. Now that she was really looking, the signs of age became readily apparent. Every single edge had been worn smooth by erosion and the passing of time, and there was a colossal number of scratches and scrapes marring what would otherwise be a pristine surface. It was made of the same material as the crystals used to power Arcane Engines, though the origin of those crystals was as of yet a mystery to scholars everywhere.

She turned it over and caught sight of some aged inscriptions along the bottom. She immediately recognized them as runes from the long-dead language of Old Ponish, a tongue she had neglected to learn during her own studies. However, even if she didn’t understand the runes, it did tell her something about this artifact.

Something she intended to test.

Closing her eyes, she slowly lowered her head until the tip of her horn, and the gentle magic light that resided there made contact with the surface of the lamp. All at once, her mind was overwhelmed by an intense surge of magical feedback. Her ears were filled with the sound of distorted thunder erupting within her skull. Her entire body began to tingle with pins and needles, and her mouth was flooded with an excessively sweet and sugary taste. Her eyes suffered the worst, being assaulted by a formless blast of vivid and ever-shifting colors that made her migraine a thousand times worse.

Shouting in pain, Scarlet yanked her head back and dropped the lamp, allowing it to fall to the floor with a clatter. Primrose immediately scooped it up and held it close to her chest while her eyes remained trained on the now gasping unicorn.

Scarlet took several seconds to catch her breath and rain in her thoughts before allowing herself to speak. “W-wow… alright…” she stammered before looking down at the lamp with wide eyes. “That lamp of yours… it’s magical.”

Primrose tilted her head and looked down at it. “Well… I always knew it had magic in it. Part of that magic makes it unbreakable,” she explained before looking at Scarlet again. “But I dunno what the rest of the magic is.”

Scarlet gave her head a firm shake to clear the stars still cluttering her vision. “Neither do I, but whatever it is, it is powerful…” she stated before glaring at the lamp with scrutiny and fascination. “...And it does not wish to be fiddled with. I don’t think I have ever encountered so many wards placed on one object before.”

Primrose tilted her head again, one of her ears flicking. “So… what does that mean?”

Scarlet huffed and settled back down onto her belly. “It means, Primrose, that there is not a chance in the world that I could safely figure out what that thing is. I was a battlemage, I never dealt with wards this dense,” she explained before lowering her head and resting it on the cave floor. “So if we want to figure out what that thing is and why Silent’s superiors want it, then we need a ward expert…”

Primrose was quiet for a second before shuffling her lamp back into her saddlebags. Once it was secure, she shifted closer to Scarlet until she was pressing up against her side, sharing their body heat through the still soaked cloak. “Do you know anypony like that?”

Scarlet sighed and closed her eyes. “...Yes. An old and… very good friend,” she mumbled before letting out a long breath. “We can talk about it more in the morning. For now, get some sleep.”

“Oh… okay. Goodnight, Scarlet,” Primrose mumbled before settling down and closing her eyes.

Outside the cave, with the passing of time, the rain slowly began to die down, and the last clap of thunder was barely audible far in the distance. Soon, even the wind fell still, leaving the world in a state of near-perfect silence, disturbed only by the waves breaking upon the shore before receding back into the oceans as a new day began in New Equestria.