• Published 10th Jun 2020
  • 764 Views, 31 Comments

Splintershard - TheMajorTechie



Once upon a time, Equestria flourished. That time is now long-gone.

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2|2 ◈ The City

Regardless of form, the soul within still churns.
Beyond the everlasting existence, there is a voice that still yearns.
Regardless of skill, regardless of wit--
Even if it means clawing it all back, bit-by-bit--
The world still turns.


"Left."

"You said left three times already!"

"No, I said left twice and right once. Now take a left here. I know these roads."

Suuuuure. Emily turned the corner, wandering down yet another eerily quiet street.

"Hey Star?"

"Yes?"

"I thought you said that the inner city was well-funded. This--" she gestured at the derelict buildings around them. "--looks abandoned."

A groan rose from Starlight.

"Hey, it's not my fault that this place is rotting away!"

"Just... keep going. We're still only at the edge of inner Canterlot. Let's just hope things are better deeper into this place."


Well whoop-de-doo, it ain't. Save for the fact that there were far less abandoned buildings around, there was practically zero difference between this place and the edge of the inner city. The... outer-inner city? Emily paused in thought. Ounner?

"No."

Fair enough. "Ounner" would be a weird word, anyway. Didn't save them from the fact that this place still looked like an outdoor thrift shop with all these street markets lining the road. Emily wandered a little closer, eyeing the ragtag booths selling everything from clothing to so-called "cure-all potions". She didn't dare question the booths in the dark alleys, though.

"Emi," Starlight's voice warned, "I'd recommend you best stay away from those shops. We have a mission, remember? Hey-- hey, what did I just say about staying away from--"

Emily placed a few bits on the counter of one of the better-constructed shops.

"Oh? You're a strange creature," the stallion behind the counter hummed, eyeing the paper bills on the table. "Well, lass--you are a lady, yes?"

Emily nodded.

"Righto," the stallion took the bits, setting the menu in front of the girl. "What's your order, lassie? It's all the same price."

"Emi..."

Chill out, Star, it's only street food! What could go wrong? Emily read over the options on the menu. "A... daffodil sandwich?" she raised a brow. "What's that?"

"Ah, a classic!" the stallion laughed. "You sure ain't from 'round here, are you?"

"Nope."

He smiled, placing a wrapped sandwich in front of her. "Well, I hope you have a good one! Come back again if you want another!"

Emily nodded, unzipping her backpack and slipping the sandwich in--though, she did have to remove a few more empty tins. So much for using them as projectiles.

"Just... hurry up. Why'd you even buy a sandwich anyway if you aren't going to eat it?"

Yet. She bought it as a snack for later. At least that way, she wouldn't have to keep munching on candied apple pieces for the rest of the day. Though, on a second though, it being a daffodil sandwich might lead to some wei--

"Alright Emi, we get it. You wanted something to eat for later. Can we please keep going now?"

Geez. Fine, mom.

Another groan from Starlight. Perfect timing!

"Wait--you're taunting me, aren't you?"

Emily smirked, putting her backpack back on and setting off again.

"Maybe."


"Hey Star?"

"Hm?"

Emily's steps slowed to a stop. "What was this place like back when you were around?"

"Well... uh," Starlight seemed to stumble for words. "I mean, it was definitely better-kept than it is now, that I know for sure. Especially so if you're talking the pre-war days."

Emily didn't respond; she had none. Her steps continued, lightly echoing through the quiet streets. She tried her best to ignore how a pony would operate something like the rusty bike leaning against a building. This place was really giving her the creeps. What happened to the street marts? Those at least made the place feel less... dead.

It took another ten or so minutes of wandering before something genuinely interesting came up again--guards.

Or more specifically, an entire squadron of guards, all positioned around a single building. Heck, the building itself looked to be quite a bit newer as well, with its brighter colors and lack of any visible sagging.

"Er... Emi?" Starlight whispered, "I think we've found the place we're looking for. Unless we stumbled upon some random government office, setting up guards around that place absolutely means that there's something important going on inside."

Emily took another step towards the building. "Well, then we should as--"

"No, bad idea!" Starlight's voice rung in her head as her legs locked up. "I don't have all that much experience with the Ashen myself, but I'd rather we don't risk getting ourselves thrown into a dungeon again. Let's watch what happens for now."

She stepped back, nodding. Even if she was saying the polar opposite of what she'd been pushing for all this time, Starlight did have a point.

"Yes, now let's find a place to camp out in the meantime. I don't know how long those guards will be standing there, but our best chance at getting in would be when they're either changing shifts or distracted. And--" Starlight gasped. "--we have a distraction."

"Huh?"

"If I could grin, I would right now," Starlight continued. "Remember how King Blueblood sent out some of his ponies to retrieve the scroll for the Old Guard? If they haven't already been through here, we can absolutely count on them being the distraction that we need."


That definitely took a while.

Emily peeked out from the alley, watching the cloaked teams of ponies descend on the building. Surprisingly enough, the guards seemed to put up little fight, if any at all--one, in fact, even stepped aside for the intruders! She yelped as something brushed against her head.

"Oi--what was that?" one of the cloaked ponies peered into the alley. "I swear I bumped up against somethin' there. Heard it, too."

"Prolly a rat," another voice sneered. "Get over here, they took the bribe!"

Good job on the invisibility, Star.

"Thanks."

The cloaked pony frowned, narrowing his eyes before leaving.

Emily peeked out again. One of the two teams were now gone, though the other stood nearby. Probably some backup team of some sort or something like that. It'd be best to avoid going out in the open until both the cloaked ponies and the guards were distracted.

Welp. More waiting it is, then. Sighing, Emily pulled herself back into the alley. It was getting late now. She'd might as well try that sandwich she'd bought earlier.

"Yes, good idea," Starlight's voice commented. "Some food would definitely help out at the moment. I'm not sure how much more mana I've got to throw into this cloaking spell, so would you mind moving a little deeper into the alley?"

A nod. Emily stared into the darkness ahead of her.

"Oh, come on, you aren't afraid of the dark now, are you?"

"Wha--no I'm not!" Emily burst. She started pacing deeper into the alley, tracing her fingers along the wall. "See? I'm not afraid!"

One of the cloaked ponies trotted into the alley. "Who goes there? Show yourself!"

Emily tensed, her steps slowing to a tiptoe. The pony pulled out a torch, sweeping it through the air as she ventured deeper into the darkness. "Star..." Emily mouthed. "This spell you've got had better hide my shadow."

"Yeahhhh... about that--"

Oh no. Her eyes widened at the shadow she cast in the approaching torchlight. She took another step back, crossing her fingers for the cloaked pony to not notice the movement. The slow clop of hooves on cobblestone echoed all around her.

"Ay, git back over here!"

A wave of relief passed over the girl. The light of the torch lingered for a couple more seconds before retreating from the alley. If it weren't for the sheer incompetence of these ponies, she would've been dead meat just a moment ago. Emily closed her eyes, leaning against the wall. That was too close.

Anyway, sandwich time. Emily dropped her backpack on the ground, unzipping and rummaging for the daffodil sandwich. Though, whether or not it'd taste good was still up in the air.

"Yeahhh... daffodil sandwiches are more of a pony cuisine than anything I'm familiar with for humans like you."

Wait.

Wait, aren't daffodils poisonous to eat? Was that street food merchant trying to kill her?! Dangit, if only she had an internet connection to look it up. Now was absolutely not the time to accidentally poison herself and Star. And... hold on a moment, Starlight said it was a pony cuisine?

"Yup. We aren't like the horses you have back in your world, that's one thing for sure."

Emily frowned, picking the flowers out of the sandwich. Looks like dinner's going to be bread tonight.


"Hey."

"Heyyyy."

"Emi, did you fall asleep again? I-- ugh."

Emily lifted her head, squinting in the darkness. "Wuh? N-no, I was just resting a bit, that's all."

"Suuure," Starlight deadpanned. "Anyway, I can hear hoofsteps passing by. I think they're leaving, but I can't tell for sure until you go and check."

Oh? Emily paced to the end of the alley, peering around the corner again. Luckily, this time there wasn't anybody there to bump into her. Sure enough, it looked like both teams of cloaked ponies were leaving now--empty-hooved. That... probably wasn't a good sign, to be honest.

A ball of flame burst from her hand.

"Ack--" Emily swung her hand, inadvertently launching the fireball out of the alleyway. "Star, what was that for?"

A flash of light and a loud bang lit up the nighttime atmosphere. A smug grin spread across the girl's face as it dawned on her.

"Yup. Distraction for the guards. You're still invisible, and I've also created a bubble of silence around you. Now git. I can only hold up so many concurrent spells for so long."

Emily watched the guards rushing from their posts to the now-burning wreck of an abandoned building across the street. As soon as the final mare left her post, she sprinted from the alley. Step after bounding step, the girl practically flew past the panicked guards. They'd have much bigger worries to deal with if she pulled this off. She paused at the unlocked doors of the compound.

"Forget about the fact that it's unlocked," Starlight's voice urged. "They've already shown their incompetency earlier. Take advantage of that and go before my spells give out."

Right. She slipped into the building, carefully shutting the door behind her. At least that was done and over with. Now that they were in, all she'd have to do is... Emily furrowed her brows, looking about the empty room. No, empty was an understatement--this place was absolutely stripped-bare.

"Emily, stairs to the left. We have to check anyway just in case, though I'm starting to get a bad feeling about this."

Emily nodded. A place as empty as this felt more than a little off. She walked to the stairs, being careful not to make too much noise as she ascended them. The next floor was equally empty, though it seemed that this floor might've been used more recently than the ground-floor; a few scattered papers lay collecting dust, strewn about as if they'd fallen from their original container.

"Huh. Blank," Emily commented, nudging one of the papers aside. "Star, you think these might've been planted here?"

"In all honesty, yes. This feels like a badly-staged prank."

"Oh come on, it's got to be here somewhere! We've come all this way already!" Emily squat down and brushed through more loose paper. "Help me out, Star! They can't all be blank! Just because those cloaked ponies from earlier didn't find anything doesn't mean there isn't anything!"

"There isn't. Not anymore."

Emily groaned. "Stop being so cryptic! There isn't what? What do you mean by 'not anymore'? Are you telling me that they just picked up their stuff and ran?"

It took a moment before Starlight's voice responded with a quiet "yes".

"But--"

"Why else would the guards not care about the infiltration teams? Or the fact that the building's completely empty? They must've received a warning about the teams before we arrived. However, if my guess is correct and they've moved the research somewhere else, then I think I know where the scroll may have gone. It likely wouldn't be here in Canterlot anymore though, given how it'd be easy to redirect those infiltration teams to a new building."

"So we came here for nothing," Emily deadpanned. "Great." She sat down with a huff, leaning her back against one of the bare walls. "Where do we go now?"

"Well... based on what I remember of the Ashen Phoenix's historical alliances, I'd say that they chose the safer route of sending the scroll up north to the Crystal Empire. The only other option I can think of is that they've built another facility somewhere in secret."

Emily stood up again, pacing towards the stairs. "Well, let's go find that secret facility then! The sooner we can, the better, and then I can finally take some time to learn that portal spell and go back home!"

"Emi, no. We'd have a better chance going directly to Princess Cadance in the Crystal Empire than to keep snooping around here in Canterlot. Given its limited accessibility, it'd be much easier to spot any intruders up there. Not to mention the fact that if anything goes wrong, there'd be... well, less casualties than if the research were conducted here in Canterlot."

Fine, Star has a point. It'd probably be best to nuke someone else than to accidentally nuke yourself, however unethical that is.

"...Nuke?"

"Nothing!" Emily whispered. "So... I'm guessing we should head out now, right?"

"Yup."


Emily let out a shallow sigh, kicking a pebble along the road.

"Hey, something on your mind?"

"Yeah. That stupid scroll's on my mind," the girl gave the pebble another kick. "Now I need to get ready for another long-distance travel session... er..." she frowned. "--thing. Whatever. Point is, I'm still stuck in this world. It's been fun and all to be able to learn magic and explore and stuff, but finding out that I'm not even close to being able to go home? I'm starting to wonder why I'm even going after the scroll in the first place. Shouldn't have even gone through the portal. Sorry for not listening back then, Star."

That definitely seemed to catch Starlight off-guard. "Er... apology accepted? I mean, I probably should've just taken over your body again or something to keep you from jumping through, so I think we've both got some blame on ourselves."

The pebble rolled into a storm drain. It took a couple of seconds for it to hit the bottom. Emily continued to stare at where it was moments ago.

"Here--" Starlight blurted, "--how about we take a look at the street markets again? I know you were a little interested in them earlier. Why don't we use some of our bits to buy a little something for ourselves in the meantime?"

Emily began walking again. It wasn't long before she came across another cluster of street markets, though the majority of the individual stands had since closed for the day. She wandered over to one of the few that hadn't yet fully closed.

"Ah, a customer this late?" the old mare at the stand squinted at Emily. "Quite the odd-looking one, you are. Do you see anything that interests you?" She kicked something behind the stand. A mechanical clicking began to emanate from the blocky base of the counter as shelves began to open themselves in front of her. "Take your time, it's not like I get many customers anyhow."

Emily picked up a nearly-empty bottle, holding it up to the moonlight.

"Ohh, that? That there's just a used potion flask. Don't think it's ever been washed, though."

"There's a lot of these bottles."

"Bulk-buy," the old mare snapped back. "Don't question the used goods." She slid a foggy crystal ball across the counter. "This one's a beaut."

And a good blunt-force bludgeoning tool. Emily rolled her eyes, pushing it back towards the mare. "No, I'm fine. Do you have anything wearable?"

"Hrmf, yes, yes I do--" the old mare stumbled backward a little, yelling at someone in the building behind her. She glanced back at Emily, showing off a warm smile. "--hold on just a moment, I'll bring out the stock."

Emily watched the mare disappear into the building. Though there were drapes covering the window, she could still see the old mare talking to somebody before picking up a box. She emerged from the doorway and set it on the counter.

"Go on, pick one!" she pressed, nudging the box towards the girl. "They're all the same low price of five bits."

"Hm... how about this one?" Emily picked out one of the less-tangled necklaces. The amulet dangling from the string glinted in the moonlight.

The old mare grinned. "Yes, yes, a fine choice! Five bits and it is yours."

A single five-bit bill landed on the counter.

"Thank you for your business!" the old mare pulled the bill closer. "Now scram. This mare needs her beauty sleep."

Emily winced at the slam of the door.

"Don't worry about it, Emi," Starlight hummed. "She's probably just cranky. She did comment on how late it was."

Speaking of which--why was Starlight quiet that entire time? She'd expected at least one or two remarks about that old hag of a shopkeeper, but apparently they never came.

"If I could shrug, I'd be doing that now. I just wanted you to cheer up a little, that's all. I know we've got a long trek ahead of us, and being down in the dumps most certainly isn't going to help."

Fair enough. Emily held the amulet necklace up to the moonlight. The large emerald embedded in it stood out against the dull metal making up the rest of the amulet. Starlight had said something about enchanting crystals to do things, right? This amulet would probably be useful for that sort of stuff.

"Yeah."


"Emily, are you going to keep on staring at that thing until we reach the Crystal Empire?"

"Hm? No, I'm not!" Emily dropped the amulet, letting it fall against her chest on the necklace. "I just think it's shiny, that's all."

"Hey."

"Hey yourself. What's up?"

"Emi, that wasn't me."

That stopped her in her tracks. Slowly, she began to turn. There was a mare standing behind her.

"Saw you were admiring that necklace," the mare smirked, walking closer to the girl. "You enjoying the shiny, thief?"

"W-wait--I think you've got the wrong--"

The mare lit her horn, pinning Emily against the facade of one of the nearby buildings. "Got the wrong creature? Oh, I doubt it. I only see one creature 'round here with my amulet, and guess what?" her smile sent chills down the girl's spine. "It's you. Boys?"

Now would be a great time for some magic, Star!

A shrill whistle came from the mare. One-by-one, ponies began to emerge from the shadows.

"On second thought, hold off for a moment," the mare took one final step towards Emily. "Do you know how long that amulet's been missing?"

Yeesh. Guess it's villainous monologuing time. Emily rolled her eyes. "Too long?"

"Yes! You're such a smart girl..." the mare leaned in close enough for Emily to smell her breath. "...it'd be a shame if it were to be put on a necklace and worn by someone unworthy of such a luxury."

Starlight, what the heck are you doing?!

"Trying to get us out of this mess, what does it look like?" Starlight's voice grunted. "It'd be easier for me to take control if you relaxed a little, y'know."

Emily took a deep breath... and went limp. In an instant, she felt all sensation once again leave her body as Starlight took the reigns. Splinter flew from her pocket as Starlight overpowered the mare's own magic. She took the momentary shock of the mare to form a shield of air.

"Run."

"No no, I've got this--" Starlight muttered under her breath. "--I've dealt with much tougher foes in the past."

"Amulet!" the mare screeched. One of the ponies that stood behind her pulled something from his saddlebag, tossing it forward.

"Run."

The mare grit her teeth, snatching the second amulet from the air. A snarl escaped from her as she raised it above Starlight's shield.

"Run, dangit Star, run!"

It was like the shield wasn't even there. The amulet glowed with a crimson light the moment it struck the shield, cutting through almost effortlessly in a single swing. Short to say, that finally got Starlight to scramble. She narrowly dodged another swing of the amulet-knife thing and ran.

"What the heck was that all about, Star?"

"No time to talk," Starlight panted. "That madmare's got a weapon enchanted to slice through spells!"

"Try and throw her off maybe!" Emily's voice chirped. "Turn a corner or something. Squeeze 'em into a tight space and blast them with some fire!"

Starlight nodded, eyeing the next gap between buildings up ahead. Both of her hands burst into flame as she spewed fire at their pursuers. A momentary glance proved its effectiveness--the mare and her group of thugs were now taking the time to run around the flames. She darted into the alley, continuing to leave a trail of fire in her wake.

"Oh no you don't--" the mare stood heaving on the sidewalk in front of the alley, this time holding a different amulet. "--your flames can't do anything so long as I'm here." She took a step into the fire, completely unfazed by the scorching heat. "Now, about that necklace..."

Starlight's eyes widened as the mare once again pulled out the cutting amulet, holding it alongside the one she'd been using to resist the flames. She looked over her shoulder. Nothing but brick; there was nowhere to run.

"Your time is up," the mare smirked. "No more tricks. No more space. How many amulets do you think I can use at once? Two? Three?" the grin on her face grew more manic by the second. "Oh, I'd give up all my amulets just to get the one around your neck."

What was going on with this mare?!

"Tick-tock, your time's running out!" the mare chuckled.

There wasn't even room for Starlight to levitate anymore, and teleportation was absolutely out of the question with how unfamiliar this place was, not to mention the confined space. She cast another shield spell.

The mare sliced cleanly through it.

Another shield. This time, Starlight pulled some loose stones from the ground to use as secondary shields. Her aura began to flicker.

"No--" Emily's words became audible again as Starlight's possession spell failed. "Oh no."

"Aw. Out of magic already? Shame," the mare once again loomed over Emily. "And we were just getting starte--"

Clang.

"Hey, what the--where'd you even pull that fro--"

Clang. Emily wound up to hit the mare again with the empty candy tin. It was a good thing she hadn't zipped her backpack all the way shut. She made sure to hold on tight to Splinter with her other hand, though.

"Enough!" the mare roared, snatching the tin from Emily's hands. "You could've simply given me that amulet. You could've walked out of this unscathed, but now? I don't think I'll be playing nice anymore."

Emily tightened her grip around Splinter. With Starlight down for the count, this was all she had left.

The mare raised both amulets above Emily, readying for a final, blunt-force blow.

Please.

She braced herself as the amulets began to come down.

Please.

Emily clenched her eyes shut, ready to feel her skin be pierced by the sharpened ends of the amulets.

Please. One shot. Just a little magic.

Please.

A burst of light sprung from the shard of crystal topping Splinter, wrapping itself first around the wand's wooden surface, and next snaking its way up the girl's arm. Emily tightened her grip, her entire body vibrating as the light enveloped her. Both amulets shattered on contact with her skin, letting loose an explosion that rocked the entire city.