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

Splintershard - TheMajorTechie



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

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2|1 ◈ Of Escape

It was a rocky start, but it was all that they had.

A new nation, from ashes and flame,

Rose like a phoenix;

After which it was named.


"Are you absolutely sure about this?"

"Yup."

Emily stared at the old cracks that spindled across the rocky ceiling. "It's not exactly... uh, safe-looking, if you ask me."

"Yeah, yeah, just keep walking. We want out, we're taking the old construction pass. There's absolutely no way the guards are gonna let us out if we just waltz up to them."

The girl rolled her eyes, running her fingers along the dusty bricks lining the corridor. Starlight had a point, though; with how much King Blueblood knew about her, he'd absolutely despise the idea of them leaving Old Guard territory-- or for that matter, defecting.

She snorted. That's basically what they were doing at this point, wasn't it? Starlight did say something about trying to get out before she died in the war, and that's basically what they were doing again now. Also, that whole spiel she had about not using magic to escape. That was also pretty important.

"Left."

Emily peered down the long passage. Just like all the others she'd walked through, it was unlit. Not that it was much of a problem, though-- Starlight's little fire spell solved that problem handily. The flickering light from the flames at her fingertip also served to illuminate the still-red prints on her hands from lifting that trapdoor. She scratched at the light chafing on her fingers with her other hand. That was one heckuva rough handle she had to lift back there.

"C'mon, Emi. Stop letting your mind wander. You've been standing there for nearly half a minute now!"

Right. Left. Er... what? Emily blinked, taking her attention off her finger-candle spell thingy.

"Left..." Starlight's voice groaned, "I've already told you, walk down the left corridor. The right hall loops back to the training grounds last I remember. Now go, before I start forgetting the directions."


"Starlight, you've been pretty quiet this whole time we've been walking. Something on your mind?"

"No, not really. It's just--" Starlight paused. "The scroll. That time travel spell that we discussed earlier-- I thought it was the only copy in existence. I... I'm still trying to wrap my head around the thought of there being multiple. Here-- the next right should be the last one. If my memory is correct, you should find another trapdoor."

The mare fell back to idle muttering. As for Emily, she made the final turn, finding herself standing beneath a well-rusted square of metal. Her eyes flitted over the pitted surface, searching for a handle, or at the very least some indication on how the thing opened. Based on looks alone, this trapdoor was definitely not going to open the same way as the one she'd entered through.

"--Oh, um, here--" Starlight sputtered, "This one's reinforced since it isn't within the Old Guard's territory. I'll handle it."

Without warning, the familiar glow of Starlight's aura enveloped Emily's hands. The same soon went for the trapdoor, which promptly lifted.

Emily poked her head out of the hole, peering around at her new surroundings. From the looks of the largely-derelict buildings in the area, this place was probably some sort of town... though, given how dark it was outside, it wasn't easy to tell for sure. She grunted, heaving herself up over the edge and crawling onto the overgrown grass. Starlight's magic once again took hold of the trapdoor, shutting it quietly behind her. A quiet rustle was the only indication of their exit as the torn-up greenery fell back into place.

Brushing herself off, the girl turned her attention to the night-shrouded silhouettes of the buildings before her; broken beams and collapsed rooftops stood against the starry night sky in some buildings, while others seemed to fare a little better with their boarded-up windows and flickering glimpses of candlelight.

"Hey."

Emily jumped at the sound of the new voice, whirling around to find herself staring down the muzzle of a weary-looking mare.

"It's mighty late out," the mare rubbed an eye, squinting in the light of her torch and leaning closer to the girl. "It ain't safe at night bein' this close to the Everfree. Mah eyes ain't quite what they used to be, but you don't look like a guard or a soldier to me. What're ya doin' 'round these parts?"

"I... er--" Emily sputtered, her hands tightening around her backpack straps. "Honestly, I really still don't know. I just got here, and... well, it's really late at night, and--"

"Don't smell like one of them soldiers, either, though you're still mighty sweaty," the mare sniffed.

Emily rolled her eyes. "Well, it'd help quite a bit if I had a place to stay at for a little while. Maybe I'll even take a bath. Or a shower. Something."

The mare nodded, turning around and gesturing to follow.

"Hey Star," Emily muttered under her breath, "You think I should follow the creepy old mare?"

"I mean, based on her accent alone, I'm pretty sure she can be trusted."

"Wait, accent? You can't just judge someone by their accen--"

"Are ya comin', sugarcube? If you're lookin' for somewhere to get some shut-eye, Ah've got plenty of spare rooms in the house! It's been a looooong time since anypony's ever slept in 'em, though."

That only made things sound even worse!

"Just go already," Starlight's voice droned. "I'll fill you in later."

Fine then. If she died tonight, then she'd have Starlight to blame.


...Very... apple-y.

Like, this place not only smelled like apples, but was so saturated with apples that the air itself even tasted like apples. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing-- just... a little weird.

"It's less weird if you think about the fact that we're walking through Sweet Apple Acres, Emi."

Oh.

...

...

So like that one place in Pennsylvania, then!

"Your commentary never ceases to amaze me."

If only she could smack Starlight for that quip. Emily sped up a little, slowing down again at the side of the aging mare.

"So... what were you doing out so late when you came across me?"

"Just takin' a walk, that's all," the mare sighed. "Been a long while since I've had a good walk. The kids always tell me that Ah need to 'stay safe indoors' and such these days. Rumor has it that the Old Guard wants to cross our borders and nip at the Phoenix's behind."

Emily raised a brow. "Phoenix? Why would the Old Guard want to attack a phoeni--"

"She's talking about the Ashen Phoenix faction. Most ponies in the Old Guard call it Ashen for short, though."

"Well--" the old mare chuckled, "If you wanna ask somethin' like that, then you're gonna be in for one heckuva lecture, sugarcube. Perhaps you should've asked your ma and pa 'bout it before comin' to me. Ah'm just an old mare mindin' the farm, that's all. It's nice to have some company every now and then."

"So you don't mind me being a human then, I'm guessing?"

The mare paused, cocking her head. "Hoo-min? Well, Ah'd be darned! It's been quite some time since Ah've heard of a hoo-min 'round here!"

Emily's eyes lit up. "So you're saying that there's other humans like me here? I--"

"Mm-mmm--" the mare shook her head. "Just sayin' that Ah haven't heard of 'em since Ah was a filly."

"Oh."

"Well," the old mare stopped in front of a rickety-looking farmhouse. She pushed the door open. "Ah'm plum-tuckered out from tonight's rounds. You can pick any room you'd like-- Ah'm just in the room by the stairs."

Without another word, the mare retreated deeper into the house, disappearing down a short hall beside the stairwell. Emily glanced about, squinting in the dimly-lit foyer. Faded photographs dotted the walls, hiding the peeling wallpaper. She didn't dare take off her shoes in this place; just the look of the floorboards could give her a splinter.

"C'mon, Emi. We can stock up and leave in the morning. This mare's offering us housing for the night, so we might as well take it. Who knows when we'll get to sleep on a bed again?"

Emily nodded, climbing the stairs.

"I think I see a room to the right at the top. We can sleep in there."

Again, the girl nodded. A good night's rest, some directions, and food would all probably be important to have if she was gonna trek all the way over to some faraway place. Though, given how strong the smell of apples was even inside the house, she already had a creeping idea of what the food was going to be like around here.

At the very least, if she couldn't take anything with her, the smooshed granola bars at the bottom of her backpack would last her a day or two.


"Rise an' shine, sugarcube!" the old mare's muffled voice rung through the room.

Emily groaned. Was it morning already? She cracked an eye, peering lazily toward the bare window-- yup, it was morning alright.

"Eh--" she turned, throwing the covers over her head. "Mornings are overrated."

"Oh come on, Emi, we agreed to this! Now's not the time to lounge around!"

"Shush, Whisper. It's powernap time."

The old mare knocked on the door. "Ah made breakfast! There's some apple fritters down on the table if you want some. Ah'll be out mindin' the orchard if you need anythin'."

Emily's eyes shot open.

"Are you kidding me?" Starlight grumbled, "You won't wake up to get something done, but you'll wake up if there's--"

Fine, fine, whatever. Next time she'll wake up without breakfast then. See how Starlight's mana pool likes it.

"Wha-no! That's not the poi--"

Emily smirked, sitting up in bed.

"...Oh. You're messing with me."

"Yup," the girl chirped, hopping out of bed. "So, after breakfast, we should probably ask around about things we might need for the trip. Where are we heading again?"

"The Ashen Phoenix faction-- that's the place where the scroll supposedly is, according to Blueblood's spy. It's a pretty long distance from here, though, so if the train from here to there's still functional, then we are absolutely taking it."

Emily raised a brow. "...And where's here, exactly?"

"Ponyville."

Wow. So creative.

"Hey! I know what you're thinking, y'know!"

Yeah, yeah, mind-reading shenanigans and stuff. Still doesn't make the name 'Ponyville' any less weird. So, it's either walking there or taking a train, then?

Starlight grumbled an affirmation.

"'Kay then."


The old mare's shovel hit the ground. "Eh?" she turned to face Emily. "You want to travel up to Canterlot?"

"Catnerlot? No, I said that we're gonna go to--"

"Emi," Starlight whispered, "Ashen is the country. Canterlot is the capital."

"--er, nevermind. So... uh," Emily kicked at the dirt under her shoes. "What kind of supplies do you think we'd nee--"

"Didja like the pie?" the old mare cut in.

"Yeah, yeah, the pie's goo--"

"Wrong!" the mare burst, "You ain't listenin', young lady! Ah made fritters! Talkin' and conversin' is a two-part ordeal, and y'all only got one part nailed."

"Wha--"

A wide grin spread across the old mare's muzzle.

Emily blinked. "W-wait...Ohhhh--"

The old mare followed up with a hearty chuckle. "Oh, you remind me so much of mah grandchildren! They're a real chatty bunch-- and real fun to mess with, at that! Hoo-- it's been a long while since Ah've had the chance to do it again!"

Her laughter died down to a light wheeze. She leaned on her shovel, taking a moment to recompose herself.

"So, uh... Catnerlot!" Emily forced a grin. "Do you know how long it'd take to get there?"

"Hm, tough to say--" the old mare rasped, "--been a while since Ah've been travelin'. Prolly some... two? Two... three hours by train?"

"Gotcha," Emily clicked her pen, tucking the notepad into a pocket. "Catnerlot by train it is, then!"

"Canterlot," Starlight corrected. "Also, where the buck did that notepad come from?"

"My backpack."

"Your backpack what?" the old mare cocked her head. "Sorry if mah hearin's a bit dull these days, but I didn't quite catch that last part there."

Another one of Starlight's facehoofs (facehooves?) echoed through Emily's head. This entire exchange was getting a little awkward even for her now.

...

...

"My backpack!" Emily repeated, slipping the bag from her shoulders. "I was just wondering if... we could maybe have some food that we could bring with us along the way? I'm not completely sure about whether or not the train you mentioned is even working or not, so it'd probably be a good idea to bring some extra supplies and stuff in case--"

"Ya get lost? Ah understand," the old mare nodded. "But, ya gotta work for them stuffs! Us Apple family folk have never been the kind to raise slackers, and Ah ain't gonna start now with you, either!" she pointed a hoof at the ripe apples hanging from the nearby trees. "Ah know y'ain't the type suitable for apple-buckin', but you humans have your crafty lil' hands to do the pickin' instead. If you can pick me some baskets, Ah'll letcha keep half the pickings. Deal?"

Welp. Not like there was any other option from the looks of it.

Emily held out a hand. "Deal."