• Published 19th May 2020
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Rekindled Embers - applezombi



Hundreds of years after the death of Twilight Sparkle, a brutal theocracy rules over ponies with an iron hoof. A young pegasus mare slowly learns the truth about her world, and the lies her faith is built on.

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Chapters Next
Chapter 1

Part One: The Glow of Hope Lights the Torch of Revolution

Chapter 1

From an untitled scrap of notes, magically dated thirty-two years BF (Before Founding). Incomplete. Scrap was restored, preserved, and then locked in the vault at the secret archives of the Knights Mystic. Last accessed 934 AF.

“…ves that my plan might work. I went to Rainbow Dash’s funeral just yesterday. Nopony noticed me in this form; I suppose that’s a benefit. As lovely as it is to s… [illegible] …ping over the death of their precious pet pegasus, it proves my concept. I overheard Tw… [illegible] …th Princess Cadence that the four of them had lost their magical connection to the Elements when Dash died. I guess that means Rarity might still be alive out there somewhere, but it hardly matters if none of them are connected to the Elements anyways. Can you believe that idiot Dash died trying to…[an entire scrap of paper is ripped off here].

“…time travel is an idiotic cliché of an evil villain plot, but we’re committed. As long as what our pegasus ally tells us is true, it will be a simple… [illegible] …ter all, she did nearly destroy Equestria while she was still a foal. [Illegible]… believe it either if I hadn’t managed to interview the yak about the whole thing. She thought I was a reporter. [Page ends, the next page is ripped]

…is the biggest threat to our plans. Your job, for now, is to keep her busy so she doesn’t realize what’s going on. Keep her from the portal by any means if you have to until the time is right, and we can finally kill the bitch. Or better yet, have the brainwashed masses do it for us.”

[The notes are signed, but the signature is redacted in the original document.]

1106 AF (After Founding), New Canterlot City

The smell of grass, dirt, and pony sweat was a welcome combination in Emberglow’s nose. The rose-colored pegasus was running down the path, her short red mane bound in a ponytail behind her, bouncing about as she surged ahead of her pursuer. She giggled as she heard the stallion panting behind her, but she didn’t slow her gait, even though she was also nearly out of breath. It was a good time for a bit of a sprint.

The path was well trod, wooded and finely maintained. Emberglow knew that it was quite the privilege to live so close to the Everfree District of New Canterlot, with its myriad of parks and trails, wooded areas, grazing meadows, and wildlife preserves. She tried to do all her exercise here, and much of her studying as well. Sometimes both at the same time. She turned her head to look at her father, who was finally catching up.

“Next card please, Dad,” she panted. The black colored Earth pony with a short, military style cut blonde mane chuckled, but neither one of them slowed as he reached back into his saddlebag with his teeth and awkwardly retrieved the next flashcard.

“Ooo sur oo don wanna take a reak?” he mumbled through the paper he was holding in his teeth. Emberglow giggled. The two of them ran side by side as he held up the ‘question’ side of the flashcard for her to read. “Cuz his is reary awkward.”

“Multitasking is an essential part of medical work, Dad. You said so yourself. Why can’t I study and jog at the same time?” Emberglow asked, grinning playfully at him. Her father, Textile, just laughed as he held up the card for her to read. It wasn’t the first time Emberglow had studied this way; her father was kind enough to write out study questions on flashcards and have Emberglow read them while they ran. He might have thought the method a bit silly, but he played along for his daughter’s sake — she learned well during physical activity. It didn't stop him from teasing her about it every single time they did it, though. Her next test in her anatomy class focused on the skeletal system.

“Name the bone between the scapula and radius. Easy, dad. Humerus,” Emberglow scoffed. Her dad smiled, and flipped awkwardly to the next card. “Name the category of bones that are embedded within a tendon or a muscle, such as a kneecap.” Emberglow thought for a moment, her hooves pounding the trail as she ran and tried to remember her studies. “Sesamoid? It’s sesamoid bones, right?”

“Yup,” her dad said awkwardly. He flipped to a new card.

“Name the major bones of the wing. Dad, we haven’t gotten to pegasus bones yet. They won’t be on the test.”

“So you don’t know the answer?” her father asked tauntingly, after putting away the card in his mouth. Emberglow rolled her eyes as she ran. “Go on, Emberglow.”

“Humerus, ulna, radius, carpus, metacarpus, and, uh, digit?”

“That’s my girl,” the older stallion said fondly as he began to flip to the next card.

“Behind you!” came a voice suddenly from behind. Both Emberglow and her father moved to the side of the trail as the faster runner passed by on the left. They watched the pony moving quickly down the trail, in awe of her speed. She wore cotton work out clothing, quite similar to what Textile and Emberglow were wearing, only clearly made of higher quality materials. What really caught her eye, though, was the image sewn into the cloth. While many ponies had images of their cutie marks embroidered on the sides of their clothing, this pony had the mark of Saint Applejack, three red apples emblazoned on her exercise clothing.

“That’s a Knight!” Emberglow exclaimed, excited. Only Knights were allowed to wear the symbols of the six Saints — it was illegal for anypony else. The pony ahead of them was still not too far to hear, and she turned and waved at the two behind them. Emberglow couldn’t help herself; even though she was twelve, had her cutie mark, and was nearly about to begin her own higher education, she still reared up on her hind hooves and waved back. The Knight ran on, and Emberglow basked in the warmth of her perhaps silly fillyhood hero worship.

“I think that might be Knight Captain Ruby Berry. She’s the magistrate for the 14th ward of the Merchant’s Walk. Our magistrate. A fine pony,” Textile said.

“She’s a Knight Vigilant?” Emberglow asked as the two of them ran on. The pace was hard, though they had long been left behind by the magically enhanced pony in front of them. Due to the mysterious and secretive rituals that Knights employed to be stronger, faster, and generally better than other ponies, it was no wonder the Knight had left them in her dust.

“Yes, and she’s a fine example of Saint Applejack’s teachings, for sure. She’s been our magistrate for five years now. I’ve only had to go before her once, when that waste-of-air huckster was trying to pass bad checks all throughout the Merchant’s Walk. He only took us for about two hundred bits, but Knight Ruby got it back for us.”

“I remember that,” Emberglow said. “It was just a few years ago. I was ten, right?”

“Something like that,” Textile said, laughing. “Your mother would remember the exact dates, I don’t have a head for that sort of thing.”

“Like keeping track of my birthday? Dad, how old am I?” Emberglow asked teasingly. Her father laughed again.

“Still too young to sass me like that, little lady. Besides, you don’t officially turn twelve until fourteen minutes after six in the morning. By my guess it’s still before five thirty.” The little family wasn’t poor, but they by no means had enough money to afford personal watches.

“So we should go torment Mom?” she giggled. Needle Point was still likely fast asleep; she liked to grump that she ‘refused to even acknowledge the utter insanity that was pre-dawn jogging’.

“Don’t be cruel. You know how she is in the morning,” her father said with another laugh. “We’ve been out here for about an hour, though. Let’s cool down and head back.”

The circular path was beginning to light up as the sun made its way closer to the horizon. The two ponies slowed their pace to a brisk trot. About a half mile up ahead on the wooded, beaten path was a small turn out, where city officials had installed a flowing fountain and trough for any joggers who used the path. The two of them paused to take a drink before continuing on with their cool down routine, stretching each muscle carefully in between drinks.

“Mind if I join you ponies?” came a voice from up the path. A mare, the Knight from before, trotted up to the trough with them. She was a light blue color, with a red mane nearly the same color as Emberglow’s. Unlike her own, though, the Knight’s mane was cut short, almost as short as Textile’s military cut. Textile and Emberglow both bowed to her, respectfully inclining their heads. Emberglow was nervous. A Knight! Talking with them! Drinking from the same trough! She was nearly giddy.

“Of course, my lady,” Textile said respectfully.

“Sorry if this seems a bit rude, but I was wondering. I overheard the two of you studying for something? While you were jogging? It made me curious.”

“My daughter, lady Knight. She’s beginning medical training in a month, and she likes to go over her flashcards when we jog.” Emberglow flushed at the naked pride she heard in her father’s voice. The Knight raised her eyebrows as she studied the young mare.

“Medical training? My little pony, you can’t be more than thirteen!” the Knight exclaimed incredulously. Emberglow blushed, and Textile smiled wide.

“Today is her twelfth birthday, my lady,” Textile said proudly. “Emberglow, my daughter, received a cutie mark for medicine, and has an incredible memory for biology and anatomy. She graduated from secondary school only a few months ago by taking advanced classes in her free time.”

“Remarkable,” the knight said with an impressed whistle. “New Canterlot City needs more ponies like you, honest, hardworking ponies with goals and dreams. I’m a magistrate, so I spend much of my time dealing with the opposite kind of ponies; reprobates, wastrels, and conponies. My name is Ruby Berry.”

“We know, Lady Ruby. My dad says you helped him get some bits back from a con artist a few years ago,” Emberglow said, finding her voice at last.

“You live in Ward 14?” the Knight asked, and the two ponies nodded.

“The best ward, my lady,” Textile responded, and it surprised the Knight into a laugh. “My name is Textile. My wife and I own a clothing shop on Emerald Street.”

“Oh, I remember now. Shifty Sands was his name, passing bad checks. I thought you looked familiar. Sorry I didn’t remember you at first,” the Knight said.

“Oh, don’t apologize, Lady Ruby. I guess it’s not a bad thing that my local magistrate doesn’t get to see me very often,” Textile said. It took Lady Ruby a moment to realize he was making a joke, and she laughed heartily.

“No, I guess not. Most the ponies I spend time with are either guilty of, or victims of, a crime. Well, I should continue my workout. Thanks for sharing the trough with me.” The Knight turned, and was about to continue down the path when Emberglow managed to squeak out the question she’d been thinking the entire time.

“Um… Lady Ruby?” she said, annoyed at how much like a tiny nervous filly she sounded. To be fair, though, she was small. And a filly. And technically quite nervous. She didn’t even notice that her wings had extended a bit, and were fluttering nervously.

“Hmm?” the Knight paused, turning again to look at Emberglow. Textile eyed his daughter nervously.

“I-I was wondering; do you have any advice for somepony who wants to write a letter for… um… Knight Sp-sponsorship?” She asked her question in a rush, the words nearly running over each other in a burst of nervous energy. The Knight’s jaw dropped slightly, and she looked between Emberglow and her slightly embarrassed, but still proud-looking father.

“You’re entering medical school at age twelve, and you’re looking into asking for sponsorship?” Lady Ruby asked, sounding impressed. “Remarkable. Ambitious. Do you know which Holy Order you’re interested in joining?”

“The Knights Radiant, my lady. Saint Rarity’s teachings have always held a special place for me, and with my cutie mark for medicine, I would dearly like to spend my life healing ponies. But I don’t come from a noble or rich family, so…” she trailed off a little sadly at the end.

“So sponsorship. But you are mistaken if you think that not being born into nobility is a mark of shame. For one, your boundless ambition to better yourself and do well for those around you shows who you really are. Then there are your wings; as you know, being born a pegasus is a sign of righteousness in a past life. With what you have accomplished, many Knights would be willing to offer you sponsorship.

“So my advice? Boldness with respect, as you have shown me, my little pony. Write honestly of your accomplishments and ambitions. Do not boast, but don’t hide behind false modesty. Do you know the Knight you intend to write to?”

“S-sir Steadfast Word, lady.”

“Steadfast Word of the Knights Mystic? It’s pretty rare for a Knight to offer sponsorship to an applicant who isn’t even planning on joining the same Holy Order,” Lady Ruby replied. “Not unheard of, though. Why him?”

“He… did me a kindness, years ago,” Emberglow said, looking down, not wanting to meet the Knight’s eyes. Or her father’s; she knew he was also looking away, misty-eyed. “It inspired me, made me want to join the Knights, to help people like he does. Like you do,” she finished. Lady Ruby smiled.

“Sounds like a good reason. I know Steadfast. I’ll send him a note, let him know to expect your letter. Call it a birthday present. And if he turns you down, come see me at my courtroom. I can only sponsor one pony at a time, and I’m currently putting a young earth pony stallion from Appleoosa through Knight training, but I’m sure I can find some other Knight who would be willing to sponsor you. I doubt Steadfast will pass you up, though.”

“Oh thank you, thank you, my lady!” Emberglow gushed. Instinctively, she moved forward to embrace the older mare before remembering herself. “Do you… um… may I…”

“I do accept hugs, young filly,” Lady Ruby said with a delighted laugh, holding out her front hooves for the youngster, who immediately hugged the generous Knight. “Just be sure to stop by the Cathedral soon and thank the Saints for the serendipity of our meeting.”

“Oh, I will, my lady! Thank you so much!” Emberglow was practically glowing, like her namesake. She was one step closer to her ultimate goal, becoming a Knight, and making her family proud of her! Well, more proud, she supposed. She grinned over at her father, who was beaming as well. Ruby Berry smiled at the scene before her, and with a little wave of her hoof, resumed her grueling pace down the trail.

“You know you have to be careful around Knights,” her father said in a low voice, as soon as Lady Ruby was out of earshot. Not that he would ever speak poorly of the holy Knights, but Emberglow knew what he meant. Knights had near absolute power over the ponies around them, and not every Knight behaved with the same grace this one had. Though Ruby Berry was a Knight for Saint Applejack, she clearly valued generosity and kindness, as well. “C’mon. Let’s go visit the Everfree Cathedral.”

Though it wasn’t their local cathedral, the Everfree Cathedral was closest to their jogging spot, and one of Emberglow’s favorites. The two ponies walked down to where the jogging path intersected with Greenleaf Way, the street that bisected the Everfree District. Everfree Cathedral was not ostentatious, nor was it large. Unlike other structures in the rest of the city, it was partially exposed; the designers had wanted the faithful who worshiped there to never be out of touch with nature. Rather than walls, the Cathedral had a series of arches and pillars, holding up the ceiling canopy above while leaving the sides nearly completely open. Planters and hanging pots filled the Cathedral, flowing with greenery and flowers.

The ceiling itself was covered in soil; pegasus gardeners maintained a flower garden on the pointed roof. As Textile and Emberglow approached, there was a single gardener working on the roof, carefully weeding between the flowers while carefully hovering, not touching his hooves to the roof at all. He waved to them with a cheerful grin as they approached, but then returned to his work.

The interior of the Cathedral was shaped like many others. A half circle of statues, three of earth ponies and three of pegasi, surrounded several concentric half-circle benches. Each statue was unclad, so that the Saint’s carved cutie marks could be seen. While some Cathedrals had larger statues, or more room for petitioners, the Everfree Cathedral felt intimate despite its open layout.

Each Cathedral arranged its six statues differently, depending on the favored Saints of whoever constructed the cathedral. The Everfree Cathedral, built nearly four centuries ago by a Sister of the Knights Radiant, gave its most prominent position to Saint Rarity and Saint Fluttershy, due to the former’s connection to the mare who constructed it, and the latter’s legendary connection with the creatures that used to live here, in what had once been called the Everfree Forest. As usual, a small cloth had been draped over the head of Saint Fluttershy, obscuring her gaze from the sins of her wayward heretic children.

While the statues in the Cathedral were not painted, a planter in front of each contained a mix of flowers bearing the colors traditionally associated with each Saint. The planter in front of Saint Rarity was a mix of violets and baby’s breath. Emberglow looked at her father and smiled before assuming her usual spot, right in front of the statue of Lady Rarity. Her father would usually sit near the middle, not favoring a particular saint, but today he moved over to sit in front of Saint Pinkamena’s statue.

“Lady Rarity, I know you were looking out for me today,” she whispered to the stone-carved earth pony in front of her. She could hear her father muttering his own prayers over in front of Saint Pinkamena. “It may have been you or Saint Applejack who put the magistrate in our path, but whoever it was, thank you. I wish to serve you, and serve as you served. Help look out for me while I’m in med school.” She glanced over at the statue of the pegasus Saint Twilight Sparkle. Maybe she should have been addressing her prayers about scholarship to her? Gazing up at the carved eyes of Saint Rarity, she realized she could do that later. She had never been as at peace with Saint Twilight as she was with Saint Rarity, or even some of the others. Saint Rarity’s eyes just held a gentleness to them that drew her in; she could sit here for hours, breathing in the smell of the violets, feeling the wind dance across her fur. She looked over at her father. There were tears in his eyes as he prayed to Saint Pinkamena, as was often the case. Emberglow herself had favored Saint Pinkamena once, before her little brother had been born.

Before they had seen his horn.

Emberglow didn’t bear Saint Pinkamena any ill will; not in the slightest. But for the entire eleven months of Needle Point’s pregnancy, Emberglow had come to the Cathedral nearest their home every day to pray to Saint Pinkamena for her brother’s safe delivery. When he had been born a unicorn, well… Saint Pinkamena had clearly been trying to teach her something, only she couldn’t tell what. Since then, she had spent more time in front of the other Saints, even Saint Twilight.

Emberglow moved over to Saint Applejack, offering a quick prayer of gratitude for the kindness of her Knight, and even whispered a short but grateful word to Saint Rainbow Dash for their safe morning exercise.

She then felt herself drifting towards Saint Twilight. For some reason, the statue of the earth pony-turned-pegasus had always intimidated her, just a little. Saint Twilight was always carved to look regal, royal, with her wings nearly always flared out to either side. Seen as first among equals, she was usually carved to have a slightly longer wingspan than either of the other pegasus Saints, though Saint Fluttershy was only very rarely depicted as having spread her wings at all. But the regal pose and piercing eyes always served to make Saint Twilight look overly stern to Emberglow, like the holy pegasus would swoop down at any second on the young pegasus filly to administer a stern rebuke, or worse. She knew she shouldn’t feel that way, but she couldn’t help herself.

“Um… Saint Twilight?” she began, and felt guilty before she even spoke. “I know we’re supposed to forget. I know that. But please. Keep watch over Lucky Break. I know he’s a unicorn, but he should be safe now, right? In the relocation colony, without his horn, where he can’t hurt anypony. So please, if you could let him know his sister loves him? Inspire him to live his life well, so he can be reborn into better circumstances. Thanks.” She was supposed to forget that she’d ever even had a brother, but that first sight of Lucky Break, with his pale blue eyes, white fur, and black mane, was seared forever into her memory. She’d only been five at the time, but she would remember forever, even though it might be a sin.

Emberglow looked up from her bowed position at the hoof of Saint Twilight’s statue to notice her father had walked over. Even though it was customary to not overhear another’s prayers (or at least pretend to) the glaze in Textile’s eyes, and the look of gentle pride and love as he looked into hers, told her he had overheard. Wordlessly the older earth pony reached out a hoof and pulled his daughter into a close hug, and the two ponies nuzzled their cheeks together. Together they mourned quietly. Emberglow looked up at Saint Twilight, and for a brief second, the nonliving stone appeared not stern or aloof, but understanding. Compassionate. There was a moment of serenity in the Cathedral as she knelt there, cuddled by her father. Emberglow silently mouthed ‘thank you’ to Saint Twilight and broke away from her embrace with her father, sniffling just a little.

“Well, let’s go see if we can drag your mother out of bed. If we’re lucky, she’ll have coffee ready for us.”

“That’s worth praying for,” Emberglow said with a giggle.

“Would you believe I already said as much to Saint Pinkamena?” her father said, smirking. The two ponies were laughing together as they left the Cathedral.

They didn’t walk home, but rather trotted. While nothing near her workout (both mental and physical) in the Everfree, it still gave them a little time to get their heart rates up for a few extra minutes. Emberglow loved to jog, especially with her father. It had been almost two years ago when she had demanded he start working her up to where she could do the same exercise routines as enlisted ponies, as her father had once been. She was nearing her goal of being able to run the same distances required by anypony who joined the military.

Needle Point Textiles, her parents’ shop, sat on Emerald Street, surrounded by dozens of other shops. The Merchant’s Walk was a collection of streets, all named after gems like Emerald, Ruby, or Sapphire. They were full of shops, mostly small two- or three-story buildings pushed close together. Most shop owners ran their businesses themselves, and lived above their stores. Needle Point Textiles was no different. The storefront was glass, with a large display case on either side of the transparent glass door. Each display case held one ponequin, with one decorated in a suit and hat, and the other sporting a summer dress in a floral print. The ‘closed/open’ sign at the front door was flipped to closed, and the electric lights, installed just last year, were still switched off.

Emberglow was surprised to see the empty shop next to their own. For weeks after Mr. Hardsell had retired, the store had remained empty, with a ‘For Sale’ sign in the window. Today, though, the ‘For Sale’ sign was absent, and Emberglow could see a few crates inside the mostly empty store.

“Somepony bought Mr. Hardsell’s shop?” Emberglow asked.

“Oh yeah,” Textile responded. “I met him yesterday. He’s kind of odd. He was a carpenter out near Stalliongrad, but he wanted to retire to the city to make toys. I think he said his name was Oak Chips.”

“He’s bought a shop so he can retire?”

“Apparently making toys is going to be much more relaxing than his normal work. He told me he has enough saved that he doesn’t need to work at all, but he just loves carving so much that he couldn’t just stay idle. I’ll take you to meet him in a few days.”

“I’d like that. He sounds nice,” Emberglow said, as they moved on to their own family tailor shop. The sign over the door bore the shop’s name. Seeing the shop front often filled Emberglow with a mild pang of guilt. She knew her parents could have been much more successful in a smaller town; with so much competition, and the high cost of living here in New Canterlot City, she knew they weren’t making nearly as much money, or saving nearly as much for their eventual retirement, as they would have if they were still living in a small town like Rainbow Falls, where they had moved from as soon as Emberglow had received her cutie mark. It was just one of dozens of sacrifices her beloved parents had made for their daughter, and she felt the weight of those sacrifices keenly. Here in the city, Emberglow could get a much better education than anything offered in the rural, or even suburban, schools. She had once offered, when she’d realized all this, to give up on her education so that they could make more bits elsewhere. She had been firmly denied, though her parents had appreciated her kindness. Her mother always said she was far too mature for her age.

Textile reached into his saddlebag, where he kept Emberglow’s flashcards, their spare water canteens (in case the fountain wasn’t working for whatever reason) and the keys to his shop. He pushed the door, swinging it open to reveal the shop inside. The keys became slightly stuck in the lock as the door opened; with a muttered ‘whoops’ from Textile, they clanged to the floor, loudly tinkling against the tile floor before he could catch them. Something about this felt odd to Emberglow, but she didn’t think about it.

The shop was ready for business, with several more ponequins filled with Emberglow’s parent’s creations. Several racks were filled with hangars with different sizes, colors, and styles of clothes. Her parents were not high fashion designers; they catered to the middle class, everyday ponies like themselves, with practical needs. Not that Emberglow didn’t occasionally like to look at some of the high-end boutiques and dream, sometimes, but she loved the down-to-earth sensibleness of her parent’s designs.

In the back of the shop, behind the sales counter, was a wrought iron spiral staircase going up to the second floor, where the family’s living room and kitchen were, as well as some storage space for the store’s back stock. Father and daughter ascended the staircase into the darkness above. That was odd; by this point the sun was rising, and there had been plenty of light in the store below. Somepony must have drawn the curtains in the large living room window, which rarely ever happened; her mother loved the sun. “Natural lighting is good for the body and the soul,” was something Needle Point said frequently. It had taken quite a bit for Textile to convince her that the expense of installing electric lights was worth it; in the end, it had been Emberglow’s study habits that had tipped the scales.

Emberglow was about to comment on the oddity, when the curtains were suddenly flung open. Standing there, with a giant grin on her face, was Needle Point, her mother, fully awake though still dressed in her nightgown. Light flooded the room to reveal a ponequin in the center of the room.

“Surprise!” her mother and father shouted in unison, giggling like foals. In retrospect, it had been obvious. The dark room, and Textile’s awkwardly dropped keys should have been a giveaway. The two of them had moved a ponequin from the shop (again, a detail Emberglow should have noticed; they only had five in the shop itself, not counting the ones in the door display). On it sat a gorgeous, hand-made creation. It was a cream colored dress, with flared sleeves for her front hooves and a flowing skirt, wide enough to allow a full range of motion, with a modest slit going up to just above the knee. A blue belt, built into the dress, would sit just above the hips. Either side of the belt was fastened with a decorative buckle, custom-designed to look just like Emberglow’s cutie mark, a blue-outlined cross with a similarly blue crystal heart on the inside. The buckles alone had to have been expensive, worth at least several days of the shop’s profits. The skirt was cream-colored like the blouse but was polka-dotted with rose-colored dots, matching Emberglow’s fur.

Emberglow fell in love with the dress the second her eyes fell on it.

“Mom, Dad, I told you I didn’t need anything for my birthday,” she said, blushing, as she moved closer to the dress. Her hoof went out, as if magnetically attracted to the soft fabric, and she brushed against the material of the blouse. It was a soft and light satin, with just a hint of a shimmery, glossy look. The belt was velvet, and she ran her hooves over that as well, reveling in the softness. Her vision clouded; she was crying a little. The dress looked simple on the outside, but the materials were finer than the practical cotton her parents usually worked with. They had splurged for her.

“We know, sweetie,” her mom said. “We just ignored you.”

“Your mother and I couldn’t help ourselves,” Textile said. “We’re just so proud of you, and so happy about the pony you’re becoming. We knew we needed to do something special.”

Emberglow turned to face them, her eyes leaking tears. She was beaming at her parents, who had nearly identical silly grins painted across their muzzles. Without a word, she ran over to where they stood in the living room, rearing up to encircle them both in a crushing hug.

“It’s beautiful. Perfect. I love it. Thank you so much,” she whispered as she squeezed her parents in her embrace.

“We thought you might need something nice to wear besides your school uniform,” her mother replied, wiping at her own wet eyes with one hoof. “Besides, who knows? Maybe someday you’ll want to dress up a bit for a special somepony.”

That statement left a cold lump in the pit of Emberglow’s stomach. Her parents didn’t know, because of course she’d never told them. A few very carefully worded questions to her confessor had told her everything she needed to know; acting on her attraction to mares might be a sin, but the attraction itself was not. As long as she never did anything about the lustful thoughts she had about her own sex, her parents would never need to know about them, right? It did mean Needle Point’s occasional side comments of someday wanting grandfoals were uncomfortable. She stepped gently away from the hug, her heart a twisted tempest of love, gratitude, and shame.

“Um, mom, you’ll never guess what happened on our run today,” Emberglow began, a little awkwardly. Needle Point didn’t seem to notice the discomfort.

“You’ll have to tell me over breakfast, Emberglow. But first, early morning jogging ponies need to shower.” She wrinkled her snout at them. “Both of you. I’ll go make pancakes.” Emberglow found herself grinning again. Pancakes were her favorite.

“Mom, you don’t have to, oats are…”

“Not nearly good enough for my little princess on her twelfth birthday,” Needle Point interrupted firmly. “Now go, wash your exercise funk off, and there might even be strawberries.”

Emberglow couldn’t help herself. With a filly-like squee, she ran upstairs to the home’s only shower, chased by the sound of her parents’ laughter.

The bathroom was small but clean, and the only one in the house. It was located on the third floor, the same space as her bedroom, and her parent’s room. She quickly shed her exercise clothing. Emberglow had long since learned to limit her time using the shared space. She had never been much for primping or makeup, anyways. She stepped into the small, one pony shower, and turned the handle to start the flow of water, letting out a shriek of terror when she realized she’d grabbed the wrong knob by mistake and had soaked herself with icy water. Quickly twisting the correct knob, she let out a sigh of relief as the hot water sluiced away her sweat. Wasting only a brief moment to luxuriate in the water, she picked up the bottle of liquid, rose-scented soap that was her favorite, and squeezed a dollop onto her loofah. She thoroughly rubbed herself down with the sweet lather, before taking a moment to rinse off and step out of the shower onto the fuzzy bath mat.

Emberglow knew her parents were talking. The comment from her mother would have prompted a conversation with her father, and Textile would now be trying to find a diplomatic way to speak with Needle Point about Emberglow’s plans. She’d always been able to be brutally honest with her father, but it broke her heart to disappoint her mother in any way.

After drying off, she quickly brushed her mane and tail, tying back the former in her customary ponytail. She was about to slip her bathrobe on in order to run to her room to get clean clothing when she heard a gentle knock on the door.

“I grabbed something for you to wear, it’s outside the door,” she heard her mother say. Emberglow cracked the door open and saw the dress, her new, beautiful, beloved dress, folded just outside the door. She excitedly snatched up the garment and closed the bathroom door, with a call of ‘Thanks, mom!’ shouted down the hallway.

The dress felt as good as it looked. It was perfectly sized for her, which made sense because her parents were professional tailors. The material was soft and comfortable, and she felt like she could move well. Emberglow took a moment to admire the decorative buckles in the mirror; her parents must have been planning this for months, because they were custom made of metal and crystal, beautiful without being ostentatious. When she was finally ready to leave the bathroom, her father was waiting patiently, a fresh towel and his everyday clothes piled on his back.

“Wow, you look amazing, Emberglow,” he said, and she blushed.

“Of course I do, you two made the dress, and you’re amazing,” she replied.

“My little girl would look great in a potato sack,” Textile said with a huff and a smile, before trotting into the bathroom and shutting the door behind him. Emberglow rolled her eyes and went downstairs, to see if her mother needed any help with breakfast.

The batter was already cooking in the pan on the stove when Emberglow walked into the kitchen. Her mother, spatula in hoof, turned to look her daughter over.

“You look great, sweetie,” Needle Point said, and Emberglow smiled.

“It’s the dress,” she replied, and her mom shook her head.

“Not just the dress, and you know it, pretty girl. Now, can you help chop up the strawberries?”

Emberglow was perfectly happy to help with that chore. She chopped the strawberries and cooked them down with some sugar to make a syrup. Meanwhile, Needle Point kept cooking the pancakes, adding to an ever growing stack.

“So we ran into a Knight while we were jogging this morning,” Emberglow began, unable to wait any longer until breakfast to share the story of what had happened with Ruby Berry.

“Oh?” her mother asked, interested.

“Yeah, it was the local magistrate. Lady Ruby Berry. She’s really nice,” Emberglow said.

“I’m sure she is. Your father was very impressed with her after that nasty business with that fraudster a while back.”

“Yeah, they talked about that a bit. And I asked her about writing my letter.”

“Your letter? Oh.” Needle Point’s voice dropped a little with hesitation. “What did she say?”

“Well, she was asking about me, and why I was studying while running, and we told her about medical school and stuff, and when I asked her about the letter she said she’d put in a good word with Sir Steadfast.” Emberglow realized her mistake as soon as the words left her lips. Her mother went pale, her green eyes stricken.

“S-sir Steadfast? That’s who you’re going to write to for sponsorship?” her mother asked, trying and failing to steady her voice. Emberglow reached up a hoof to her mother, gently resting it on the older mare’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, mom. I should have said something sooner. I didn’t mean to spring it on you like this. Yes, I’m going to write to him. I know…” she took a deep breath, trying not to notice the unshed tears in Needle Point’s eyes. “…I know that he’s kind. That he took the time, during one of the hardest and worst days of my life, to comfort a little filly whose entire world had just shattered. To answer her questions, and to try and make things better. Mom, I wanna do that for other ponies. Not exactly in the same way, but he inspires me.”

“That…that’s beautiful, sweetie,” Needle Point said, sniffing. “So you’re going to try to become a Knight Mystic, like Sir Steadfast?” There was a hopeful note in Needle Point’s voice that Emberglow didn’t miss.

“No, mom. I’m still wanting to try for the Knights Radiant. I feel a connection to Saint Rarity, ever since… well, you know. I think that is where my talent will be the most useful.”

“Just checking, Emberglow,” her mom said, though they both knew there was more to it than that. “You might have changed your mind, after all.”

“No, mom.” Both mares were silent for a moment while they prepared the food. “Mom? I’m sorry.”

“Whatever for, sweetie?” Needle Point asked, though Emberglow heard the slightest quaver of sadness in her mother’s voice. A hundred ways to bring up the subject, to apologize again, to talk about what her mother was really sad about, passed through her mind.

“Nothing, mom.”

“Emberglow… I love you very much,” her mother said, pausing from her efforts at the stove to take her daughter’s face in both hooves. The mares gazed eye to eye. “I am so proud of you; you have been a blessing straight from the Saints for both me and your father. I don’t know what the Saints saw in us to bless us with a pegasus daughter, but not a day has gone by that I haven’t thanked them for you. No matter what you do, no matter what you choose, I will love you, and I will be proud of you.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to tell her mother her deepest secret. The dark shame, the sinful lust that she struggled with. But at that moment, her father entered the kitchen, dressed in his everyday work clothes.

“Pancakes! And strawberries!” the stallion cheered, and the rest of his family laughed. The three of them sat down at the table, and Textile asked a prayer on the food.

“Six Saints, please bless this food we are about to eat. Bless our daughter on her birthday, and be with her while she studies. All Saints keep us.”

“All Saints keep us,” the other two intoned with him.

Birthday pancakes somehow tasted even better than regular day pancakes. The little family relished in their morning time around the table, laughing and telling stories. When it was time to open the store, Emberglow stayed behind to finish cleaning the dishes while her parents went downstairs to prepare for the sales day. She used the time alone to think about the conversation with her mother.

There was something about her decision to pursue Knighthood that disappointed her mother. What was it? Emberglow knew that her mother was honest, nearly to a fault, and so was fairly certain that she wasn’t lying when she said how proud she was of Emberglow. What was it, then, that put that look in Needle Point’s eyes?

Was her mother worried for her? Knights lived dangerous lives, it was true. They were the elite of the elite, more powerful than the strongest soldiers in the Holy Equestrian Diarchy’s military. A sacred ritual, only undertaken at the final moment of the supplicant’s Knighting, led to super pony abilities; they could run farther and faster, stay awake for days, and fight stronger than other ponies. And that wasn’t even counting the enchanted armor and rune spell batteries that allowed a Knight to cast magical spells.

With all that protection, however, Knights were often sent on the most dangerous assignments, the most challenging missions, where violence was guaranteed and fighting was often lethal. No one of the Holy Orders was safe, so perhaps that was what had Needle Point so worried?

Emberglow wondered what it had been like before she was born, when Textile had been a soldier himself. Born to a poor family, Textile had never had the chance to embark on the path to Knighthood. Instead, he had served as a combat medic, on the front lines of the border skirmishes with the dragon lands. Textile still had a few scars, mostly on his barrel and sides, where dragon claws had rent his flesh in the heat of battle. Emberglow had always loved to hear the stories of his fights with the dragons, but her favorite parts were about the ponies he had healed, the stallions and mares whose lives he had saved. It was a big part of what had interested her in reading medical texts to begin with, which naturally had led to her cutie mark.

Oh well. Whatever Needle Point was really worried about, there was little Emberglow could do about it. She decided to let the matter rest for now, and finished drying the last of the plates, replacing them in the wooden cupboard above the sink. She went down the iron stairs to the shop, so she could spend the day helping her parents run the store.

Emberglow knew a little bit about sewing, but she didn’t have her parent’s talent. She was able to run the register, however, and she knew just enough, having grown up her entire life in a tailor shop, to answer any questions the customers had. This freed her parents to move into the workroom in the back of the shop, where there were two sewing machines, and dozens of shelves lined with material, tools, thread, and other implements for sewing and creation. Emberglow loved to hear them chattering away as they created, sometimes bickering lightly about this or that idea, but never with any malice. She had her own little stack of books underneath the sales counter; if things became slow, she could sit and read. Currently resting on top of the stack was the classic medical text, Grey’s Pony Anatomy. Her father had declared his incredulity that she could stand to read such a dull tome, but Emberglow loved to learn; every new fact, new name for a bone, or detail about this part of the circulatory system or that organ and how it worked, was like unburying hidden treasures for her.

Today was going to be a little different, however. Instead of sitting behind the counter and reading, Emberglow was determined to be standing in front of it. Every pony who came into the shop would see the beautiful dress that her parents had made for her, surely with great time and expense. Neither Textile nor Needle Point had asked her to model for them, but she was not going to pass up this opportunity to advertise for her hardworking family. It didn’t hurt that she truly loved the dress.

As she had expected, Emberglow received several compliments about her attire throughout the work day. While her parents were working on custom orders and alterations in the back, dozens of ponies came through the shop looking for off-the-rack attire. Many mentioned the dress, and Emberglow made sure to summon one of her parents each time, so they could personally hear the compliments for their work (and maybe even pick up a commission or two for future dresses). It only took a few times of this for her parents to realize what she was doing, and from the amused smirks from her mother and patient eye-rolls from her father, she didn’t think they minded too much. It did make the day pass swiftly, and Emberglow was practically prancing the entire time.

When the family finally closed up the shop for the evening, Needle Point asked her daughter what she would like for a birthday dinner, and was only slightly surprised when the young mare sheepishly asked for pancakes again. Reasoning that birthdays were special, and only happened once a year, the family repeated their morning meal in the evening, though both adults teased Emberglow a little for it. She didn’t care; she had pancakes. And strawberries!

Lying in bed that night, however, Emberglow couldn’t sleep. Tomorrow she would begin work on her sponsorship letter, and she couldn’t shake the anxiety that it would have to be perfect. She lay in her bed, covered by her blankets but with the window still wide open. Emberglow preferred sleeping in a cold room with lots of blankets.

Her ears perked up at a soft sound drifting in through her window. Somepony was crying. It was her mother.

She knew she should just ignore it, and go to sleep. If Needle Point wanted Emberglow to know what was wrong, she would say something. But as the sobbing continued, her guilt and curiosity would not fade. Emberglow sidled up to the window as quietly as she could, trying to get a better idea of what was upsetting her mom.

“I’m a terrible mother,” Needle Point sobbed. Emberglow could hear Textile shushing his wife.

“No, you’re not,” he started, but she interrupted him.

“Yes, I am. I’m a terrible mother, and I’m selfish and vile. I’m so proud of her, but…”

“Talk to me, Needle Point.”

“She’s joining the Knights Radiant, Textile. You know what that means.”

“It’s not set in stone which Holy Order she’ll join. She might not even make it into any of them.”

“You know our daughter as well as I do, Textile. She’s set her mind to it. She won’t give up, not ever. She’ll get what she wants. And then… and then she’ll never…” Her mother cut off, her sentence ended by a fresh wave of sobbing. Emberglow was confused. She’d never… what? She listened while her father comforted her mother more. “Is it too much to ask? To hope for? Just one more time, Textile. Just one more time I wanted to hold a foal in my hooves. A grandfoal would have been just fine.”

Oh. That was it. Emberglow felt like she’d been kicked straight in the gut. Of course. The Knights Radiant were everything Emberglow had wanted; she would have a chance to share her talent with the world, healing and saving ponies, and spreading the love of the Saint of Generosity to everypony around her. But the Knights Radiant swore an oath of celibacy. She would never have foals. Why had Needle Point never said anything about all this to her?

“It’s not too much to ask, and it’s okay to feel sad, Needle Point. That doesn’t make you a bad mother, or a bad pony.” Emberglow could have cheered at her father. Of course it didn’t! Needle Point was the best mother ever! “Emberglow knows that, too. She loves you.”

“I know. She’s perfect,” Needle Point said, sounding just a little bitter. “I hate myself sometimes…”

“No! Please don’t talk like that. I love you. Emberglow loves you. You’re a wonderful mother, or else why would the Saints have trusted you with a pegasus to raise?”

“What about Lucky Break?” Needle Point murmured.

“Even unicorns need a chance to be born, if only so they have the opportunity to better themselves in the relocation colonies. The Saints knew you were strong enough to handle it.”

“I’m not handling it, Textile. Clearly.”

“Do you want to tell Emberglow she shouldn’t write the letter?” Textile asked.

“No!” Needle Point protested, nearly shouting. “I would never…”

“Exactly. Because that’s not who you are. You don’t try to control her, or shape her into what you want her to be. Instead you’ve always let her be herself, and loved her no matter what. That sounds like handling it just fine to me.”

“But… is it too much to wish for? Just one grandfoal?”

“Wishing’s always fine. Needle Point, I want the same thing, believe me. When it gets to be too much, we can cry together. Don’t let it bottle up.”

“Okay…”

Emberglow couldn’t listen any more. As silently as she could, she got out of her bed and slowly slid the window closed, cutting off the sound of her parent’s tears. Her own eyes were wet.

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