• 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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Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Typewriter copy of a letter, obtained from the office of Sir Steadfast Word of the Knights Mystic. The reply is also included

Sir Steadfast Word,

My name is Emberglow. I am writing to humbly request your financial support and sponsorship in my efforts to attain Knighthood. My family has neither the resources nor the influence to do this on our own.

I am only twelve years old at the time of writing this letter. I realize that Knight training does not typically begin until a pony is fourteen, but I will be entering medical school next month. My goal is to complete my three-year medical school training, then begin working towards Knighthood when I am fifteen. I wished to begin the process of sponsorship now, in case I needed to alter my medical school plans or schedule in order to accommodate Knight training.

I believe I should also mention that I intend to try and join with the Knights Radiant. Though it is rare for a pony to ask for sponsorship from somepony not a member of the Order she is aspiring towards, you have been a great source of inspiration and spiritual strength to me over the last few years of my life. I am determined to succeed at my goals, but I thought it would be appropriate to first ask you for sponsorship before seeking other options.

Should you require proof of any of my claims, I have attached copies of my high school diploma and my acceptance letter to medical school. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Emberglow


Dear Miss Emberglow,

I would be delighted to consider you for sponsorship. Please meet with me at my office at Suite 3H of Star Shine Memorial Building, located at 387 Nightsky Way, at 3 PM this Thursday. If the time is not acceptable, write to my secretary at that address and we will find a more convenient time.

I look forward to speaking with you. You seem like a remarkable young lady.

Signed,

Sir Steadfast Word, Master Inquisitor, Knights Mystic

A hoofwritten note is also attached to the two letters. “Steadfast- Thanks for supplying these. I don’t think they’ll be very relevant to our investigation, but it does give us some insight into the suspect’s early life. I’ll let you know if we need anything else.”


1106 AF, New Canterlot City

“Sweetie, don’t you think a bow would look nice?” Needle Point asked as her hooves fussed over Emberglow’s mane.

“Mom, stop fussing,” Emberglow grumped, doing her best to stop herself from fending off her mother’s nervous hooves with her wings. “I’m fine. I look fine. The dress is enough.”

“But Emberglow, what if…”

“Mom, please,” Emberglow sighed. Textile had already retreated from the feminine battleground he’d seen brewing. He was downstairs minding the shop while Needle Point got Emberglow ready for her interview. They had both offered to close the shop for the day just to help her get ready, but Emberglow thought that would have been unnecessary. She insisted they not fuss over her too much. Like Needle Point was, right now.

“Well, if you insist, sweetie, but I still think…”

“Oh, look at the time!” Emberglow gasped desperately, glancing at the clock sitting on the living room wall above their couch. She didn’t even look long enough to read the hands. “I should get going!” She dashed towards the spiral staircase, running down the steps two at a time, chased by her mother’s cry of surprise.

The shop was empty, except for Textile, who shot Emberglow a sympathetic look as she fled into the room with her mother in pursuit. When Needle Point got down the stairs, she shared a look with her husband, but she said nothing.

“Do you need me to walk you down to the inquisition building, Emberglow?” Textile asked. Emberglow shook her head.

“I do know where to find it, Dad.”

“Maybe we should put that differently, dear,” Needle Point said more forcefully. “Emberglow, your father and I would feel much less nervous about this whole thing if one of us walked you down to the building and waited during your interview. Would that be okay?” Emberglow laughed.

“Well, I guess so,” Emberglow said, feigning reluctance. Both of her parents smiled.

“I’ll watch the shop. You two have fun, and be sure to come straight home with the good news. I’ll make a celebratory cake, or something.”

“You’re acting like I already got the sponsorship, mom,” Emberglow said.

“I’m just that confident,” Needle Point replied. “Now hurry. If you’re ten minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.”

“Yes, mother,” Emberglow said, mock grumpily. It was one of her mother’s favorite sayings, and one that Emberglow secretly believed. It was a foal’s job to be annoyed at her parents, though, and she would happily oblige.

She left the shop with her father in tow, and the two of them set off towards the Temple District, a few miles’ walk away from their shop. They could have arranged for a taxi, something her parents had offered to do, but Emberglow didn’t feel the need to spend the money. A half hour’s walk wasn’t too much.

Unlike the Merchant’s Walk, the Temple District didn’t have any commercial buildings or shops. Instead it held the official buildings of the Holy Equestrian Diarchy, from the central (and largest) cathedral, to the offices of the papacy, the office buildings of the five remaining Holy Orders, and even the offices of the mayor of New Canterlot City and other local government buildings. Both literally and politically, it was the center of all New Canterlot City.

The buildings in the Temple District were much taller than the ones near Emberglow’s parent’s shop, with some of them reaching as high as ten or twelve stories into the sky. The structures were as varied as they were beautiful, their diverse architectural styles alluding to the rich history of the city.

The most impressive building, of course, was the High Cathedral, situated right in the center of the city. Six tall spires, each one towering more than thirteen stories high, were arranged in a circle around a central hub. Each of the spires was decorated with a fresco of one of the six Saints, their watchful gazes looking out over all of New Canterlot. The soaring spires of the High Cathedral were visible from anywhere in New Canterlot City, and ponies liked to think that the Saint that looked out over their particular section of the city was special to them, watching out for them specifically. Legend said that at one time, the ground that held the High Cathedral had been the home of a massive castle, constructed entirely of crystal, which housed Saint Twilight and her fellow Saints.

The place Emberglow was headed, Star Shine Memorial Building — though it was often just called just the Inquisition Office — was the office building that did the business of the Knights Mystic, Saint Twilight’s Holy Order of Knights. About a block away from the High Cathedral, this edifice was shorter than the former building, though it looked no less majestic to her. Constructed to resemble a fortress, it had square walls made of grey stone, with stylized battlements on the top. Into the towering walls were carved images of Saint Twilight’s cutie mark, a six pointed star.

The Knights Mystic were dedicated to keeping the Diarchy free from the threats of unicorns, heretics, and other magical threats. The building was named after Star Shine the pegasus, one of the first members of the Knights Mystic and a martyr in the Second Great Heresy who had died at the hooves of the dreaded Sunset Shimmer herself. Indeed, the stallion himself, immortalized in sculpture, stood valiantly in front of the entrance of the building, wings spread dramatically. Saint Twilight’s cutie mark was carved into the flank of his Knight Armor, as usual for a Knight Mystic, but Star Shine wore his own cutie mark as a medallion about his neck; a trio of stars, arranged in a diagonal line.

Emberglow and her father walked past the statue and into the building. The large, open double doors led into a rotunda that split into several hallways. Directly in front of the entryway was a huge staircase going up; apparently the Knights Mystic didn’t believe in elevators. In front of the staircase was a circular desk with two secretaries, a pair of older mares. Textile and Emberglow walked up to the secretaries.

“Can I help you ponies?” one of the mares asked. Emberglow hesitated, but Textile nudged her forward. He was going to let her do all her own speaking, apparently.

“I have an appointment with Sir Steadfast Word,” she said, trying to sound as confident as possible. “Can you tell me how to get to his office? It’s suite 3H.”

“Of course, dear. 3H is on the third floor. Head up those stairs behind me to the third floor, then take a left. His office has both the suite number and his name on a plaque outside.”

“Thanks, ma’am,” Emberglow said, and Textile nodded at the secretary. There were few other ponies in the building; most of them were dressed in purple robes, though there were a few wearing Knight armor. Emberglow tried her best not to ogle like a tourist. She was only mostly successful.

They reached the top of the stairs and headed left. The door to suite 3H was open, and the two ponies passed by the plaque on the wall to the right of the door. It read ‘Sir Steadfast Word, Master Inquisitor.’

3H’s front room was a small waiting area, with a desk, two chairs, and a door to the inner office. Sir Steadfast was important enough to have his own personal secretary, a young stallion dressed in similar robes as those downstairs. The only differences were the fact that it was dyed white, and the decoration on the flank of the robes: it was emblazoned with all six cutie marks of the Saints. Only Knights could wear the sacred symbols of the Saints, but squires, Knights in training, wore a mix of all six. The red earth pony looked up from his typewriter as they walked in.

“You’re the appointment for Sir Steadfast? Uh…” The pony glanced at a note on his desk. “Miss Emberglow, right? He’s waiting for you. Your um…” He motioned at Textile.

“My father,” Emberglow supplied.

“Your father can wait out here,” he finished. Emberglow nodded. The squire stood up and opened the door for her politely, and she walked nervously into Sir Steadfast’s personal office. She suddenly felt queasy; after years of studying and effort, the entirety of her future plans rested on this one single interview.

The office wasn’t large, but wasn’t small either. There were two large bookshelves on either end of the room, crammed full of books and loose papers. The few bare spots on the wall were covered with two paintings; Emberglow recognized one of them as a cityscape of New Canterlot City. A large desk, scattered with disorganized papers, sat in the middle of the room. There were at least a half dozen books stacked precariously on the desk, as well. Behind that desk sat the owner of the office himself.

“You are Miss Emberglow?” the stallion asked politely, rising to his hooves to walk around the desk and shake her hoof. She nervously accepted the gesture. Sir Steadfast was wearing his armor, but had removed the helmet. It was sitting on the floor next to his desk. The armor was lavender, and emblazoned with Saint Twilight Sparkle’s cutie mark on the flank section. Sir Steadfast himself was a light blue earth pony, with a short military cut black mane and a narrow, well-trimmed moustache.

“Yes sir,” she said respectfully, grateful that her voice didn’t stutter in her nervousness.

“Please, have a seat,” he motioned to a bench on the other side of his desk. She sat down. He moved to sit behind his desk. The office went silent except for the shuffling of papers as Sir Steadfast rearranged the mess on his desk to place a single manila folder on top. He took a sip from a steaming mug that had been sitting on top of a stack of reports. Emberglow couldn’t help herself; in the brief silence she began to fidget, shifting in her seat as she waited for Sir Steadfast to break the silence.

“So. An odd request for sponsorship from a very odd, but impressive, little pony,” he said as he looked at Emberglow appraisingly. Emberglow jumped a bit as his voice broke the silence. His expression was inscrutable; Emberglow was having a hard time reading him.

“Um, yes sir,” she said uncertainly. She didn’t quite know how to respond to that. Sir Steadfast smiled gently.

“Tell me, why do you want to be a Knight? Some would say there is a humble dignity in a pony doing their best in the place the Saints put them in,” Steadfast said. Emberglow tensed, her nervous excitement turning anxious in an instant, only slightly allayed by the small smile he still wore on his face. It was true; the Book of the Saints taught that reaching above one’s station in life was a sin.

“I, uh…” Emberglow stammered, thrown completely off balance. “I want to help ponies.”

“There are many ways to help ponies, young lady, several far less dangerous than Knighthood. Why do you want to be a Knight, Emberglow?” Sir Steadfast asked, leaning forward intently. He was looking for something more, she thought, and she silently cursed her first lackluster answer. She forced herself to relax, breathing slowly to calm her budding panic as she concentrated on a more thoughtful answer.

“I want to heal. To help ponies like Saint Rarity helped. My dad was a medic in the army, but I think I could do more,” Emberglow said, then flinched at how arrogant she sounded to herself. Sir Steadfast waited a moment before nodding sagely, and Emberglow tried not to sigh with relief.

“A good answer,” Sir Steadfast said. He shifted through the papers on his desk again and pulled out a new folder. When he flipped it open, Emberglow couldn’t help but glance at it to see her school transcripts. “I looked into your background a bit. You have excellent marks in school, and you’re graduating two years early. Very impressive, but you won’t be able to enter the Ivy Seminary for two years. Your letter said you had been accepted to medical school, and that you wish to train for Knighthood after graduating. Are you sure a little pony your age can accomplish so much?” Sir Steadfast mused. He was probing, challenging her, and she could tell. But did she answer with confidence, or humility? She took a gamble.

“I am sure, sir. I’m prepared,” she said, her heart pounding. The small, satisfied smile that spread across Sir Steadfast’s face settled the butterflies in her stomach, just a bit.

“I wasn’t quite sure, so I spoke to some ponies while I was looking into you. Your school principal, Pencil Lead, thinks you have the work ethic to manage.”

“That’s good to hear,” Emberglow said, a little surprised. Pencil Lead had always seemed distant, a disciplinarian with no humor.

“Those study habits will serve you well in both medical school and in the Seminary,” Sir Steadfast said. He paused, his face thoughtful as he tapped a hoof idly on his desk. “Tell me, if you’re going to be learning healing magic from the Knights Radiant, why bother learning mundane inferior medicine at all?”

“I don’t want to be useless if I run out of magic. Besides, it’s my special talent. I got my cutie mark for medicine,” Emberglow replied.

“That’s a very well-reasoned answer, young lady,” Sir Steadfast said with a nod. “It does lead me to another question, though. Does it bother you that you will be starting at the Seminary a year later than other ponies?”

“Not at all, sir.”

“You say that now. But being different will make you stand out. It could lead to difficulties you don’t understand quite yet, on top of an already demanding curriculum.”

“I know it will be demanding, sir. I’ve been doing physical training for two years now. Mostly running and obstacle courses, but flight training on occasion when I can.”

“Ruby Berry did mention meeting you while jogging. That’s quite disciplined for a twelve year old. But physical difficulties are not the only thing that causes some young ponies to reconsider. There are mental difficulties, and emotional ones. Some ponies just aren’t strong enough.”

“Like what, sir?”

“The other pages, for one. Some will see you as beneath them, because you are not pursuing Knighthood due to your family connections or wealth. Some will be jealous of your successes. Many of them will look down on you and bully you because of it.

"Then there is the course material,” Sir Steadfast continued. “ It is rigorous. Knights carry the entire weight of the Holy Diarchy Church on their shoulders; it is our job to take on the hardest duties, the most tasking jobs.” His eyes were locked onto hers, and her breath caught. Emberglow was sure he wouldn’t remember her, not after all these years.

“I know, sir…” she whispered, her throat suddenly dry, her mouth moving soundlessly as she tried to think of what to say. His lips pursed slightly in thought.

“Something on your mind, young lady?”

“I-it’s nothing, sir,” Emberglow stammered. His eyes narrowed slightly. “Um, it was a long time ago—”

“Ah,” Sir Steadfast said, his eyes flashing with recognition as a look of mournful empathy crossed his face. “Your brother.”

“W-what?” Emberglow reeled. He remembered? She was sure he had more important things to think about than her past.

“Your brother. He is a unicorn, yes?”

“Yes, sir,” Emberglow said, with a slow steadying breath. “I didn’t think you would remember him. It’s been eight years.”

“I remembered as soon as I saw your name,” he revealed. “It makes me wonder, though. Why ask me to sponsor you? Most ponies would hesitate to approach somepony who took away one of their family.”

“Sir, you are my inspiration for wanting to join the Knighthood,” Emberglow said. She felt a rush of confidence.

“Oh?” Sir Steadfast asked, sounding curious.

“Sir, that was without exception the very worst day of my life. Ever. But what I remember is a Knight, doing a hard and bitter duty, who took the time to comfort a little confused and heartbroken filly who had no idea what was going on. You answered my questions, Sir. You let me cry on your shoulder, and you made sure I understood as well as a five-year-old could. Of course I remembered.”

“That’s… well, you’re making me into more of a hero than I am, Emberglow,” Sir Steadfast said.

“I don’t think anypony can understand how important that day was to me, Sir. It’s why I want to be a Knight. It’s why I picked the Knights Radiant,” Emberglow said softly. “I want to help ponies to heal their wounds and their hearts, like what you did for us.”

“You know, the Saints command us to forget,” Sir Steadfast said, his voice soft and full of regret. It was true. The Book of the Saints commanded families to forget about their unicorn family members.

“I’ve tried, sir,” Emberglow admitted, feeling tiny in his gaze.

“I remember every unicorn I’ve ever de-horned,” Sir Steadfast said, and Emberglow stared at him in shock. “Surprised? You needn’t be. Knights are ponies just like everypony else. We carry heavier burdens, though. Burdens you will have to be prepared for. It will be difficult.”

“I understand, sir. Or maybe I won’t understand until I get there. I’ve got three years to prepare, too. But I won’t give up. I promised to the Saints.”

“You strike me as the kind of pony that takes those things very seriously,” Sir Steadfast said. “I believe you. Also, I wanted to talk to you about your choice of Knight Order. It’s not a choice you have to make right away. You are completely sure about the Knights Radiant?”

“Yes, I am, sir,” Emberglow nodded.

“I’m glad that you have convictions. It’s just that you have the mind of a scholar. You are a brilliant young pony, and you have a drive and determination to gain knowledge. These are all things Saint Twilight looks for in her Knights, as well. While I’m not asking or telling you to change your mind, I would like you to at least consider joining the Knights Mystic when you finish your training. Honestly consider it.”

“I… I can do that, sir,” she replied.

“Good,” he said, then paused, considering something thoughtfully. “There is one other matter. A curiosity, really, but something you might find interesting. When I looked up your school files I found the registered image of your cutie mark. I brought up something I’d like you to see.” He reached for a manila file folder on his desk, then hesitated a moment. “Now, I don’t wish to shock you. It’s from the Golden Age of the Saints. I don’t know if you learned this in school, but it comes from a time when most ponies didn’t wear clothing all the time. Even the Saints, with perhaps the occasional exception of Saint Rarity, usually went around their business unclad.”

“I remember, sir. I’ve seen some of the photographs in school. And besides, the statues of the Saints are always unclad.”

“That they are,” Sir Steadfast said with a chuckle. He unfolded the folder, opening it up to reveal a facsimile of an ancient photograph. Emberglow leaned over the desk to get a better look.

The picture was clearly of a hospital room; there were two beds, though only one was fully visible; the other was mostly hidden behind a curtain. The bed had one occupant; in fact, she was the only pony in the room that was wearing clothing. It was Saint Rainbow Dash, and one of the pegasus’ wings was bound with bandages. There were four other ponies in the room; three earth ponies, and another pegasus. Emberglow recognized Saint Twilight, Saint Rarity, and Saint Fluttershy, but the third earth pony was unknown to her. It was hard to tell from the black and white photograph, but the mare clearly had white fur, and a light colored mane. She wore a hat, with her mane tied behind it in a bun. The most remarkable thing, however, was that the pony’s cutie mark was remarkably similar to Emberglow’s.

“Now, you know that each of the Holy Orders has their own more detailed accounts of the lives of the Saints. I spoke with some friends of mine over in the Knights Adamant. It seems they tell lots of legends about this pony here,” Sir Steadfast pointed at the mystery mare with his hoof. “Quite often, Saint Rainbow’s energy and exuberance led her to injury. The pony most likely to try and patch her up after one of her injuries was this mare here, an earth pony by the name of Nurse Redheart.”

“That’s…” Emberglow began. “Her cutie mark. It’s just like mine!”

“Not exact, but very close, yes. In color, it was red, with four hearts at the corner of the cross in addition to the one in the middle. Yours is a different color, of course, and lacks the corner hearts. But it is very similar,” Sir Steadfast explained. “We know that no two ponies will ever have the exact same cutie mark. But I’ve always wondered if similar cutie marks suggested a connection. We are each of us reborn when we die, as you know. And though it is a sin to claim to have been reborn from a particular pony in the past, it is not a sin to speculate, hm?”

“You’re suggesting that I might be reborn from a hero? From the medical pony who treated Saint Rainbow Dash?”

“Maybe. And Nurse Redheart treated all the Saints, not just Saint Rainbow. She just treated Saint Rainbow more often than the others.”

“Wow…”

“Now we’re just speculating,” Sir Steadfast said, waving his hoof. “But I for one don’t believe in too many coincidences. Emberglow, I am quite impressed with you. Not because of where you might have come from, even though it’s interesting to consider, but because of who you are now. I believe I am going to sponsor you, young lady. Is there anything else I should know about before I sign the papers that will put you in Knight Training in three years?”

This was the question Emberglow had been dreading. She glanced at the door to the small waiting area, where her father was. Her ears were splayed back against her head.

“Um… yeah. I mean, yes sir, one thing,” she began, taking in a shuddering breath.

“If you’re concerned about your father overhearing, don’t be. I’ve placed a small privacy enchantment on my office. Once the door is closed, nopony outside can hear us.”

“Sir, I’m homosexual,” Emberglow said in a quick exhale. She waited for the condemnation, the scowling or accusing eyes, but Sir Steadfast’s face remained passive.

“You don’t act on those urges?” he asked softly. She shook her head. “You’ve told your Confessor?”

“I spoke with her a bit vaguely,” Emberglow admitted. “She told me being born this way wasn’t a sin, as long as a pony didn’t act on it. I researched some meditation techniques. I use them whenever I feel tempted.”

“If you have as good a handle on this as it seems you do, then it is none of my concern. I’ll be signing the papers as soon as you leave.”

“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!”

“Don’t get so excited just yet. You don’t start for three years. And,” he shook a hoof at her. “I’m going to want to meet with you a few times a year, to make sure you’re still progressing towards your goals, and to see how you’re doing in med school. Besides, I need more chances to show you the glory of being a Knight Mystic. I might convince you yet,” he laughed at that last, reaching out to collect the photograph of the Saints and Nurse Redheart, and closing up the manila folder. “Now, let’s go tell your father the good news.”

“Yes sir!” Emberglow said, bouncing to her hooves. She did a little dance, tapping her hooves against the floor in her unrestrained joy. He grinned at her, and opened the door into the lobby where her father and Sir Steadfast’s squire waited.

“You have an incredible daughter, Mr. Textile. And she’s going to become a Knight. You should be quite proud of her,” he said.

Textile had stood when Sir Steadfast had entered the room, but now he was beaming, grinning from ear to ear as his daughter rushed to him.

“Dad, he said yes. He said yes!” she squealed with filly-like joy. Textile laughed as he hugged his daughter.

“Thank you, sir. You’ve no idea what this means to her, and to us.”

“She earned it, and is going to keep earning it over the next three years.” The second part came out like a command. Emberglow leaned away from her embrace with her father and nodded.

“Yes, sir!” she shouted again. Even the squire was grinning at her enthusiasm. “Thank you again, sir!”

“Good luck with the beginning of your medical schooling. I’ll have my squire send you a letter when I’d like to meet next. Good day, both of you.” It was a clear but polite dismissal. Emberglow and Textile left the office, heading back for the stairs. Emberglow was prancing.

“He wants to meet with you again?” Textile asked.

“Yep. A few times a year, he said. To make sure I’m still progressing towards my goals,” she said. Then her nose crinkled with distaste. “He also says he’s gonna try to convince me to join the Knights Mystic instead of the Knights Radiant.”

“I see what you thought of that idea,” Textile said, amused. Emberglow shook her head.

“It’s not a bad idea, and I told him I’d consider it. He was very nice, he told me I had the scholarship to be a Mystic. I’ll consider it, really. I don’t think I’ll change my mind, though.”

“You can be a stubborn little pony sometimes,” her father agreed. She eyed him, wondering if he was teasing her. After a moment of thought, Emberglow concluded that she just didn’t care. It was too good a day.

Just watching Emberglow bounce and prance on the way home made Textile feel exhausted. He couldn’t remember what it felt like to be that young and have that much energy. She insisted on a stop at their local cathedral to say a quick thank you to both Saint Rarity and Saint Twilight, but didn’t take too long to stay and pray. She wanted to get home and share the good news with her mother.

Outside the shop next door to theirs was a large wagon full of crates. Three burly earth ponies were unloading the crates while an older pony sat outside on a beautiful wooden rocking chair, giving directions. The older earth pony was tan, with a darker brown mane streaked with grey. He waved when he saw them approaching.

“Mr. Textile, hello,” he called out. His voice was a little different; Emberglow could hear he had an accent. It sounded like he was from one of the far northern Equestrian towns. “This is your daughter, yes?” He rose to his hooves with a slight groan, and walked over to shake Textile’s outstretched hoof. “I am Oak Chips. Nice to meet you.”

“I’m Emberglow,” she introduced herself as she shook Oak Chips' offered hoof. “You’re just moving in?”

“Yes, my things finally arrived. I would help, but my doctor says no. Bad back. Psht, what does that quack know? I was lifting boxes before he was out of diapers! And foals and grandfoals, too! Doctors!” He made the word a curse, and Emberglow was worried for a moment.

“Emberglow here is about to start medical school next week,” Textile said gently. The shift in gears was as obvious as it was fast.

“And you will be the best one alive!” the old pony declared, thumping a hoof against the street. “HEY! MOVER PONY! THAT BOX IS BEDROOM, NOT STOREFRONT! READ LABEL!” He sighed, rubbing his forehead with one hoof. “They are good boys. Don’t dent any of my furniture, work hard, very helpful, yes? Only dumb some of the time.” That last was said so the mover pony in question could hear; he just rolled his eyes and kept moving boxes into the store. “So, doctor? You are young, too little for medical school. Ah, but your father says you are a genius. So that makes sense.”

“I’m not actually gonna become a regular doctor. I just got accepted for a Knight sponsorship when I’m done with med school! I’m gonna join the Knights Radiant!” Emberglow said, bouncing from hoof to hoof.

“Just today?” Oak Chips asked. Emberglow nodded. “Wait here.” The old pony retreated into his shop. Emberglow looked at her father quizzically, but Textile shrugged. He reemerged a few moments later with a small box.

“I know you are not a foal, so think of them not as toys, but as good luck charm, yes? Or paperweights.” He held the box out to Emberglow, and she took it, curiously opening the lid.

Inside, packed in padding, were two carved wooden pony figurines. Both of them were lavishly detailed, though unpainted. Emberglow could see the care and detail that went into the manes, tails, and faces of each of the figures. One of the two was a pegasus, wearing Knight Armor. The other was a unicorn.

“Because a hero needs a villain to fight, yes?” Oak Chips said when Emberglow looked at the unicorn figurine questioningly. That made sense. “You can paint them if you like. Or leave them as is. I always liked how the wood grain looks in my carvings.” Indeed, Oak Chips had selected blocks of wood for these figurines specifically to make use of the multi-colored wood grain within each block. It was beautiful; Emberglow didn’t think she could bear to paint either one of them. She was about to refuse politely; not that she didn’t appreciate the gift, but she could tell that hours of work had gone into each hoof-carved figure. There was a stern, unyielding sort of look in Oak Chips eyes when she opened her mouth to speak, however, so she changed what she was going to say. It was as if the older stallion had read her mind.

“Thank you so much. They’re gorgeous; you carved them?”

“Psht, it’s nothing. I’m retired, I love to carve. If I sell, I sell. If I don’t sell, I have savings,” Oak Chips said with an uncaring hoof wave. “I retired two years ago, and I nearly died of boredom. So, silly carving shop. It’s nothing,” he repeated.

“Well, thank you so much,” she said. “It’s very kind of you.”

“Bah. Now you go tell your mother your news. Unless you want to haul boxes?”

“We’re just about done here, Mr. Oak Chips,” one of the mover ponies chimed in.

“Yeah, we better get home,” Emberglow said. “But I can come by later to help you unpack…” She felt like she had to repay him for his gift.

“You are a smart and kind young filly. No, I will unpack. I am very particular. Spend the day celebrating with your mother. I will see you around,” Oak Chips said. He sat back down in the wooden chair. “Do come by to visit whenever you like. YOU THERE! BOX IS BREAKING! CAREFUL OR TOOLS WILL FALL OUT AND SQUASH YOUR HOOF! AND BREAK TOOLS! GAH!”

With a look at her father and a nervous little giggle, Emberglow left the old stallion to his packing, walking the few feet to the front door of their shop. The tinkle of the bell hung above the door sounded like home.

“Mom, I did it! He said yes! I’m gonna be a Knight!” she shouted out as soon as she opened the door. Only belatedly did she realize her mother was helping a customer. “Oops. Sorry, uh…”

The mare at the counter was being rung up by Needle Point. There was a brown sack sitting on the counter next to her, and a stack of bits she was counting. She looked over to the door, and Emberglow recognized the mare as Ms. Lavish Essence, the middle aged perfume seller who owned a shop six doors down, across the street.

“A Knight, miss Emberglow? Congratulations!” Lavish said, her voice interested. Emberglow tried not to roll her eyes; she had just blurted her big news to the neighborhood’s biggest gossip. “We haven’t had a Knight from Emerald Street since Sweethoof joined the Jubilant twenty five years ago! The girls are going to want to hear about this! You’ll be the talk of the street, young miss!”

“Well, I don’t start training yet, not for three years,” Emberglow said bashfully, rubbing one hoof against the other, her ears back.

“Doesn’t matter, this is wonderful news. I can’t wait to tell everybody! Well done, Textile and Needle Point. And well done Emberglow!” The older mare finished counting out her bits, passing the coins over to Needle Point and rushing out of the shop. Emberglow blushed at the raised eyebrows her mother was giving her.

“Any public embarrassment and fawning over you get from this is your own fault, missy. Impulse control is never a bad thing,” Needle Point teased, grinning. “So he said yes?”

“Yes yes yes yes yes!” Emberglow said, bouncing on her hooves. “He said yes!”

“Of course he did,” Needle Point said, her voice clear that there was never any doubt, at least for her. Emberglow knew enough about her mother to know that she was good enough to hide her doubts when she needed to. The thought brought up a dark memory, of the conversation she had overheard a few weeks ago.

“Mom? Are you okay?” Emberglow asked, seriously.

“Of course I’m okay! This is the best day ever!” Needle Point said, her voice breezy. “We have to celebrate. Textile, head down to the Dee Lights Bakery and get us some celebration food, it’s clearly cupcake time.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Textile said smartly, with a silly little military-esque salute.

“I’ve just gotta put something away in my room, then I’ll be back down to help you with the shop, mom,” Emberglow said as she heard the tinkle of the bells at the front door, announcing her father’s departure. Her mother nodded, and Emberglow rushed up the stairs to her bedroom.

Emberglow’s room was tiny, but just enough for her. The door opened (just barely) and her father had installed several wall shelves to house Emberglow’s extensive book collection, because there was no room for a real bookshelf. Most of the books were nonfiction; medical texts for her level of education, advanced textbooks from her last biology classes, that sort of thing. There were a few silly foal books; mostly ones about various heroic Knights and their exploits. Then there was Emberglow’s personal copy of the Book of the Saints, with her name engraved on the bottom right cover in gold leaf. She could see the faded gold leaf at the edge of the pages, worn thinner and thinner over years of reading. It was obvious which section got the most attention; the leaf was faded to nothing nearest the section of the Book that told stories of Saint Rarity’s life; her charity work in trying to clothe the world, her efforts to be a mother to all around her, even some of her adventures with the other five saints. She was proud of all her books, but especially of that one. Next to it on the shelf she placed her new figurines; the pegasus knight and the unicorn.

“I know he said you were the villain. But I can’t help but feel a little sorry for you,” she said to the carved wood. “I’ll call you Lucky Break. Don’t tell anypony, brother,” she laughed a little at her own silliness. “I love you.”

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