• Published 7th Aug 2020
  • 856 Views, 63 Comments

Scarlet: Broken Pedestal - Skijarama



Princess Twilight Sparkle has returned to a world that has gone without her for over four hundred years. With the aid of Scarlet Frost, she and her friends set out into the world, heedless of the changes, good and bad, their return has put in motion.

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Meeting

“Are you coming to bed, or what?”

Scarlet twitched in place, startled by the sudden break in the long, peaceful silence. She turned back to smile at Lens, who was in the process of pulling back the sheets on the bed they shared. “In a moment, Lens,” she said before returning her eyes to the slumbering bundle in front of her.

She was in a small room that had only recently been carved out of the mountainside and furnished. A single resin lamp was attached to the ceiling, providing a gentle green glow that had been dulled to accompany the coming of the night. Two beds occupied the room, each with their headboards pressed against the back wall. A few other rudimentary furnishings were scattered around, with a stone table in one corner and a series of shelves carved into the opposite wall.

It was a room that had been carved out for their personal use per Flurry’s request during Scarlet’s time unconscious following the battle with the griffons. It was nothing fancy, and it was far from what Scarlet had originally been picturing when it came to a home to live in with Prim and Lens, but she was not about to complain. It had started feeling more and more like home as the days dragged on, and they deposited their various supplies onto the shelves, content to leave them there to collect dust. Their adventure was over, after all.

What truly made this space feel like home, though, were the two whom she shared it with; and right now, Scarlet was hard-pressed to pull her eyes away from one of them. Primrose was slumbering peacefully in her own bed, curled up into a ball with her tail clutched tightly in her hooves. Every so often her ear would flick, or some near-silent murmur would slip past her lips, but otherwise, she was totally still and wonderfully peaceful.

Scarlet’s ears twitched and flicked back as she heard Lens drawing closer. A moment later, he settled down next to her, draping a foreleg over her shoulders to join her in watching Primrose sleep. Instinctively, she leaned over to rest her head against his shoulder. She breathed a quiet sigh, closing her eyes.

“She’s not going anywhere,” Lens whispered into Scarlet’s ear, his breath tickling its interior.

Scarlet snorted, ear flicking in response. She leaned back and glanced over at Lens. “I know that, Lens. I’m just…” she sighed and turned back to the foal, her ears drooping. “...I’m worried about her.”

Lens hummed, focusing on Primrose as well. “Yeah, so am I… She hardly talked when we were seeing Princess Twilight,” he mused, his brow furrowing. “And if anypony was going to have an avalanche of questions, I assumed it would have been her, given everything she’s lost because of the lamp…”

Scarlet hummed in turn with a slow nod but did not speak for now. Lens had a point: Primrose had been stunningly quiet for the entire meeting, and only spoke up infrequently. If she had been quiet and unwilling to speak during that sort of meeting, then who knew what was going on in her head? Scarlet’s thoughts drifted back to her prior incident with Larynx; how she had fled from him and swiftly went to Sclera’s grave as if seeking her late mother’s protection.

“Maybe she’s just as ready to be done with all of this as we are,” Scarlet eventually mused, though the tone in her voice made it abundantly clear that she did not truly believe that sentiment. “Kept her words to herself…”

“Maybe…” Lens added, similarly doubtful. A few minutes passed in silence before he placed a hoof on Scarlet’s back and gave her an affectionate nuzzle. “But it’s not important right this second. Prim’s sleeping well, and so should we. We still have work to do in the morning, remember?”

“I remember,” Scarlet nodded, slowly rising to her hooves. With one last longing look to her filly, she turned and made her way into bed, Lens climbing in shortly after her. Once the two were comfortably nestled in each other’s hooves, Scarlet closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her muscles began to relax, and the tension from the day's trials bled out into the mattress and blankets. A content smile spread on her lips, and it didn’t take long before she felt herself starting to drift off to slumber.

“So… what do you think Twilight and her friends are going to do?” Lens suddenly asked in barely even a whisper after a few minutes.

Scarlet’s content smile faded, her eyes drifting open to find Lens staring back at her curiously. She had been trying to not think about that ever since they left the Thrones earlier. Giving off a quiet sigh, she helplessly shrugged her shoulders. “I do not know, Lens, truly. Your guess is as good as mine. But, in all honesty, I do not care.”

Lens blinked. “You don’t?”

Scarlet shook her head. “No. Or, to be more accurate, I do not wish to know. I am no fool; I know full well that the world is soon to change in profound ways. But I hold no desire to keep track of their travels or be involved… I have something far more important to concern myself with.”

“And that would be…?” Lens asked, though it was pretty clear he knew exactly what she was referring to.

Nevertheless, Scarlet decided to humor him. She leaned in and pressed her lips against his, giving a quiet, satisfied hum as she did so. Lens returned the affectionate gesture immediately and with no hesitation, and both of their eyes drifted closed.

When they parted a few seconds later, Scarlet opened her eyes to gaze deeply into Lens’. “...You,” she breathed. “You and Primrose…”

The corner of Lens’ mouth twitched up into a crooked, goofy smile. “Heh… lucky us, huh?” he asked.

“Yes, lucky,” Scarlet murmured, snuggling closer to her stallion while closing her eyes. “Very lucky…”

Lens wrapped his forelegs around her, pulling her closer against him. She sighed quietly, basking in their shared body heat. She felt him nuzzle the top of her head, drawing a content hum out of her. A second later, she readjusted to get comfortable.

“Now go to sleep…”

“Right… Goodnight, Scarlet.”

“Goodnight, Lens.”


Scarlet’s slumber was mercifully peaceful. Though she did not recall the specifics of the dream, she knew that it was peaceful and serene. She remembered that Lens and Primrose were with her, and they were just happy. She remembered a field of flowers, a giant lake, and a simple log cabin by the water’s edge. She recalled bright rays of sunlight and plenty of laughter, warming her heart and her soul.

Unfortunately, the serenity had to end. Whatever was causing the laughter ended, and in its place, there came a heart-chilling whimper. The sunlight became enshrouded with darkness and the fields were soaked in rain. The whimper grew in volume to join the thunder, evolving into a terrified wail of grief and guilt.

Scarlet’s eyes snapped open, a chill running down her spine. Yet even as she woke from her dream, the screaming persisted. Primrose. Scarlet’s pupils dilated at the memory of Silent Edge standing over her in the dead of night, his wingblades poised to pierce into her chest and gut.

“Primrose!”

Spurred on by the memory, Scarlet leaped out of bed, her swords materializing in the air in bright flashes of light. She searched the room frantically for any sign of the threat but found none. She blinked in confusion before her eyes fell on Primrose. Her swords vanished, her ears drooping. The filly was thrashing violently in her bed, her eyes screwed tightly shut, tears running freely down her cheeks to accompany her panicked shrieks.

“Prim!” She called again, rushing to her filly’s side. She gave her several harsh shakes, but for a moment, it did not seem to work. “Primrose, wake up! You’re having a nightmare!”

Finally, after another harsh shake, Primrose’s eyes snapped open, and she shot bolt upright in her bed. One of her hooves reached out in front of her as if to grab at something. Or someone. “NO!” She screamed, her voice going raw from the volume. “NO! Please, S-stop! I’m… I…”

Primrose blinked several times, her chest rising and falling in a series of heaving gasps as her eyes darted around. They soon found Scarlet’s. She swallowed heavily, her eyes shimmering with yet more tears. She sniffled. “S-Scarlet…” she choked out in a broken whimper.

“Prim,” Scarlet called to her again, gently placing her hooves on Primrose’s shoulders and pulling the foal into a warm embrace. Every motherly instinct she had was kicking into gear at once, her body acting on autopilot. She ran her hoof down the back of the foal’s mane to try and comfort her, and she shielded her from the world with her body.

“It’s okay, Primrose,” she cooed, nuzzling the filly’s mane. “It’s okay. It was just a bad dream. I have you. It’s alright. You’re okay.”

Primrose sniffled, her eyes squeezing shut. “S-S-Scarlet…” she choked out again, clinging tightly to Scarlet and burying her face into the mare’s chest fur. “I thought…”

“Sshh,” Scarlet shushed her quietly, giving her an affectionate squeeze. “It’s okay. It’s alright. Let it out. I’m here.”

With that gentle nudge, Primrose stopped holding back. She openly sobbed into Scarlet’s chest fur, dampening it with her tears while her small, skinny form was ravaged by horrible tremors. All the while, Scarlet comforted her to the best of her ability, drowning out the rest of the world. It didn’t matter just then.

At the same time that her instincts dictated her actions, her mind was flying into overdrive with confusion and concern. Primrose had been the victim of nightmares before, yes, but never once had they been so intense as to drive the foal to awaken in such a frightened state. She had never gotten beyond quiet whimpers or shudders in her sleep in all the time Scarlet had known her.

Could it have been the death of Sclera? It would make sense, if so. To lose her mother all over again just after getting her back, and this time with no chance of a surprise return… For one so young, and one who had suffered so much already, it must have been beyond traumatizing.

No answers came from Primrose, however. All that came was Lens, wandering into view a second later, appearing similarly groggy and confused. He briefly met Scarlet’s gaze. Without a word, he understood and leaped up to join them. He added his body to the mix and joined his voice to Scarlet’s in softly shushing and comforting Primrose.

The trio remained like that for far, far too long. Though it may have only been a few minutes, it felt like an eternity to Scarlet. At last, though, Primrose’s cries quieted down as the last of her energy was spent. She leaned back, still shaking, but able to speak and focus. She looked up at Scarlet. “...Th-thank you,” she whimpered.

Scarlet smiled and gave her another nuzzle. “You’re welcome, Primrose,” she whispered.

“I’m guessing it was a pretty bad nightmare, huh?” Lens asked, patting the foal on the head.

Primrose sniffled, offering only a slow nod in response. Scarlet glanced up at Lens, then knelt down to look into Prim’s eyes with a gentle smile. “Do you want to talk about it, sweetie?” she asked.

Primrose did not answer. After a moment, she merely shook her head.

“You sure?” Lens asked, sliding his hoof up to her shoulder. “We’re here to listen.”

Again, Primrose shook her head. Scarlet sighed at that, glancing up at Lens. His eyes stared back at hers, pleading for her guidance.

A few seconds passed before Lens sighed and withdrew somewhat. Scarlet took this as her cue and spoke up. “Okay, Prim… just do not forget that we are here for you. If you need to talk about it…”

This time, Primrose nodded, but she still did not say anything. She shuddered again, as if some memory from her nightmare was resurfacing, and quickly latched onto Scarlet with another frightened whimper.

Scarlet clutched her close, her brow furrowing. She glanced up at Lens to see him staring hopelessly back at her. Evidently, he had no idea what to do in this situation. Not that she could really blame him. This whole parenting thing was brand new for him. Scarlet was the expert, relatively speaking.

Judging by the intensity of Prim's quivers, there was no way the filly was going to get back to sleep right now. To try and make her was an exercise in futility, and with Scarlet’s own mind still reeling, she didn’t imagine she would be able to get much rest either. So, with a grimace, she looked down at Prim and met her gaze once the two pulled away. “Hey… what do you say to taking a short walk?” she asked softly.

Primrose blinked. “Huh? A walk?” she asked quietly.

Scarlet nodded. “Yes. It will help you work whatever is bothering you out of your system, help you clear your head, and help burn off any of the energy your fear’s given you. It should help you feel better, at least a little, and make it easier to sleep when we come back.”

Primrose was quiet for a few seconds before nodding her head. “O-okay… sure, that sounds… that sounds nice,” she mumbled half-heartedly.

Scarlet smiled before leaning down to give Prim a kiss on the forehead. “Alright. Let’s go, then,” she said, easing off the bed.

Lens followed after her. “I’m coming, too,” he said definitively.

Scarlet frowned at him. “Lens… I appreciate it, but-”

“Nope, don’t even try,” Lens cut her off with a raised hoof. “You’re still tender from your wounds, and Primrose needs all the support she can get. I’m coming.”

Scarlet opened her mouth to protest, but after a moment, conceded that Lens had a point. One of her hooves drifted up to her chest. A scar was still visible where Silent’s wingblade had pierced through her back and broken through her chest, and the fur where her own artillery blast had burned her was still thin and short compared to the rest. She winced as her hoof grazed against the injuries before nodding.

“Very well. Let us be about it, then.”

Lens relaxed at that, visibly relieved by the answer.

Scarlet turned back to Primrose just as the foal hopped down from the bed. She came up to Scarlet’s side, her head still down, hiding her face behind her long mane.

Scarlet frowned at her, her concern swelling even more. She placed a hoof on Prim’s back, hoping that she would sense and take comfort in Scarlet and Lens’ affection. Then, without a word, the trio took their leave of the room, passing through the circular tunnel that led out into the rest of Sanctuary.

Their path soon led them into a large chamber, larger than most of the others. Scarlet looked around, taking note of countless other holes all across the walls and domed roof, each leading to one or more rooms and homes just like the one they had just left. Along the ground level were vaguely egg-shaped constructs of darkened stone: larger homes reserved for larger families. The closest thing to a street was a series of paths dug into the stone floor that wound between the buildings, wide enough for ten stallions to walk abreast but only a few inches deep. At every intersection or corner, there were posts topped with resin lamps, all of which had been darkened to accompany the night. The only bright light source came in the form of a singularly large resin lamp that hung from the ceiling like a colossal chandelier, and even it was darker than usual.

Scarlet was not used to this chamber being so quiet. She had never been in it at such a late hour, and to see the streets so quiet and devoid of activity was unsettling. Where there were a few changelings going through the streets, they appeared to be little more than guards on patrol, ensuring nobody—or nopony—was acting out of line.

Those guards nodded at Scarlet’s group as they passed, often with quietly uttered greetings. Though she could sense the curiosity burning being their glowing eyes, they were polite enough to not pry into her business just now. As a result, the entire residential chamber was bathed in silence, save for the echoing clacks of chitinous hooves on the cold stone, like the muffled ticking of a hundred broken clocks.

The group did not have much of a destination as they walked. They meandered aimlessly, allowing their thoughts to wander. Scarlet’s gaze routinely drifted to Primrose, always hoping to see a more relaxed look on the foal’s face or to see her ready to speak about what was plaguing her mind. Every time, she was met with little more than silence and a curtain of purple hair.

They soon left the residential chamber. A guard was kind enough to open the way for them, and their hooves soon carried them into the entrance chamber. Scarlet briefly paused, her eyes sweeping across the still lingering damage left in the wake of Silent’s mercenaries. She grimaced at the sight, her chest tingling at the memory. Maybe this wasn’t the best place to bring Primrose…

“I wanna see mom,” Primrose’s voice suddenly spoke up in a weak whisper.

Scarlet almost jumped at the sudden sound. She looked down to see that Primrose had finally lifted her head, her eyes gazing distantly toward the exit. Scarlet frowned and looked to Lens. He frowned as well, but a moment later, he shrugged, deferring the decision to Scarlet’s judgment.

Scarlet looked down at Primrose, her brow furrowing. For a moment she wanted to politely and softly decline, not wanting to stimulate any more of Prim’s bad memories tonight, but then she remembered how she had gone running to the grave when she got upset earlier. She had sought comfort there, and it seemed to work if only a little.

Scarlet smiled after a moment and gave a nod. “Very well. I think we could do with some fresh air,” she confessed.

Primrose perked up just a little, her pace picking up a little. Scarlet and Lens fell into step behind her, walking side by side. The two guards stationed by the exit nodded at them as they passed, offering hushed warnings to not wander too far. Lens assured them in a similarly hushed tone as they passed.

Scarlet’s groggy mind began to feel refreshed as they emerged from Sanctuary, once again greeted by the sight of the valley. The moon sat high in the sky, casting its pale glow over the land. Scarlet shivered slightly as a chilly breeze of nighttime mountain air washed over her coat, assaulting her still tender flesh.

Primrose did not seem deterred. She simply turned and continued leading the way for Sclera’s grave. As they made their way up the path, though, Scarlet began to frown. Something didn’t feel right… Some instinct in her was making a fuss, trying to warn her that they weren’t safe.

“Do you feel that?” she asked in a whisper, glancing over at Lens.

“Hm? No?” he answered in an equally hushed tone, leaning closer. “What is it?”

Scarlet’s frown deepened. She set her jaw and narrowed her eyes, focusing directly ahead. “I don’t know… something just feels wrong…”

Lens frowned, looking directly ahead as well. He focused and Prim, who had pulled far ahead, and called after her. “Hey, slow down, Prim! Don’t go too far ahead!”

Primrose stopped and looked back, shying back sheepishly. “Oh, uh… sorry,” she apologized. She waited for Scarlet and Lens to catch up.

“It’s alright,” Scarlet told her once they were caught up, Primrose sticking close to her side now. “But remember, it’s dark out, and we don’t want to lose track of you.”

Primrose nodded at that, wrapping one of her hooves around Scarlet’s.

Giving the child’s hoof a firm squeeze, Scarlet returned her attention forward, her senses on alert for any signs of a threat. She was probably just being paranoid, but she would rather be safe than sorry after what had happened last time she felt like this.

They came to the top of the path, and Sclera’s grave came into view. However, they were not alone. Scarlet came to a stop and quickly pushed Primrose behind her when she caught sight of another figure, dark and shadowy, kneeling down in front of the grave. He was clad in the dark armor of the Nightblades, and two leathery wings were tucked neatly against his sides.

The Nightblade’s ears perked up, revealing they were topped with a noticeable tuft of fur. Their owner looked back over his shoulder, revealing vibrant purple eyes against a charcoal black coat that fairly glowed in the moonlight. Two sharp fangs jutted down from his lower lip. A small smile spread on his face. “Ah. I had not expected to see you here at this hour…” he said in a silky, silvery smooth voice.

Scarlet growled, her horn sparking to life. She should have known other Nightblades would take Silent’s place. The Lunar Council weren’t ones to give up that easily. She quickly spread her stance, summoning her swords protectively in front of her.

“Nocturn?!” Lens yelped in alarm, taking several steps back. “What the hell?!”

“You know him?!” Scarlet demanded though she dared not take her eyes off the thestral for even a moment.

“We have met,” Nocturn answered in Lens’ place as he slowly rose to his hooves. “But allow me to properly introduce myself nonetheless. I am Nocturn, Spymaster of the Lunar Council. Now please, Miss Frost, put away your swords. I did not come here to fight you.”

Scarlet’s eyes widened as she caught sight of a thick blue ribbon tied around Nocturn’s foreleg, which he slowly lifted to show it off to her. A blue banner. He was here to negotiate, then.

She snarled and slowly lowered her blades, though she did not dispel them outright. “Is that so?” she asked slowly, not making any effort to hide the resentment in her voice.

Nocturn nodded, lowering himself to his haunches. “It is. I am here to speak with Lord Hraesvalgr and Flurry Heart on behalf of the Lunar and Solar Councils. If you would be so kind as to show me to them-”

“If you would trade words, you will trade them with us or not at all,” Scarlet shot down without missing a beat, peeling her lips back to show her teeth. “As far as I am concerned, you are the enemy, so you will forgive me for not bringing a master assassin face-to-face with the leader of the city I now call home!”

Nocturn shrugged in defeat. “Very well. All I ask, then, is that you convey what I have to say to them when I take my leave.”

Scarlet snarled. “...Fine. Now out with it. What do you want?!”

“And how did you even find us?!” Primrose demanded, poking her head out from being Scarlet’s legs.

“I’d rather like to know that, myself,” Lens added, stepping forward to stand by Scarlet’s side, his own horn lighting up just in case. “This valley isn’t exactly easy to reach, and it blends it quite nicely with all the others. How did you find us?”

Nocturn paused for a moment as if he were considering how best to answer. A moment passed before he sighed, his eyes falling on Primrose. “...Silent Edge. I followed him here...”

Primrose’s ears drooped at the mention of that name, and she quickly withdrew.

Scarlet bared her teeth. “Is that so…?”

Nocturn nodded. “It is. You see, Scarlet, when word was brought to the Lunar Council of your accusations against him, they saw fit to place him on trial then and there, by way of a dream trial. I was present, and I was able to watch as all of his abhorrent crimes were brought to light before the eyes of the Council…”

Scarlet’s eyes widened in confusion. “A… a dream trial?” she echoed, unfamiliar with the term.

Nocturn nodded. “They are an exceptionally rare form of trial, only conducted in special cases where there is no room for error, and the truth must be ascertained: internal cases of those with a high rank, or any case that could have a profound impact on New Equestria as a whole. Were you to be placed on trial, Scarlet, you can rest assured that your trial would be conducted in the Dream Realm as well, for your list of crimes is extensive and severe.”

Lens frowned. “So they just dug through his memories?”

Nocturn turned, glancing up at the moon. “They did. A morally questionable violation of his mind, of that there can be no question. But in such cases as his and those like him, the alternative would be permitting a monster such as him the opportunity to carry on to commit more atrocities, which I believe is the greater crime.”

A moment passed before Nocturn continued, his tone dropping. “As such, the truth of his traitorous actions was ascertained. However… by my request, he was not given the death penalty that his actions would otherwise warrant.”

“So YOU spared him?!” Scarlet demanded, her horn flaring up. Her eyes drifted past the thestral to stare at Sclera’s grave, and her blood began to boil. “If so, then you had a hoof in the tragedy that befell this valley!”

Nocturn actually winced guiltily at that. He was quick to compose himself, however, his tone unchanging. “I am aware… You have my assurance, it was not my intention to allow things to go as they did. But circumstances were not in my favor…”

“Oh really?” Scarlet spat incredulously. “I call bullshit!”

Nocturn frowned. “Your call is false. My intent on requesting Silent live was so that he be stripped of his rank and titles within the Nightblades. The Council granted my request, and so it came to pass that he was banished from Newcanter, forever an outcast from that city. I knew him very well, and I knew that his pride would not permit him to walk a new path. I knew full well that he would continue his hunt of you, Primrose, if only out of spite. And as such, it was my intent to follow him as he gave chase. He would lead me to you, and I would intervene before he could commit any further atrocities. Then, I would attempt to attain the lamp in a more peaceful manner…”

He lifted his eyes to look up at the mountains, no doubt imagining what it was like within Sanctuary itself. “Alas… I was unable to stop him in time. My team and I were caught up in the swarm of feral changelings, just like you and Silent. In the chaos, we lost track of our target, and by the time we located him again, it was no longer possible to intervene without causing more harm.”

“How so?” Lens asked skeptically.

“He had already enlisted the aid of the griffon mercenaries that attacked Sanctuary,” Nocturn clarified. “And as he had paid their fee, they would be loyal to him. It was no longer possible to intervene without potentially getting myself and the surviving members of my team slaughtered. And even were we to succeed, the friction such an incident would cause between the Lunar and Solar Councils would be difficult to manage and potentially damaging to innocent ponies.”

“We were forced to observe and wait for an opportunity. None, however, presented themselves, until it was far too late. Silent’s assault began, and we learned of the truth of Sanctuary - at least, in part.”

“In part?” Primrose questioned.

Nocturn nodded. “We bore witness to your meeting with Hraesvalgr and Flurry in the valley. We heard your conversation, and so we learned that the lamp was of some significance to the First Dragon Sentinel and one of the Five. Such a revelation rendered my original mission of acquiring the lamp… no longer advisable. When the battle ended, I chose to withdraw back to Newcanter to report my findings to the Lunar Council, that they might decide how best to proceed.”

Scarlet blinked, becoming increasingly taken aback by the spymaster’s openness. He was a spy, after all, but here he was, telling her everything. She frowned, a new wave of doubt coming over her. “...Why are you telling us this?” she demanded.

Nocturn paused, and finally, his stoic expression softened with guilt. He looked down at Primrose, his posture sagging. “...Because you are right. The tragedy that transpired here was my fault… and that includes the death of your mother, Primrose. Her demise came as a result of my decision to spare Silent, and though I had no way of knowing it would happen the way it did, it does not undo the damage he did due to my negligence… during the attack, and for so many years prior.”

Primrose’s eyes widened. “W-what…?”

Nocturn sighed, his wings adjusting fitfully against his sides. “...There is a saying in the Nightblades that I coined when I assumed the position of Spymaster. ‘We are only as evil as we need to be.’ Only as evil as is needed of us to preserve our home… but Silent Edge… he ignored such a notion. I see now how truly selfish he was, and the countless evils he wrought upon you and those you loved is… it is unconscionable. As his superior, the responsibility for his actions falls upon my shoulders. I did not see the monster he was turning into, nor did I see the path of blood he left in his wake. Innocent ponies died who never should have… all in the name of killing you… a mere child.”

Nocturn then closed his eyes and bowed his head low. “I do not expect you to ever forgive me or my order for all of the suffering you have been forced to endure because of us, Primrose… I see now that we were wrong to hunt you as we did… But even if forgiveness is forever beyond me, on behalf of New Equestria and the Lunar Council, I am sorry… And I swear, upon my life, that I will not rest until the last weeds of Silent’s evil and corruption are purged from my order, and I will not allow any others like him to soil the ranks of the Nightblades until death grants me leave to retire. It shall be my penance…”

Scarlet’s jaw dropped open in shock, and she did not doubt that Lens and Primrose were matching her expression. Of all the things she had been expecting when she had seen Nocturn’s blue banner, this was nowhere on the list. She mouthed uselessly for several seconds, trying in vain to find some response.

Primrose was the one to respond, however. She stepped forward until Scarlet grabbed her to keep her back, focusing on Nocturn with an unreadable frown. Several seconds passed before she looked down at the ground. “...You let Silent kill my family,” she whispered quietly as a chilling breeze washed over the mountains. “Every family I ever had… And you tortured my mom in those dungeons for… years. You hurt her. You hurt me. You’re right... I can’t ever forgive you… I won’t.”

Nocturn nodded in understanding, before slowly rising back to sit upright. “I can hope for no better…” he muttered. With slow movements, he reached into his saddlebags and withdrew a scroll with what Scarlet recognized as the seal of the Solar and Lunar Councils. “Now… for the official reason I am here… the Councils bade me bring this message to Lord Hraesvalgr and Flurry, but as my meeting is with you, I can only request you deliver it to the dragon and goddess in my stead.”

Lens, who had been struck into gobsmacked silence, gingerly took the scroll in his magic, bringing it over to him and Scarlet. “W… W-what is it?” he asked quietly.

Nocturn nodded at it. “It is an invitation. The Solar and Lunar Councils desire to open diplomatic relations with Sanctuary… They believe that, in light of recent events, the time for conflict has passed. In part due to my insistence, they desire to make amends for the damage their paranoia has done to the Free Changelings over these centuries.”

Scarlet glanced at the letter. This night was giving her surprise after surprise, and she was starting to have trouble keeping them all straight. Diplomatic relations between Sanctuary and New Equestria? She had not believed that would ever happen… and indeed, it still might not. Spike was notoriously protective of his subjects and guarded Sanctuary’s secrecy with a ferocity Scarlet had not seen before.

A few moments passed before Nocturn stepped back. “One last matter before I depart… I know that Twilight Sparkle and her five saints have returned.”

“What?!” Scarlet asked, focusing on the thestral again. “How?!”

Nocturn spread his wings as if to show his hand in a game of cards. “I will confess, I left a member of my team behind when I left for Newcanter, that he might monitor the situation here and learn more. He overheard changelings excitedly speaking about their release from the lamp, and he regaled me with all he knew upon my return. Rest assured, I ordered him to make his return to Newcanter upon the conclusion of his report. If he yet lingers and is discovered, then Hraesvalgr has my permission as the commander of the Nightblades to do with him as he sees fit, for he will be acting against my orders and my wishes.”

“That is incredibly trusting of you,” Lens noted skeptically, finally regaining some of his senses. “Why would you do that?”

Nocturn turned his back on the trio. “There are innumerable crimes for which I must atone… if I am to do that, then I must earn your trust.”

A gentle breeze washed over the gravesite. A second passed before Nocturn glanced back at the others. “And thus, my message is delivered, and my mission accomplished. The rest I leave to you. Farewell… and again, Primrose… I am truly sorry.”

Primrose looked down, her ears drooping. “...Just go away,” she whispered in disdain.

Nocturn frowned but offered up no protest. Without another word, he gave his great bat-like wings a flap and leaped from the cliffside, flying up to disappear into the night. Scarlet watched him go until he faded from sight, which was far quicker than she had been expecting. She practically blinked only to find that he was gone... He was the spymaster for a reason, she supposed.

She quickly knelt down next to Primrose, draping a foreleg over the filly’s back to comfort her. “Hey… you okay?” she asked softly.

Primrose nodded. “Y-yeah… yeah, I… I’m okay,” she whispered, though her voice was distant and hollow.

Scarlet grimaced her concern from earlier swelling even more. She glanced up at Lens, who was still looking over the scroll with a stern frown. He turned to Scarlet and wiggled the scroll in the air for emphasis. “Well… what do we do now?” he asked carefully.

Scarlet eyed the scroll. She gently took it in her magic and gave it a critical examination. Some small part of her wanted to burn it to cinders and be done with all of this, to spit in the offer the Councils were putting forward. What right did they have to request an audience with those they had been routinely harming for centuries? Did they truly believe they could actually make amends after all they had done?

A second passed before a heavy sigh escaped her lips. It wasn’t her decision to make… She stood to her full height and turned to look back the way they had come. “...We deliver the message to Spike,” she said plainly. “After that… we let him deal with it.”

Lens frowned, but after a moment, gave a nod. “Right… should we do that now?” he asked, glancing back to Primrose. “I mean… some of us still need sleep…”

Scarlet nodded. “The sooner we pass this off to the ones it concerns, the sooner we can be done with our part in this,” she said. “Once the letter is in Spike’s claws, we can go back home and get back to sleep.”

Lens nodded. “Alright… lead on, I guess.”

Scarlet hummed. She placed Primrose on her back with her magic, taking a moment to ensure the foal was comfortable. She then set off at a brisk trot, eager to be done with this and get back to simpler matters. She had no desire to get wrapped up in this ordeal anymore.

With that thought burning in the forefront of her mind, Scarlet led the way from Sclera’s grave, heading back for Sanctuary.

Author's Note:

Bada Bing Bada Boom, we got another chapter already! I figured I'd yuck this one out to all of you as an apology for prior delays and get you all up to what is, in essence, the incendiary incident for the rest of the story after this point.