• Published 8th Sep 2012
  • 2,990 Views, 343 Comments

Starlit Knights - BlackRoseRaven

Darkness has come to Equestria, and the world is threatened with destruction. Can Luna stop it?

  • ...

A Lesson In Unicorn Tradition

Chapter Twenty Five: A Lesson In Unicorn Tradition

There was silence in the air, even as Scrivener Blooms reached up and pulled Sleipnir’s helm quietly off, shaking his faintly-glowing white mane out as he fully revealed his charcoal features to take away any doubt at all about who he was, Luna on one side, Twilight Sparkle on the other… and the three unicorns standing across from them shifted in revulsion.

In the center was a mare who was bundled up in heavy furs, a little too much makeup over her face, angry but obviously far-more-terrified than anything else. Her coat was white, her mane done up in a tight blonde bun, her tail ornamented with a diamond… and she grimaced worriedly as her brown eyes flicked towards the unicorn on the right, leaning towards him and whispering hurriedly into his ear.

This unicorn was male and wore both heavy leather boots over his hooves as well as a tight vest lined with metal plates and a thick leather cap over his skull. One side of his face was pockmarked and scarred, his ear missing, an eyepatch covering the socket as he bared teeth that were yellowed on one side and grinding metal on the other. On his exposed flank, there was the emblem of a shield… and he closed his brown eye after a moment as he lowered his head moodily to whatever the mare said, his chestnut coat, shaved-down black mane and cropped tail making him clearly visible against the dirty whiteness of his snowy surroundings.

Then the unicorn to the mare’s other side stepped forwards: his coat was pale white, making him seem ghostly amidst the frost and gray light, his horn spired and tall, his mane and tail black with aged streaks of gray. His dark eyes glared from behind small glasses at Scrivener Blooms, looking at him with loathing and disgust as he leaned forwards, the cutie mark of brambles on his flank seeming almost to twist and move as he shouted: “How dare you! Coming crawling back after all these years, acting as if you’re better than us, acting as if you’re here as some… savior, with a whore on either side?”

Scrivener snarled furiously, stepping forwards as Luna’s eyes glowed and Twilight gritted her teeth, before the earth pony shouted back, even as the mare grabbed at the unicorn: “Twilight Sparkle is my friend and Luna is my wife… the former Princess of the Night, now the Champion of Equestria! And I’m not some little helpless foal anymore, Bramblethorn!”

“Slave-hoofs are not permitted to speak the names of unicorns! And no matter how big, how strong, how ‘special’ you think you are, Scrivener Blooms, you are nothing but a filthy mud-walking, hoof-licking servant!” Bramblethorn snarled in return as he shrugged the mare off, and then the two stormed forwards, glaring furiously at each other as the unicorn’s horn glowed vibrantly and Scrivener’s body tensed with barely-contained fury.

Luna felt Nightmare Moon writhing inside her as her starry mane sizzled violently and her wings spread and shuddered, barely able to contain her rage and feeling it trebled by Scrivy’s own… and at the same time, she was startled by the depth of her husband’s anger. But this place, with all these memories… and these hateful ponies pried at the nerves hidden beneath all of the earth pony’s layers of armor and sarcasm, as Twilight Sparkle slowly strode ahead and then reached up, touching Scrivy’s shoulder, as the mare hurried forwards and grabbed Bramblethorn again, muttering quickly into his ear.

Father and son continued to glare at each other… and then Scrivy leaned back, taking a slow, calming breath before he said quietly: “We’re here, and we’re not leaving. You and your elitist unicorn friends might not want us here, but there are earth ponies and Pegasi here as well that likely won’t feel the same way. Hell, there are probably even unicorns that are happy to have us on board, even in this sick, ancient part of Equestria. Let’s just stay out of each other’s way, how about that?”

Bramblethorn snarled… and then he leaned forwards and said in a slow, disgusted voice, shoving the mare unicorn away: “I’m glad your mother is dead and can’t see this atrocity. After you left, it wasn’t long before she died from shame, you know. No, it wasn’t enough that she gave birth to a mudwalker, that uppity little mudwalker then turned out to be a runaway and a road-tramp who got the idea in his head that he had a right to a higher station in life. Earth ponies are not ‘writers’ or ‘poets.’ Artwork is the realm of the nobles, the unicorns. Pegasus ponies are the soldiers. Your station is carrying my kind through the mud and sludge and sewage that your kind thrives in, filthy upstart vermin crow-”

“Enough.” snapped the scarred unicorn, and Bramblethorn grumbled and dropped his head moodily as Luna and Twilight now only stared with horrified shock at the venomous unicorn, and Scrivener Blooms simply shook his head slowly, unsurprised and disgusted.

The scarred unicorn looked at Scrivener Blooms with contempt and distaste, but he at least kept his tone civil, saying coldly: “There are several abandoned apartments and a ruined storage silo at the eastern end of town. Your lot is free to set up there. Mayor?”

“Oh, yes, yes.” The mare glanced up with an awkward flush, nodding a few times as she said hurriedly: “I… I’m very busy today, but tomorrow morning I really wish to speak to… Champion Luna.”

Luna stepped forwards at this, tossing an ugly look at Bramblethorn as he only looked back with disgust, then she turned her eyes to the mayor, saying distastefully: “And thou cannot speak now? For I am here. With my husband. Our soldiers are cold and hungry, but I believe they are as anxious as I am to hear whatever thou has to say.”

“N-No, no, no, I really… must be going. Commander Scutum, please assist our new… friends… in finding their lodging. Chancellor Bramblethorn, let’s head back to town hall, there’s… business to attend to.” the mayor mumbled, lowering her head and scuttling quickly off down the road without waiting for a goodbye, and Luna grimaced before she looked up and met the male unicorn’s eyes.

They glared at each other, and then Bramblethorn shot one last, contemptible look at Scrivy as the earth pony picked up his helm and placed it back over his head, before the unicorn turned and stormed off down the path as Scutum grimaced after them, then made a face at the ponies as he said moodily: “Please. Follow me.”

The others were silent, the supply wagons rumbling creakily through the plowed streets as he led them past decrepit buildings of brick and gray wood, lanterns burning in many of the shuttered windows as ponies looked apprehensively out at them. Earth ponies glanced tiredly up from the sides of the street, some in rags, many in nothing at all, while unicorns glared at them, usually in pairs, most of them in heavy coats or furs. It was like they had stepped into the past, and Luna shuddered as she felt Scrivener’s anger… and the hostility in the very air around them, as the minotaurs looked moodily back and forth and ponies gazed with equal distrust around themselves, staying in tighter grouping than they had even passing through the treacherous barrens.

They arrived at a block of half-collapsed buildings on the far end of town and what the unicorn had called a ‘storage silo,’ which certainly living up to its descriptor of ‘ruined:’ it was broken in half, the roof laying in a shattered pile to one side of the building and most of the rest imploded on itself as if some great giant had attempted to squeeze the top of it inside the bottom half of the building, and Luna looked back and forth with disgust as Commander Scutum said distastefully: “These were the old servant quarters for the unicorn district, to the north, but they recently fell into disrepair and were vacated several months ago. They’re what we’re offering.”

“I appreciate that thou aren’t lying, at least, and saying ‘the best we could have offered.’” Luna muttered, and Scutum looked at her grouchily before the winged unicorn glanced back and forth with a sigh: on the bright side, there were at least three of the large, ramshackle buildings, and the road dead-ended not very far past the ruins of the storage silo at an enormous pile of snow. They were at the eastern edge of the town, the fencing here even uglier than it had been to the south, and Luna knew they would have to fortify the defenses here… possibly from both the town itself as well as the outside. “Cowlick, I require thy expertise… and bring Ross!”

The earth pony was already moodily approaching, and the Commander snorted at the sight of her and the unicorn, looking distasteful as she shot a glare at him, then grinned and said sweetly: “Thanks, Commander Balls, but I don’t think we need your help here anymore.”

“Scutum. My name means shield.” the unicorn narrowed his eyes at her, leaning forwards… but Cowlick only glared back at the scarred soldier, undaunted as Luna grinned despite herself.

“I know what it means, pretty pony. And I know exactly what I said, too.” Cowlick retorted, and then she grunted to Ross and motioned towards one of the buildings. “Give me an estimate of these things’ dimensions and what needs to be repaired, handsome.”

“I’m not going to like you, am I?” Scutum said slowly, and when Cowlick gave him a flat look, he rolled his eye, then looked moodily at Luna and Scrivener Blooms as Twilight lingered in the background and studied them silently. “Fine. I don’t have time for this. Let’s get an understanding though, before I leave… whatever my personal feelings, I still know my loyalties and know my place. But Scrivener Blooms… you cannot go around, starting trouble. Stay away from Bramblethorn and his new wife, Mayor Caprice.”

“Oh hell, that’s just wonderful.” Scrivener Blooms said disgustedly, and Scutum looked at him for a moment… and then, surprisingly, he grinned bitterly in concurrence.

“You know, whether you’re a slave-hoof or not, I can’t help but agree.” Scutum shook his head slowly, lowering his head moodily… a unicorn, obviously settled in the old ways, obviously a believer in superiority… and yet he looked disgusted all the same with the subject of Scrivener’s father, as both Luna and the earth pony looked at him curiously. But then he only looked up and nodded grimly. “Tomorrow morning I’ll be in the mayor’s chambers to discuss what’s been going on. Be wary at night… the problem here isn’t Nibelung raiders as much as it is… other things. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

With that, Scutum turned and headed past the wagons, and they watched him leave silently, not knowing quite what to think of the scarred unicorn yet. Then Scrivener sighed a little, looking from Luna to Twilight before he said quietly: “I’m sorry.”

“No, do not be. Thou has seen me far worse, for far less reason.” Luna said quietly, and she leaned forwards and embraced him tightly before glancing up with a faint smile as Cowlick approached, looking grim. “The news is never good, is it?”

“Not at all. With your permission, I want to rip apart the remains of that silo, use the pieces we can salvage for repairs, and set that up as a yard for the wagons and where we can put up a few tents, too.” Cowlick shook her head in disgust. “Floors are rotted, there’s… some kind of weird fungal growth over the walls despite the cold, and joists look badly damaged in this building here. Personal opinion? I’d demo it, too, rip out what can be used for repairs and burn the rest, and hope for the best with those other two apartment sections.”

Luna sighed a little… then she glanced at Twilight Sparkle as Scrivener silently gazed towards the city, the sapphire winged unicorn asking quietly: “Can thou hold down base here, and help organize operations? I am sure that between them, Cowlick and Ross will do the brunt of the work… but ‘tis better if a leader figure such as thyself is still here, to help guide the others. Thou art strong and… they look to thee, I think, even more than they look to me, which I am glad for.”

“Of course… but where are you two going?” Twilight asked quietly, looking from one to the other with concern, and when Scrivener Blooms only smiled a little and shrugged a bit, she nodded slowly before stepping forwards and trading a fierce hug with him. “Take care of yourself. Without you, after all, we won’t have Luna around, and we kind of need her.”

They shared a bit of a laugh at this, their eyes meeting for a moment before they both smiled hesitantly as Luna drew her eyes over them softly… and then the three nodded slowly before Scrivy and the sapphire winged unicorn fell in quiet step with one-another, heading silently past the stopped wagons and their soldiers, their allies, their friends, on a quiet trek into North Neigh. Around them, houses loomed, and the gray skies ground down oppressively… only mid-afternoon, but it looked like evening and felt like so much later than that, as the wind hissed around them, as unwelcoming as the eyes that glared balefully from windows and the sides of the road.

They walked slowly through the streets, Scrivener quietly gazing back and forth as they strode in silence, and Luna felt memories rising, stirring through their mixed mind, playing silently on the strings of her heart and soul. It was strange, the memories that came back to the earth pony, that stood out in his mind with odd emotions attached to them; like this old shop, with the beaten dumpsters behind it the young pony had scavenged through on a regular basis for paper and broken quills and had once found a whole inkwell sitting on top of, as if left as a present for him by some kind soul. He remembered not only the inkwell, but how the shop had been faded yellow back then… and now the paint was simply faded.

His eyes roved towards a lamppost, under which he remembered, with strange clarity, being shoved around by unicorns and Pegasi; as they strode onwards, he looked down a side road, remembered watching other earth ponies playing their games, children of servants to unicorn families that at least had each other. They continued through the small town, looking back and forth at the dilapidated structures as more memories surfaced, and Luna did her best to remember the layout… even though Scrivener’s memories were what drew most of her attention.

Then the earth pony grunted as a snowball smacked into his face, twitching to the side in surprise as Luna snarled… and then stared in shock at the sight of several unicorn foals scurrying away down the alley, one of them shouting angrily over his shoulder: “Slave-hoof! Go away, slave-hoof!”

“I… even the foals…” Luna murmured, gritting her teeth… and then she shook her head violently as her mane sizzled and Scrivy wiped snow distastefully off his features. “Oh, Scrivy…”

“Well, of course the unicorns start teaching them, as soon as they can… if you want to control somepony’s life, really lock in their beliefs, you… get to them when they’re young.” Scrivener grimaced a little, looking down at the frosted road silently before he glanced up with a tired sigh. “Because believe me. Then no matter what happens, no matter who tells you different… there’s always some part of you that believes whatever you were told again and again and again and again…”

Luna looked at him silently, then she leaned forwards and nuzzled him quietly, and the male smiled a little before he glanced up towards the end of the street: just a little further down, there was a ramshackle storefront… and Scrivener shuddered a little bit as he looked at this. Without realizing it, he had just led them to the old shop… except it looked like now, instead of gardening supplies and other odds and ends, Bramblethorn had sold it off, likely after the death of his mother, Tia Belle. “I’d… like to step inside there for a moment.”

The winged unicorn nodded slowly, then she pressed their sides together as they walked forwards, Scrivener giving her a faint smile as they headed quietly across the road and to the rickety steps. For a moment, Scrivy hesitated as he looked up silently… and then the door at the top opened, and the male had a moment where he expected only to see Bramblethorn again, glaring down at him, just like the old days…

But instead, it was an old unicorn who frowned down at them curiously, adjusting the glasses at the end of his wrinkled muzzle before he smiled a bit and stepped backwards, keeping the door open as his horn shimmered faint white. “Well, please, come inside.”

Luna and Scrivy traded a surprised look, but Scrivener nodded and hesitantly walked up the steps, glancing quietly at the new sign that hung over the ancient exterior, which read: ‘Allsorts Emporium.’

The layout was surprisingly similar as they entered and closed the door tight behind them: short, stocky shelves still stood in file in the center of the single room store, and a staircase led up to the second floor and what had used to be sleeping quarters… and the old unicorn smiled over his shoulder at them as he strode towards the counter, picking up a cloth in hoof and polishing the scarred wood slowly as he said softly: “Sir Scrivener Blooms and Princess Luna… Champion Luna, I suppose I should say. It’s a real honor… although I’m guessing your reception here hasn’t been the warmest.”

Scrivy smiled despite himself at this, glancing back and forth along the racks of coats and jackets and other odds and ends that now lined the walls, looking in fascination at the shelves that were full of toys and building blocks and books and other things as Luna strode forwards, asking curiously: “And who art thou, who welcomes us so? Surely thou are no native of this place.”

“I’m a native of Equestria, and this whole country is my home. Even the rocky bits.” the old unicorn smiled over his shoulder, gray-blue body and faded white mane almost glimmering as he bowed his head politely towards her. “But I grew up in Canterlot, yes. I was a historian there, or rather… a silly old stallion who’s always been interested in fairy tales. Ten years ago, I moved up here… North Neigh accepted me readily enough, and I was able to buy this place from Bramblethorn for a little more than it’s actually worth… but I had the money to spare. They liked that about me: I wasn’t just a unicorn, but one with money. And listen to me ramble on without answering your question… you’ll excuse me. Old age.”

He chuckled quietly, then pushed the rag aside and slowly turned back around, letting them clearly see for a moment the cutie mark of an open red book before he faced them, gazing at them with his warm silver eyes. “My name is William Isehorse. I came here ten years ago to study the mountains and the legends that surround them. There’s always been a lot of talk about prophecy and predictions in this part of Equestria, after all… but I think all of us here believe we shape our own destinies, isn’t that right, Champion Luna?”

“Luna is fine, and we are well-met… and apparently, well-understood, which I am glad for.” the winged unicorn replied with a slight smile, studying him curiously. “Strange to see such a soul as thee in dark times as this, however.”

“Dark times make the best stories, and I’m old anyway. Besides, I’ve spent years and years studying predictions and legends and now all of it is coming true around me. It’s scary, yes. And it is tragic… but it is also incredible, as I’m sure you understand yourself.” Isehorse replied quietly, nodding slowly and solemnly. “But I am also an optimist… and seeing you here, seeing you working, striving, to fight against the darkness and willing to save even the unicorns that… if you’ll pardon the term… revile you… well, it gives me great hope, that at the end of this tunnel… there’s a bright future waiting for our younger generations.”

Luna smiled broader at this, and even Scrivy relaxed a little before Isehorse leaned forwards on his hooves, asking kindly: “And now, as you’ve been so generous to listen to an old pony’s ramblings… is there anything I can get you? And while I’m sure that the unicorns have refused to give you much in the way of aid, I’m very glad to part with some cloaks and other odds and ends if you would like. What you’re doing is a great service for our nation, for ponies everywhere… and believe me, there are others who welcome you here with even greater fervor than I do. I know that North Neigh is dark and treacherous, but… you have friends even here, Luna, and you too, Scrivener Blooms.”

They both smiled at this, and then Scrivy hesitated for a moment before he said quietly: “You know, a lot of ponies know who Luna is… but they usually don’t recognize me. I’m curious… how do you know who I am? You seem to know a lot about us.”

But the old unicorn only chuckled and gazed at him with entertainment. “Then obviously, you haven’t heard what a stir your return has made in the city chambers. It doesn’t help that Bramblethorn is now a Chancellor as well as the mayor’s husband, despite the obvious conflict of interest… but many unicorns are very upset. Normally, earth ponies who quote-unquote ‘abandon’ North Neigh never, ever return… and not only did you march back into this town, you did it with Champion Luna… and the gossip mills said you had another winged unicorn on you other side. If your goal was to upset as many unicorns as possible in the shortest space of time you could, I think you just accomplished that with flying colors.”

Scrivener smiled despite himself at this as Luna gave a nasty little grin of pleasure as she replied easily: “Oh, William, worry not… our goal is far more heinous than that. Perhaps tonight after setting up camp we shall envision further ways to make mischief that will poison the senses of these elitist snobs. There are few lows I would not stoop to.”

The old unicorn chuckled quietly, and then he gazed from one to the other, saying softly: “And strangely, I take relief in this fact. But come, there must be something I can offer you, in means of supplies… or perhaps at least a distraction or two from the tires of the battlefield.”

Scrivy began to open his mouth to politely decline, but Luna nudged him firmly as she glanced around the room, saying pointedly: “’Twould be folly to say no in such dire times and dark places to such a generous offer. And furthermore, I am indeed curious to see the sorts of things thou has in thy shop.”

The old unicorn smiled at this warmly as Scrivener Blooms gave Luna a half-amused, half-exasperated look… and some ten minutes later, the two made their way out of the store, Scrivy now with a simple pack strapped to his back as he looked over his shoulder with entertainment at Luna, who was now wearing a heavy black cloak over her body, made of some thick, fluffy material. “You know, you really need to stop taking advantage of ponies.”

“When ponies ask to be taken advantage of, Scrivener Blooms, ‘tis a very rude thing indeed to refuse them.” Luna replied mildly, and Scrivy rolled his eyes as they strode quietly down the streets, before the winged unicorn smiled a little and added quietly: “And besides. As well as a few trinkets for Scarlet Sage and others… we have gathered some very interesting information, have we not? William Isehorse is a veritable wellspring of knowledge… we shall have to make good on our promise to visit him again soon and see what else he knows.”

Scrivy nodded slowly at this, grimacing a little as he said quietly: “It bothers me that Bramblethorn managed to get into a seat on city council… and from there, marry another politician and help her establish herself as mayor. And it all happened only six months ago, too… it’s like something wanted to throw as many roadblocks in our way as possible, if we ever got here.”

“Aye, but it may also be merely coincidence, disgusted as I am to say. Bramblethorn was always looking to spread his influence, was he not?” asked Luna quietly, and Scrivy nodded moodily, making a face. “I am sorry, Scrivener Blooms. I wish that we had known more before coming here… and this will require another letter to Celestia. Strange, though, that she hasn’t yet replied to my previous one… but perhaps she has been ensnared in memories of her own. For now, I will trust in her instead of suspecting her plotting some new grand scheme.”

“Then I’ll do my best to do the same.” Scrivener said softly, and they continued on in quiet through the darkening streets, getting glares and strange looks from the ponies they passed, but no one dared challenge them this time.

They returned to what was slowly becoming the Starlit Knights’ base, and Luna gave a grimace as she looked moodily out at the ramshackle buildings, wagons parked in front of these and around the edges, a few tents set up in the distance. For a moment, both ponies thought briefly of Sol Seraph, of how quickly and efficiently she had set up her base with her countless soldiers and minotaurs… and then the two traded a grim look before their eyes were drawn to Twilight Sparkle as the pony trotted towards them, looking tired and flushed.

“I’m glad you’re back, it’s been… ugh.” Twilight dropped her head forwards, shaking it quickly before she looked up and said moodily: “We had some unicorns stop by, harassing everyone… they called Rainbow Dash a… I don’t know, I never heard the term before, it was something like…”

“They called him a shorn-wing.” Scrivener stated more than asked, and Twilight glanced up in surprise even as she nodded quickly. “And I’m guessing they probably called you a variety of derogatory names and eventually worked the courage up to say you were a splinter-horn or split-hoof.”

“And I’ll kill them all for it.” Luna grumbled, even as Twilight only continued to look a little confused despite nodding slowly. “Vicious miscreants. Let’s see them be bold enough to call me such mocking names… I’ll break their bones with sticks and stones, for words may only enrage me.”

“I like your version of that little saying, but please keep in mind that we are here to save most of them.” Scrivener Blooms replied dryly, and Luna made a face even as she nodded moodily, before the earth pony sighed and shook his head. “Shorn-wing means a Pegasus who has ‘lowered’ themselves to the level of an earth pony and ‘splinter-horn’ means an earth pony who’s essentially glued a fake unicorn horn to their head. Split-hoof means half-breed. They’re old names… meant to insult the dignity of an entire pony’s family. Very nasty sayings that you don’t hear a lot of in the south.”

“Well, I’ve heard split-hoof before, but not those other names, so let them say what they want, I really could care less. However, it’s been a little chaotic… ponies are still upset and Pinkamena… well. She got herself beaten up by Applejack. Big Mac and Rainbow Dash had to pull her off.” Twilight grimaced and shook her head slowly, rubbing at her face with a sigh as the two ponies frowned. “I dunno. Applejack saw her, went over to talk to her, was being really nice and Pinkamena said… something about Pinkie Pie, and then something about all that… you know, that stuff that went on before with… you know, her and…” She cleared her throat pointedly, and the two ponies nodded, Luna giving a faint smile. “Anyway, it was more than enough to be the straw that broke the pony’s back. She’s under a lot of stress and Pinkamena-”

“Knows just what buttons to press, aye. Poor, pathetic creature…” Luna shook her head slowly and Twilight Sparkle glanced up with a frown, and the winged unicorn only smiled faintly. “Oh, be not naïve, my beloved friend. Applejack is a fine knight, strong companion, and cherished friend… but Pinkamena kills Nibelung with her bare hooves and laughs at the sport of it. From thy words, Applejack is mostly unharmed… Scrivener Blooms and I shall go and speak to her. See if we may help her.”

“I… okay.” Twilight Sparkle said slowly, and she sighed before half-turning and gesturing towards a lonely tent in the far distance. “She set up far away from everyone, and she just trudged back over there after I scolded her for a little while. Refused to get her wounds tended to or anything, just… laughed and walked away. I…”

She fell silent, reaching up and touching the Element of Magic hanging around her neck, and she shook her head slowly as she murmured: “The Elements of Harmony were supposed to protect us, Luna. I thought… I thought they made us special, and different, in my heart. I never wanted to admit it, it feels so egotistical, but… I… I don’t know. Pinkie Pie, losing her… it… it hurts more than I ever imagined it could. Losing Trixie was horrible… losing Pinkie, I can see it in everyone’s faces, it’s…”

“I know.” Luna said softly, stepping forwards and reaching a hoof up to rest quietly on her shoulder. “Thou art special, Twilight, but it is no mere… gemstone that makes thou special. It is what is inside thee that does that. I know the pain is great, but thou must remember one thing as well: if we do not continue forwards, if we do not combat this darkness, if we falter in our path… then not only will Pinkie Pie have died for nothing… then one-by-one, everything else will begin to fall into shadow as well. I cannot guarantee that we shall all survive. In fact, sadly, I can only guarantee the opposite: more of those we care for, sadly but surely, will die by the end of this quest. But our quest to here has taken us on a journey that has helped us begin to unravel what lays at the heart of this spreading shadow… and I have faith that as we continue to fight, we will uncover the truth of where the tide of evil rises… and we will be given a chance to stop it.”

“And I plan to, Luna. I plan to, to fight with all my heart, to never, ever stop until we put an end to this.” Twilight said quietly but firmly, looking up and nodding as she smiled faintly. “I’m going to put every last ounce of strength into that, for Pinkie Pie, for… everypony in Equestria who’s suffered or died… for my friends… for you and Scrivy.” She halted, glancing slowly back and forth between them before she laughed a little, looking down embarrassedly and shuffling a hoof at the road. “Thank you. For understanding.”

Luna only shook her head at this, however, laughing quietly as she murmured: “Nay, worry not, Twilight. My thanks instead go to thee and thy friends for understanding what we have all become a part of.”

For a moment, the three looked at each other… and then Twilight blushed a bit and stepped out of the way, and Luna and Scrivener made their way onwards, heading quietly down the road towards Pinkamena’s lonely tent. It sat in the snowy fields, unprotected, a fire made from reeking debris pried off the half-collapsed, unstable apartment building Cowlick had condemned sitting in front of it, and Pinkamena herself was sitting in her armor on a rock, an ugly bruise around one eye and a bit of dried blood over her gray-pink features as she grinned up at them from behind the straight curtain of her mane, the Element of Laughter dangling from one hoof. “Well, look who it is. My two favorite ponies in the encampment.”

Scrivy sat down and shrugged his pack off, and Luna gazed quietly across at Pinkamena as her starry mane floated silently around her, the fire flickering between them as the dull-pink pony looked darkly down and said softly: “You know, I should be happy. Sissy is dead. No more sugar, no more laughter, no more whining, no more needing to tuck her in at night, no more needing to protect her from every goddamn thing, no more getting my models broken and no more hyperactive, happy-happy giggle-girl messing everything up. She was such a pain in the ass… nothing but a worthless slave-hoof. Just like me. Just like you, Scrivy, another filthy mud-walker… but oh, look who I’m talking to, right? You’re connected to Luna, that’s right… princess better-than-everyone, who almost killed her own sister… ‘cept your sister almost killed you, too. Funny, how that works. You two love each other and you almost murdered one another. Me? I hated sissy. And she died for me. Ain’t that a laugh?”

She gave a dry chuckle, but Luna only shook her head slowly, saying quietly: “Poor, lost creature. Why do you seek pain, when Pinkie Pie fought to save you from it?”

“What the hell do you know?” Pinkamena leapt up to her hooves, snarling at her she shook the Element of Laughter violently. “Maybe she was just psychotic and crueler than me, leaving me, worthless stupid bloody Pinkamena, alive! What kind of insane stunt did she pull, leaving me all alone, saving my sorry, pathetic, sick life when she should have lived! She should have lived and I should have died, but no, no, she jumped in front of the goddamn axe that would have killed me… why? Why? It doesn’t make any sense! None of this makes any sense! I would do anything, trade anything, give anything to make it all in reverse… and then the ponies could laugh on my grave and I’d be at peace and this would all be so different… but Pinkie Pie-”

“She loved thee.” Luna said softly, as if this explained everything, and Pinkamena clenched her red-rimmed eyes shut, opening her mouth… but Luna stepped forwards around the fire and shoved her hoof against her lips, silencing her as she said quietly: “And she is not gone, Pinkamena. She will not leave thee alone… and thou art not alone anyway. We are here. We are thy friends.”

Pinkamena swatted her foreleg away with a snarl, then she held up the Element of Laughter: the crystal had started to blacken, had lost its shine and radiance as she said disgustedly: “Romantic notions have no place in real life, Luna. Look, I kill, I corrupt, I goddamn ruin everything I touch, and you, like everyone else, just wants to use me. You don’t give a handful of horseapples about anything but your precious little Twilight Sparkle who slavers all over you two like the lapdog she is but hey, better you and Scrivy than Celestia, right? Just like how you want the best for your slave-hoof husband… yeah, you love him just the way he is, that’s why he looks so different from the little nerdy loser I remember first meeting way back when I was still trapped inside Pinkie Pie’s hellhole mind. Always with me? Then why isn’t she here now? Oh Pinkie Pie, come out, come out, Pinkie Pie, oh right, that’s right, she can’t because she’s dead and nothing but ashes scattered to the unforgiving wind!”

Luna snarled and turned away, but sadness gleamed in her eyes as she said quietly: “Foolish creature. Pinkie Pie granted thee a gift of life and love. Destroy thyself if thou wants but do not think it will grant thee peace… it makes thee a coward and it savages the memory of the sister that I understand truly now you cherished perhaps more than I do mine own.”

Pinkamena began to open her mouth… and then Scrivy stepped forwards past Luna and smiled as he held out a box to her, and the dull-pink earth pony was struck silent as she looked dumbly down at this, the male saying quietly: “We got this for you.”

Slowly, Pinkamena frowned, as if she didn’t understand… and then she reached both hooves forwards, the Element of Laughter jingling and flickering quietly as she took the box and then sat back on her haunches, looking down at it. On the front was a picture of a train, and Scrivener Blooms said quietly, as he gently reached a hoof up to rest on Luna’s shoulder: “I didn’t know if you only liked boats or not, but this one’s a replica of the Canterlot Southwest Line. Isehorse… didn’t have military models or anything. Still, I hope you like it. Anyway, Luna, we should go.”

Pinkamena looked up, tears forming in her eyes as she opened her mouth, and Scrivener smiled faintly as Luna gazed quietly up and past her, before the male said softly: “It’s not that. We both understand lashing out in anger, but… you have another visitor. I think she probably heard you calling her name… the veil between our world and the next has gotten pretty thin these days, after all.”

And Pinkamena looked slowly over her shoulder as red-tinged tears slid down her cheeks, trembling a little as the Element of Laughter gave a brief shimmer, the darkness fading from the crystal as she stared at a smiling earth pony Pale. It shimmered indistinctly in the air, gazing down at her… but despite the way it gleamed with misty cold and ice crystals, it all the same radiated warmth and kindness, from soft expression to fluffy mane and tail.

Luna turned, picking the backpack up with a flick of her horn and tossing it onto her own back as Scrivener nodded to Pinkamena and the Pale of Pinkie Pie, and the two made their way quietly back towards the road as the ghost smiled to her sister and reached up to gently touch her shoulder, and Pinkamena gazed up, whispering: “Sissy… I… I’m sorry…”

The sapphire winged unicorn glanced back over her shoulder only once, but it was with a faint smile at the sight of sisters, their bond so tight that not even death could part them… and she laughed a little as she glanced back forwards, keeping her eyes front as they headed silently towards where Cowlick was loudly giving instructions to a group of ponies, sounds of hammering and other construction noises coming up from the building. “Sometimes, poet, thou does speak as if thou really had earned thy place at Canterlot instead of just getting lucky and catching Celestia’s fancy.”

“Thanks, Luna. I’m glad you think that the only reason I seem to get anywhere in life is because of the impulsive decisions of others.” Scrivy said mildly, and Luna laughed despite herself and checked him firmly, the male smiling a little as well, feeling strangely… elated, as he added quietly: “I didn’t expect that… well…”

“Well, Scrivy, should one of us die and the other somehow live, know that I would force my way back to this world one way or another to walk at thy side as a Pale… and I wholeheartedly expect thou to do the same.” Luna replied with a faint smile, and then she shook her head slowly and murmured: “Nay. Pinkie Pie died to save Pinkamena… but if she truly wishes to save her sister, there is much still to be done. I do not doubt that when Pinkamena needs guidance… Pinkie Pie will do her best to stretch as best she can into this reality from wherever her spirit has wandered.”

Scrivener Blooms smiled a little at this… and then they turned their eyes forwards as they halted near Cowlick as the earth pony leaned forwards and ordered the crew of ponies in front of her: “Now go in there and get the job done, fillies and colts! I want that sleeping area ready by tonight, you hear me?”

The ponies grumbled but saluted as Ross smiled and waved in return, Cowlick giving the unicorn an affectionate but exasperated look before she said kindly: “Honey, do me a favor and go check on the pretty ponies by the wagon, okay? Ask them how Scarlet Sage is doing.”

“Okay, Cowlick.” Ross nodded to her, then he turned and almost ran into Scrivener, blushing a bit as he stumbled awkwardly around him before heading quickly on his way past the apartments. Cowlick shook her head with a sigh, but she gazed at him with tenderness all the same before she turned her eyes to the two ponies as they gazed back at her with entertainment.

“Well, good to see you two looking a little better… so did you kill and skin one of those unicorns to make that cloak? I won’t tell anyone if you did.” Cowlick said moodily, glancing over her shoulder as she added with a grumble: “The part that really annoys me is that we’re going to have to put out guards tonight around these buildings, and probably keep better watch than we kept out in the wilderness… I don’t doubt we’ll have some angry unicorn visits, though. Aleksandr already said he and his friends will be staying outside, at least, and I think Pinkamena prefers being out on her own, too… so at least we got a few very scary guards on duty with that.”

She halted, then shook her head and said in a more serious voice: “But I’m sure what you two are interested in are the specs for what we got set up here, right? Ain’t too grand, but ain’t too shabby either, and if all goes according to plan, we’ll have two floors of this building in fit condition for habitation by tonight. Won’t be comfy, gonna be cold, but it’ll be a little better than our tents and I’m gonna figure out a way to rig up some heating ducts come Helheim or high water. Then I’m going to figure out how to get running water. No offense, Luna, but not all of us like to smell like sweat and blood all the time.”

“Oh, silence, knave. Believe me, I shall enjoy a bath as much as the next pony, but until that point ‘tis better to smell like hard work than reek of the courts of Canterlot.” Luna retorted, rolling her eyes as Cowlick gave her an amused look. “So these buildings are… habitable?”

“To a point, like I said. Tonight won’t be fun: you and Twilight will probably have to work some magic or something to give us some warmth for the night and help ensure nopony dies of exposure.” Cowlick made a face as she shook her head slowly. “Yeah, these buildings have decayed severely in recent times, but… even before, they weren’t very fit. God, Scrivener, what was it like living in the servant quarters?”

But Scrivy only smiled faintly, shaking his head and glancing down as he replied softly: “I never lived in servant quarters, Cowlick. I wasn’t born to earth ponies, I was born to unicorns.” He halted awkwardly, not wanting to bring up the kennel he had spent much of his childhood in, and instead cleared his throat, asking curiously: “How do you plan to get all this up and running, anyway? You’re only one pony.”

Cowlick reared back at this as if offended, then glared at him and said grouchily: “Hey, if that psycho nut Sol Seraph could get a ‘security team’ made up mostly of minotaurs, dropouts and ex-criminals to build her a high-tech base of operations, Ross and I can handle getting a building back in serviceable condition. Especially if you two are ready to shut up and help instead of preening over us normal little mortal ponies all day long.”

Luna rolled her eyes at this, but then she grinned and leaned forwards, saying amusedly: “Cowlick, if I did not enjoy thy company so much, I would currently be turning thee inside-out, starting with thy flapping tongue. But very well. What would thou have us do?”

The earth pony engineer grinned a little at this, blushing awkwardly even as she turned towards the building and gestured for them to follow her inside. They did so, and Cowlick put Scrivy to work with the crews that were currently clearing debris from the first level apartments and working to restore them to livable condition. Luna, meanwhile, she had use her magic to repair broken windows and fortify the roof and second floor.

The engineer had a floor plan already in mind, rambling about putting everything they had to good use and resources and all sorts of other things that Luna knew she should care about but couldn’t quite bring herself to: what mattered to her at the end of the day was that the Starlit Knights would have a place to stay in relative safety, and that they would be able to tend to their needs, like food and water. While it was admittedly nice to have an actual roof over their heads instead of a tent, and to be in a town instead of the vast wilderness, Luna would gladly go back to camping in the wasteland if it meant they would be safe and able to locate supplies.

After only a few hours of work, however, she was surprised to find that Cowlick had been right: a little polish, the right ponies in the right places, and some hard work, and the servants quarters went from relatively inhospitable, rotting rooms to monk-like cells that weren’t exactly friendly, but far from unappealing after so many nights in the wild. There was a chill that had settled through the apartments, but even tired and sore, Luna had only required a moment of concentration, then flicked her horn upwards, and a pulse of heat had spread through the entire structure, banishing the chill from the still icy air.

Luna had then loudly claimed one of the larger corner rooms for herself, Scrivener Blooms, Twilight Sparkle and Scarlet Sage, and Scrivy had rolled his eyes: the other ponies would be setting up from four to six per small room, but Luna only grumbled that they had earned a little special privilege and glared challengingly at Cowlick when the female had opened her mouth… and the earth pony engineer had hurriedly agreed with her and instead run outside to begin setting up lamps around the vicinity.

Luna and Scrivener made their way into the cold night air themselves after dropping off their things and finally shedding their armor, the winged unicorn looking both more and less relaxed as she strode quietly with only her ivy necklace on, the black pearl glinting quietly in the flickering light of hanging lanterns as they strode into the middle of the road.

They gazed up at the dark sky overhead, both smiling, knowing they were a little late as Luna slowly gestured to the side with her horn… and the clouds above rumbled but parted, splitting to reveal the shadowy night sky above before both Scrivy and Luna lowered their heads forwards as her horn glowed quietly, burning brighter and brighter as they arched their backs in slow time, moving in silence, in wonder, in front of the eyes of ponies that watched this usually -kept-secret ritual in surprise as the moon rose slowly into the air, casting its ivory light over the village of North Neigh… and then they both relaxed and smiled at one another, only seeing each other for a few moments as their gazes locked lovingly before they both glanced to the side, moving in perfect rhythm still as Fluttershy approached and said softly: “Scarlet Sage wants to see you…” She paused and blushed, then added with a small smile: “I’m glad… to see her calling you mother and father now.”

“Aye, Fluttershy. Because she is our daughter, she is.” Luna said softly, glancing down with a warm smile before her eyes roved upwards and she nodded firmly once. “Then let us go, Scrivener Blooms, to our little filly. And Fluttershy… think not that thou art any less to her, nor any less valuable to us.”

“Believe me, I feel… good. She’s scared right now, and I know something awful… must have happened… but the fact she has you two to trust in, to turn to, I know it’ll make a world of difference.” Fluttershy replied softly, the Pegasus smiling faintly as she turned around, striding quietly in step with the two as they began to pace towards where the Pegasus wagon was parked. “I’m glad she has someone… to call mother and father. I know how important that can be… and I think it’s amazing that you can both be such good parents, if it’s not too bold for me to say. I mean… neither of you, well…”

She blushed a little, and Scrivy laughed a bit as Luna gazed affectionately across at Fluttershy. “And what of thine own upbringing? Thou had it far worse than either of us, and this chills me to the core to think and admit… so perhaps fortune smiled upon us all, or nature overwhelmed nurture, I know not. I only know we are blessed to have you as a friend. And I am sorry, Fluttershy, terribly sorry for how high the cost of this journey has been upon thee and thine.”

“It’s not your fault, Luna… we all chose to come of our own free will.” Fluttershy closed her eyes as they approached the carriage, bowing her head as she smiled faintly, her bandaged wings twitching weakly once before she looked up as she halted and reached up to touch the Element of Kindness hanging from her neck, gazing softly across at Luna. “But I’m not as sad as the others are, either, about Pinkie Pie. Because I believe in Pinkamena… and because sometimes I think I see her still, and hear her whispering to us, encouraging us, telling us not to mourn her loss… but to take care of each other, to laugh every day and be glad for the life we shared with her… and that she was smiling even when she died. Because we were there for her, friends until the very end… and I can’t express how proud of her I am. How much I admire her courage… as sad as I want to be, at the same time… I know she wouldn’t want us to be. I know even now she’d want us to laugh.”

“I agree.” murmured a soft voice, and the ponies glanced up as Rarity emerged from the carriage, a cloak around her body but the Element of Generosity visible around her neck, smiling lovingly as Spike strode with her, the dragon’s hand quietly resting on her back, his emerald eyes warm and sad at the same time. “We were only just speaking of that a little while ago, were we not, dear Spike? And we came to much the same conclusion… but come, don’t let us get in the way. Scarlet Sage is eager to see you both.”

Luna and Scrivener Blooms both nodded… but before Rarity and Spike could even step down the stairs, the Pegasus filly shot out from the doorway, squeezing between them and almost knocking the two staggering before she leapt towards them, and Luna reached out and caught the filly with a grunt, almost toppling backwards as she squeezed her close and gazed down at her with surprise as she nestled immediately against her, clinging fiercely to her body as she shivered a little. “Mommy…”

“I have thee, thou art safe.” Luna said comfortingly, and she smiled a little as she kissed the filly’s forehead gently before slowly putting her down as Sammy scampered out of the doorway next, Spike wincing as the pseudodragon clambered up his back with ease before hopping off his head to the snow, the dragon huffing and the skeletal creature giving a cheery chirp in return. “Now come, Scarlet Sage. Spike, Rarity, Fluttershy, excuse us… we have a room already in the apartments, so we shall not further disturb thee.”

“No disturbance at all, we were glad to help look after Scarlet Sage.” Rarity said kindly, smiling as the Element of Generosity around her neck gave a quiet gleam, and Spike nodded firmly. “Let us know if we can do anything more… we’re all more than happy to help.”

“Thanks.” Scrivener Blooms smiled over his shoulder at them as he turned away with Luna and the Pegasus filly, and the strange little family of ponies quietly made their way back towards the cleared apartments. They were surprised when they entered their room and found Twilight laying and reading on some warm bedding and blankets she had set up, with another, smaller set of bedding in the corner of the room… and the violet winged unicorn had also already taken the time to hang a brightly-burning lantern from the ceiling and neaten things a little, looking at them softly as Luna closed the door with a quiet laugh.

Scarlet Sage gazed quietly at Twilight, blushing a little… but she was soothed by only a gentle stroke through her mane from Luna, as she said softly: “Now, young one. Thou knows that Twilight can be trusted… even in matters such as these. And she is strong, and compassionate, and intelligent… and will not judge thee. She never judged me, after all… and child, in the eyes of many… including, sadly, my own… I have done far worse things than thee.”

The filly blushed and lowered her head, swallowing thickly as Twilight closed her book and slid carefully back to allow Luna and Scrivener to rest on the bedding, Scarlet Sage automatically pushing herself between them and snuggling herself close as she murmured: “But… it was… I know it’s not just what happened… it’s that… part of me enjoyed it. It felt so wrong and yet… at the same time…”

She shivered a little, shaking her head mutely, and Luna soothingly rubbed along her spine, saying softly: “I understand all too well, child. Such things… have an allure that is hard to understand. And ‘tis all too easy to begin doing wrong, and all too difficult to stop. But thou wert not thyself, either: thou were trying to save us, and thou had read the mind, and likely taken on the emotions of a wicked thing, a wicked creature. Yes, thou hast killed… and I will not lie, Scarlet Sage. Thou art a Blood Seer: thy powers are a terrible weapon, and thou art now armed with terrible knowledge, reaped from a terrible mind. But all these things are only things… thou art the one who shall make the decisions at the end of the day. I am Nightmare Moon; thou art a Blood Seer; and all here are ponies, who can all decide their own fates. And I will never, ever turn my back to thee, or give up on thee. We shall force through this, together, and thou shalt write thine own fate, thy own destiny… just as I have decided to write my own, and save the very ponies who once reviled me, not in hopes that they will love me… but in the knowledge that it will save those who already care for me, and will provide a safe future for all ponies across this land.”

Scarlet Sage smiled faintly at this, glancing quietly up at Luna as she looked back, before she closed her eyes and bowed her head forwards, curling tightly against the winged unicorn as Scrivener silently massaged along the filly’s back. For a little while, they rested in silence, and then Twilight Sparkle bowed her head and said softly: “We’ve… all killed, Scarlet Sage, and it makes me sad to think about this. But I’ve killed Nibelung, who walk and talk and have feelings, even if many of them are barbaric. And I was terribly, awfully glad when Sol Seraph died. I’ve learned that death… sometimes is unavoidable. That it’s terrible, yes, but sometimes… there’s nothing else that can be done.”

“And you didn’t just kill, Scarlet Sage… you also saved two lives. Well… one life.” Scrivy smiled a little at Luna, who gazed back at him softly, her eyes tender before the male leaned down and hugged the filly tightly, murmuring softly: “I’m sorry that it had to come to what it did, and you were dragged into things… but thank you for saving us.”

“I’d do anything for you two… you’ve taken me in, taken care of me, saved me now again and again…” Scarlet Sage smiled faintly up at him, and Luna and Scrivener both smiled back before the filly nestled herself quietly against Luna’s back, murmuring: “I don’t ever want to be without either of you.”

“If I have my way, child, thou never shall. Not even when thou art old and infirm.” Luna smiled warmly and winked over her shoulder as her starry locks swept downwards, stroking tenderly along Scarlet Sage’s form, and the filly laughed a little and fidgeted against her before the winged unicorn rose her head, her horn glowing and pulling a backpack across the room towards the bedding. “But before I forget, Scarlet Sage, we have for thee a few things.”

Scarlet Sage straightened curiously at this as the backpack quietly settled in front of Luna, and she opened it to root through it, absently tossing a book towards Twilight Sparkle, who blushed even as she spun it around to look curiously down at the title… and then she glowered up at Luna, saying flatly: “This is a book on massage therapy.”

“Aye, thou art so inclined to read all the time thou might as well read something that will make thee more useful.” Luna quipped, and Twilight glared at her before she flicked her horn, a pillow flying up to bounce off Luna’s face and making the winged unicorn sneeze, then shake her head and sniff loudly, otherwise unfettered as Scarlet Sage covered her muzzle and giggled. Then the filly looked delighted as the dark sapphire pony lifted a doll from the backpack, saying quietly: “It reminded Scrivener and I of thee.”

It was true: the doll had black button eyes, with a white, plush body and a vibrant scarlet mane and tail. Scarlet Sage smiled delightedly as she took it, then she buried her face against it, hugging it close as she murmured softly: “It feels so soft and warm… thank you, Luna! Thank you, Scrivy, I… I mean… we never…”

“Much of thy childhood has been robbed from thee, Scarlet Sage, but that does not mean I will encourage thee to grow up too fast. Nay, play with other foals, color in books, build forts from boxes and play with thy dolls while thou still can… before thou art old and creepy like Scrivener Blooms, living in a fantasy world and trying in vain to hide thy collection of foal’s toys from thy better half.” Luna said with a wink, and Scrivy rolled his eyes in entertainment as Scarlet Sage laughed and nodded a little, blushing a bit before she smiled when Luna pulled out an ink well, a quill, and a notebook next. “And this, too, is for thee… to write down thy thoughts, and keep track of anything that might… spill through thy mind. Thou understands?”

“I do…” Scarlet Sage nodded slowly, becoming a bit serious once more as she gazed up at her softly. “Because of my powers… I have to be responsible. I can be a kid, but… I also need to always remember to be responsible, too, and careful.”

“That is correct.” Luna said softly, reaching up and stroking her mane gently… and Scarlet Sage smiled as Scrivener gazed at her quietly and Twilight looked over the three with quiet affection in her eyes. The filly was still exhausted after her ordeal, however, and wasn’t awake for long before they quietly tucked her into her own bedding, Luna awkwardly fussing over her sleeping body before she finally quietly tromped back towards where Twilight and Scrivener were now resting side-by-side, and then they both winced when the winged unicorn’s horn glowed and she lifted both the ponies and the bedding, guiding them away from where Scarlet Sage was sleeping and dropping them nearer towards the middle of the room, giving them a clear view out the glass window.

Sammy looked grouchily up from where he was curled up amidst their packs and cloaks and discarded armor, then he chirped at them before snuggling back into his little burrow of gear as Luna flopped herself down beside Scrivy and then winked at them as the two ponies glared at her. “Oh, shush. I merely wished to get a better view of the sky… and so that if any prying eyes watch, they may clearly see us through the window.”

“Oh, that’s a brilliant idea, Luna.” Scrivy said flatly, but Luna only shrugged agreeably before she quietly pulled him down as she yanked the blankets up, and Scrivener cleared his throat awkwardly as both Luna and Twilight rolled towards him and studied him curiously. “Not that I’m complaining…”

“Then shut up and sleep, Scrivener Blooms. This is more than just mischief… this is defiance. Let the unicorns gaze in and see that which will horrify their senses: perhaps I cannot take their lives, but there are better ways to torment them for now.” Luna muttered as she curled up close… and Twilight smiled slightly as she slid her own body a little closer with a bit of a blush, Scrivener giving her an embarrassed look for a moment at Luna’s sense of impishness but smiling all the same as he closed his own eyes, and within minutes, found himself slipping down into a deep and comfortable sleep.