• 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?

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Gathering Information

Chapter Twenty Eight: Gathering Information

The front window of the Allsorts Emporium was broken and covered only by a few pieces of cardboard, and Luna and Scrivy both felt more than a fleeting concern as they pushed into the shop… but they found William Isehorse calmly sweeping up the last of some broken glass, the unicorn glancing up at them with a tired smile as he said kindly: “It’s good to see you back… excuse me while I take care of this.”

“Thou art injured.” Luna said softly, and Isehorse looked surprised… then glanced down at his forelimb embarrassedly, eyes settling on a bloodied cloth bandage. “What happened here? Who attacked thee?”

“Oh, now, don’t worry. It wasn’t an attack… it was one of those prideful young unicorns, that’s all.” Isehorse shook his head with a bit of a chuckle as his horn glowed faint ivory, lifting both dustpan and brush. “Threw a rock through my window and ran away… and well, I’m old and a little clumsy, and I cut myself on the glass, that’s all.”

Isehorse turned away, and he strode slowly towards the counter as Scrivener glanced towards the broken window. Then he looked at Luna, and she nodded to him before the two stepped up to the cardboard patching, pulling it down as Isehorse dumped the glass out into a garbage bin and put the brush and dustpan down, then turned around with a tilt of his head before Luna flicked her horn as it gleamed brightly, and sparkling motes filled the space between the window before forming back into gleaming, crystalline glass as Scrivener Blooms placed the pieces of cardboard aside. “Oh, now, you didn’t need to do that, really… much as an old unicorn like me appreciates the help.”

“’Tis not any trouble at all, we are glad to help as thou has so graciously aided us.” Luna smiled a little, glancing over at the elderly unicorn and bowing her head politely. “Although perhaps our motives are not entirely pure, all the same, for my husband and I have come seeking information on two things… a rumor of a parade of ghosts that passes through this town some nights, as well as information on the unicorn district and how we could perhaps enter it.”

Isehorse looked at them thoughtfully for a few moments… and then he nodded slowly and smiled a little, calmly walking around the counter and approaching a small bookshelf mounted on the wall. He carefully stood back on his hind hooves, paging through this as Luna and Scrivener approached curiously, before the unicorn carefully pulled an old tome from the shelves and placed it gently down on the counter, saying quietly: “Yes, I’ve heard the rumors myself… and, as I have always been a curious investigator of fairy tales and folklore, I even took an interest in exploring what it could mean.”

He spun the book around and pushed it towards them, and Luna glanced at Scrivener as the male leaned down and read slowly: “‘Wyrd and Wonderful: Myths of Old Equestria.’ I had a copy of this myself at Canterlot, except yours looks much older… I’d say… maybe even a third edition, five centuries old?”

“Second edition, five-hundred and fifty. Impressive eye, Scrivener Blooms.” Isehorse smiled slightly, then he opened the book, carefully paging through it as he said softly: “What got my attention is that I myself have never seen this… procession of the dead, among other things… ah, here it is.”

He pushed the book towards them, and Scrivener and Luna gazed down at an ancient illustration of a cracked open gate, through which countless wraith-like ponies were slowly walking. And Scrivener grimaced as he read the title of the chapter: “‘The Gatherers: Omens of Doom.’ You don’t think it’s just… a host of Draugar, as Luna thought?”

Draugar is simply a word referring to tainted spirits… they may certainly be Draugar, but I believe that like The Stampede, they have a hive mind, a hive presence, and the fact that only certain ponies see and hear and react to this vast parade suggests this.” Isehorse said softly, reaching up and tapping the illustration quietly as Luna shivered a bit and shook her head slowly. “It’s not pleasant to think of, no. The implications posed by such creatures is terrible… for throughout history, even in the most convoluted of myths, they have only ever appeared before times of mass death and suffering. It is interesting to remark upon the fact that they are thought to mark those who will die by appearing before them, or luring them off to do… who knows what to them… and the way many stories speak of it, the Gatherers come from Helheim, to purge evil and wicked souls, and drag them back down to Helheim with them.”

Isehorse paused, then he leaned forwards, saying quietly: “In the last thousand years, they have only been thought to have appeared once. But the pony who saw them was silenced and locked away in an asylum, thought to be driven insane by whatever had transpired before his eyes. However, upon investigation into his claims, it was found that the town he’d come from had been completely demolished and destroyed. Perhaps they are what destroyed Silver Hoof. Perhaps they have now come to North Neigh to do the same… but this is all speculation from an old pony who spent his entire long life buried in fairy tales and folklore.”

“I spent most of my life at Canterlot reading nothing but myths and poems, and I ended up suddenly being the most knowledgeable earth pony around on what to do about this darkness.” Scrivener Blooms replied with a wry smile, and Isehorse chuckled a bit at this before the male glanced quietly towards Luna as she looked moodily at the book. “We’ll need to keep a sharp eye out tonight.”

“And every night, from now on, aye. If only we knew more of what had happened at Silver Hoof… it frustrates me. The enemy moves against us, Scrivener Blooms, and cloaks itself far too efficiently in shadow and darkness.” Luna gritted her teeth and shook her head, and Isehorse gazed at them with soft sympathy as Scrivener reached up and rested a hoof on her shoulder. “But… one step at a time. Thou has my thanks for thy help and the information, friend… but tell me, of what does thou know of the unicorn’s district? I fear that there may be somepony who works against us for reasons foul or worse, and ‘twould be the best hideout for a unicorn mage.”

Isehorse grimaced a little at this, shaking his head ruefully. “It’s an awful place. They don’t even permit earth ponies to approach… I heard a rumor that one was actually killed, just for trying to deliver a message from his Pegasus superior to one of the unicorns inside. In fact, I hear that the unicorn pride there is so great, they keep track of both bloodlines as well as social status… I was invited in only once, and even I had to wear a… a kind of pass, I suppose it was.”

He stopped, then shook his head as he leaned on the counter, murmuring: “Excuse my rambling, but… it angers me. Many of Equestria’s greatest heroes were not unicorns, after all… and those unicorns that have risen to heights of great magic and strength have always relied heavily upon the guardianship, not enslavement, of their brethren. It is part of the reason why I admire you two, if I may be so bold… one of the rarest, most powerful beings in existence, married to a humble earth pony whom the unicorns called a ‘slave hoof,’ who started out with so little here from what I’ve been told… and now look at you.”

Isehorse smiled kindly, and Scrivy laughed awkwardly, shuffling a bit as Luna gave a warm, affectionate look to her husband and a firm nod. “I agree, my friend. ‘Tis not our race nor creed nor anything else that makes us who we are… ‘tis our decisions in life, and the choices we make, the paths we boldly stride upon. But that is why I wish to know what awaits us there… and how, perchance, we could slip into this district.”

“I am sure that between you two, you have the guile and cunning to find entry… but that is not the problem. The problem, really, is that it’s a community all its own, only a few blocks in total. The houses are not large, but they’re very expensive… the unicorns refer to them as ‘noble cottages,’ I believe. It’s walled in, and protected by gates and awful mechanical traps bought from and installed by mercenaries. It’s to the far north… past city hall, the Pegasus barracks, and the bourgeois storefronts.”

“Helios Mutual Holdings. They have proven difficult in the past.” Luna muttered, then she nodded and smiled a little, leaning forwards and asking quietly: “Isehorse, may I heal thy wound? ‘Twould be a simple task.”

The unicorn looked surprised at this, glancing down at his forelimb, but then he only laughed a little and shook his head, saying softly: “No, no, there’s no need to trouble yourself over that, Luna… it’s very generous of you, and I do deeply appreciate the offer, but don’t worry about this old unicorn. Your powers can go to better use than mending an old stallion’s shallow cuts.”

Luna hesitated, but then she only nodded and said softly: “Then very well, but we are here to aid if we can, and gladly. Perhaps, however, Scrivener Blooms and I shall take our leave and head to investigate the Unicorn District… I am eager to see if there are any hints to what we are up against laying in wait there.”

“Then good luck to you both. I believe I’ll have a cup of tea myself and settle down.” Isehorse replied quietly, nodding in return as he slowly stood and headed around the counter. Scrivy and Luna smiled at him as he walked them politely to the door, then opened it with a tilt of his horn, adding quietly: “If I may offer a word of advice, though… be careful. I am not sure what the future will bring, but I’ve read enough stories to know that you and Scrivener Blooms likely have quite a part left to play… so it’s all rather important you make it back in one piece.”

“Aye, worry not. I do not intend to start much further havoc, at least not today.” Luna winked over her shoulder as she and Scrivy made their way out into the street, and Isehorse chuckled before he bowed politely, then slipped backwards and quietly closed the door. For a moment, the two lingered… and then Luna glanced irritably across the street at two unicorns that were staring at them, before she asked challengingly: “Does thou not know ‘tis rude to stare? And furthermore, ‘tis like issuing a duel… does thou wish to battle me?”

The two unicorns winced and scurried away, and Luna huffed a little as Scrivy rolled his eyes with entertainment. “Well, congratulations Luna. You kept your promise not to stir up trouble for all of five seconds. That’s a new record.”

“Oh silence, despicable, wretched beetle.” Luna grumbled and headbutted him firmly, and Scrivener winced as he staggered to the side before the winged unicorn gestured forwards and started down the street, the earth pony glowering as he fell into pace beside her. “In any event, I have a simple plan that will, with fortune’s favor, permit us entry into the unicorn district. I shall polymorph us both, and we shall boldly stride in through the front gates.”

There was an awkward silence for a few moments as Luna looked calmly ahead and Scrivener stared at her, waiting for another part to the plan that never came… and then he leaned towards her, saying flatly: “I want to make it clear that I’m not questioning your plan right now… but I am questioning your sanity. You are aware of how many things that could go wrong with that plan, right? Especially given that we’re in a close-knit, closed-minded traditionalist community where everypony knows everypony else and Isehorse said that even he had to go in wearing some kind of identifier. The guards aren’t going to let just any unicorn through.”

“Very well, then I shall cloak us in the identities of two ponies we know would have access to such a community.” Luna grinned over her shoulder at him, and Scrivener Blooms winced immediately as images flashed through his mind. “And then we shall hope for the very best, and should we be discovered… pummel our way out, hide, and deny all knowledge of said events when they come looking for us.”

“Oh. Wonderful.” Scrivy looked moodily at the winged unicorn for a few moments, and when she winked at him, he said finally: “I’m going to ask you to do something in the future, Luna. Something you probably won’t like. And I’ll remind you of this. And you’ll do that thing for me. Understood?”

Luna only rolled her eyes, but then she nodded and said distastefully: “I only wish thou ordered me to do interesting things I didn’t like, not boring ones. But thou can be remarkably boring, Scrivener Blooms. Thou art stuffy. Like-”

“Like Celestia, like Canterlot, yes, yes, yes.” Scrivy said tiredly, and then he halted, and Luna paused and glanced over her shoulder as the male looked aside down an alley, saying quietly: “We shouldn’t risk getting too close. The unicorns and Pegasi will be more alert the closer we draw to their little sanctuary.”

The winged unicorn smiled briefly at this, then she quietly followed Scrivy into the dirty alley between a run-down house and the remains of an abandoned store. They both checked over their shoulders, but the only ponies passing by were earth ponies that pointedly had their heads lowered as they dragged heavy wagons loaded with supplies behind themselves, and Luna shot a glance up towards the sky before she looked at Scrivy and said softly: “Prepare thyself.”

Scrivy grimaced and gritted his teeth… and Luna’s horn glowed as she concentrated before the male winced, staggering backwards and then cursing under his breath as he felt the distinct pain of a horn growing into place over his skull, his frame shrinking and thinning, his mane lengthening… and then he opened his eyes with a wince, loose glasses almost dangling down to the end of his muzzle before he pushed them quickly back up and looked moodily across at Luna. “Well?”

Luna smiled awkwardly, nodding slowly: Scrivener Blooms now looked exactly like Bramblethorn, down to the last detail… and the winged unicorn took a slow breath as she stepped backwards, arching her back as her horn glowed, light pulsing over her body as she shrank slightly and her frame rippled… and a moment later, it was no longer Luna standing across from him, but Mayor Caprice, the unicorn looking moodily down at her ivy necklace before it flickered and vanished from view. “I now regret my idea. Greatly. Scrivener Blooms, tell me I am an idiot.”

“You’re an idiot.” Scrivy said in surly imitation of his father’s voice, and Luna looked at him for a moment… then she snorted laughter and shook her head even as Scrivener shuddered in disgust. “This is my worst nightmare come true, you know. And yet I almost want to laugh at the ridiculousness of it myself. You’re lucky I’m so self-destructive.”

“Aye, I am. But come, thou shall lead and do the talking for us, should it be required. Thankfully, as Caprice, I need merely whimper and stammer.” Luna mumbled in response, and the two carefully made their way back to the head of the alley before slipping out onto the street, and they hurried side-by-side north, taking a small detour along the side streets around city hall and glancing nervously at what was obviously the huge, stone keep of the Pegasus barracks as they passed, soldiers standing in the frost-covered yard in front of this firing at targets with both crossbows and carbine rifles as a unicorn captain shouted orders.

The Unicorn District was past a row of restaurants and expensive-looking storefronts being maintained and polished by earth ponies, as Pegasus soldiers patrolled grimly… and both Luna and Scrivy grimaced at the sight of the high iron gates, locked securely tight and closed: they were ornate but obviously there for more than show, and every thick bar was tipped with a deadly spike to keep anything from climbing over. The walls were sleek, heavy brick, and barbed wire ran along the top like it was a military zone… but the roads beyond were almost sparkling with how clean they were kept, the asphalt glinting, the snow melted away from yards, the homes small but made of stone and polished wood. It looked like paradise inside… paradise, that was guarded by Pegasus soldiers in full body armor, with crosshatch blades over their forelegs and rifles over their backs, teams patrolling the skies above like vultures and standing on platforms made from clouds to keep constant surveillance.

And turrets, too, gleamed dangerously: three sat on either side, large, square, and blocky, their barrels aimed towards the road… and Scrivy couldn’t help but make a face in disgust at the sight of blood splattered in the snow and several broken bolts that lay near this. Then he glanced sharply up as a Pegasus in white armor, obviously an officer of some sort, stepped forwards and asked: “Problem, sir?”

“Of course there’s a problem. You call this neat? You call this ordered?” The words came by themselves: all Scrivy had to do was remember how his father had always talked to him, and he hated how naturally his mouth seemed to do the rest. “Why the hell hasn’t that been cleaned up yet? The last thing we need is another filthy slave-hoof stain on our town.”

“S-Sorry, sir, won’t happen again.” The Pegasus officer stepped backwards, wincing, and then he asked hesitantly: “Password, sir? You know that-”

“What? Who the hell do you think you’re talking to?” Scrivy leaned forwards, snarling beneath the mask of Bramblethorn as he reached a hoof up and shoved the Pegasus officer backwards, who grit his teeth but didn’t dare respond. “Open the gates, and don’t make me repeat myself, do you understand me?”

“Yes sir.” the Pegasus muttered moodily, stepping backwards and glancing over his shoulder as he snapped at the guards: “All clear!”

The other Pegasus nodded as two of them flew up the center of the heavy iron gates, each grasping a handle and then yanking slowly back, the gates rumbling before slowly beginning to swing backwards and open. Impatiently, Scrivy shoved forwards, Luna trying to keep herself low and slink along behind him, difficult as it was for her to imitate the cowardly skittering of Caprice… but without further problems, the two stepped through the half-opened gates and entered into the Unicorn District beyond, both surprised at the warmth that washed over them as Scrivy leaned back and closed his eyes, breathing deeply for a moment as Luna looked at him quietly… and then he smiled grimly and nodded, murmuring: “Let’s not give them any suspicions. Come on.”

They strode slowly down the heated street, looking apprehensively back and forth: the so-called noble cottages really were exquisite and pretty, and horribly, reminded both Scrivy and Luna of their own wonderful little home… which just made Scrivener feel grouchy, and Luna want to burn them down. They each had their own small yard, and unicorns were the only presence here as they strutted around, adorned in finery and speaking in dulcet tones, each striving to outdo the other.

The two simply let their hooves carry them forwards, before a unicorn with her mane pushed back into a beehive and a dress made of red ribbons strode over to them, saying charmingly: “Chancellor Bramblethorn and Mayor Caprice, my, so rare to see you here this time of day… and… my… darling, what a… pretty cloak.”

She eyed the fuzzy cloak for a few moments, face forming a moue of distaste, and then she shook her head as she reached up and absently stroked the four or so gold necklaces hanging around her neck. Scrivener looked at her for a moment, and she frowned curiously at him… and then the male shook his head and gave an exasperated sigh, asking in as rude a voice as he could manage on a hunch: “What do you want now?”

“Oh, Bramblethorn, always so businesslike, it’s not like that at all!” She flipped a hoof and laughed awkwardly, and Scrivener scowled: his memory had served him right. The unicorn standing in front of them with her big bright eyes and pretty red coat was Glitzy Gem, daughter of Dilly-Dallies, one of the unicorn friends of Bramblethorn. “In all honesty, it’s not at all what I want. It’s what Mother wants… perhaps you could stop by for tea tomorrow? We would dearly enjoy the company of you and your wife, and… maybe that friend of yours from town?”

Scrivener grumbled and turned, pushing onwards, and Luna gave a giggle and a dumb smile to Glitzy before she turned and hurried after him, and the unicorn glared after the two before she called sweetly: “I’ll tell mother to expect you! Please, bring your rich friend!”

“Oh, this reminds me all too much of politics and Canterlot now. Let us hope our search is rewarded quickly… but so far, the only magic I feel in the air comes from the heated street.” Luna muttered, and Scrivy grimaced a bit before they both halted on the road and gazed at a large, elongated single-floor home, stylized almost like an enlarged ranch house. It was elegant, posh, and refined… and as they looked, two unicorns came hurrying out of the front door towards them, both wearing red and black uniforms, and Luna winced backwards a bit as Scrivener only glowered.

“Sir, Bramblethorn, sir, and mayor, ma’am, forgive us, we didn’t expect you home so early!” One of the servants bowed deep, the other continuing to speak in a rushed, half-terrified voice as he sat back and rubbed his hooves together. “That is to say not… not everything is done and… I mean, I… well… we mean, what we mean to say is that-”

“Get out of my way.” Scrivy ordered, and the servants winced as they scurried back towards the house, the disguised earth pony wincing over his shoulder and shrugging at Luna before he started forwards, and Luna followed, the two feeling a twinge of odd instinct as the servants lingered worriedly by the front doors, half blocking the way in. “What are you idiots doing?”

“N-Nothing, I… nothing!” one of the servants balked, and then he winced when Scrivy shoved him aside rudely and stormed through the door, Luna following as the unicorn servants both fell in behind them… and Scrivener stared as a Pegasus female standing at the back door winced and looked up with a deep flush of horror before one of the servants bawled: “Oh god please have mercy!”

Scrivener stared at the Pegasus, and the female stared back, swallowing slowly… and then the male slowly leaned towards, asking quietly: “Who is this, servant?”

“My… my sister… I… I’m sorry, please, sir, please, please have mercy, please…” babbled one of the servants, pushing past Luna to grovel at disguised Scrivy, as the Pegasus cursed and shook her head, turning towards them with a wince. “Please, the rumors aren’t true, she’s not a shorn-wing, she wasn’t helping the newcomers out, and I lied but please don’t think that-”

“Everypony, get out. I require a moment to think.” Scrivener Blooms said calmly, and the unicorn servants quailed, the Pegasus wincing before they hurried to the end of the hall and the back door, shoving their way through… and after a moment, Scrivy shook his head, saying distastefully to Luna: “Figures that Bramblethorn would hire unicorn servants. Probably thinks it makes him even more superior. Likely doesn’t know about that Pegasus, though… let’s see what kind of information we can get out of the servants.”

“Aye, Scrivy…” Luna grimaced as she looked back and forth, adding moodily: “But let us not linger long, or search this awful home. The polished floors and walls, the expensiveness of everything here, it disgusts me when the rest of the town lay in such ruination… and I do not wish to further antagonize these creatures, tempting as it is. They will instantly blame us already… should Bramblethorn think that we have invaded his home, perhaps not even the fear of Nightmare Moon I have placed into him will be enough to stop him from lashing back at us.”

Scrivy nodded slowly… and then he glanced over his shoulder at Luna as she looked back, eyes meeting, trading worries, thoughts, doubts, before the two strode to the back door as their minds settled on the same decision and the same hoped outcome, pushing through the back door and closing it behind them to find one of the unicorn servants standing aside and twiddling his hooves nervously, the other sitting at a table and hyperventilating, and the Pegasus standing and grimacing, but bowing her head respectfully to him as he and Luna looked at her.

They stood on a burgundy-painted patio, the chairs and table showing Caprice’s same horrid lack of color coordination by their green and blue color scheme, and the male looked meditatively at the Pegasus, taking in her coat – the same dull gold as the hyperventilating unicorn – and the simple clothes she was wearing before he asked calmly: “How did you get inside?”

“I flew. Over the wall.” the Pegasus lied clearly, glancing away with a flush. Scrivy and Luna traded an amused look at this, and then they both returned their eyes to her, and the Pegasus shook her head before she mumbled defiantly: “I… I won’t tell you.”

“Oh no, we’re dead.” the anxiety-riddled unicorn looked up with a wince at her, and then he said quickly: “Come on, just… tell them! Maybe they’ll go easy on you-”

“Bramblethorn’s a power mad asshole. Yeah, sure, maybe earth ponies are inferior but that doesn’t mean you get to stomp on them… and Pegasi and unicorns sure as hell aren’t anything less than you are!” the Pegasus snapped suddenly, looking up and glaring at him. “I’d rather work and live beside slave-hoofs as a goddamn shorn-wing than help him!”

Luna and Scrivy exchanged another look… and then the two burst out laughing, and the three other ponies stared in stupefaction at this before Scrivener Blooms smiled slightly as he looked up and Luna tilted her horn towards him with a wide grin… and a moment later, the features of Bramblethorn twisted slightly, becoming Scrivy’s own as the other ponies stared in shock before Luna drew back and they once more took on a perfect mask of Bramblethorn’s. “We might have more in common than you think.”

“We require information.” Luna added calmly in the silence, straightening and cracking her neck… and even in Caprice’s form, the imperious language of her body made it clearer it wasn’t the mayor than even her strong, clear tones. “I believe that we can easily work out an understanding between us… and thou may be a little more forthcoming now in telling how thou managed to move back and forth undetected.”

The Pegasus was only continuing to stare, however, before one of the unicorn servants wheezed and dropped his head to the ground, and the other sitting at the table laughed weakly, stuttering: “W-Well, we’re d-d-deep in it now, aren’t we… Bramblethorn would have killed us to see us letting a Pegasus in his home but now y-you two… oh… oh hell…”

“All the more reason to cooperate.” the Pegasus said suddenly, shaking her head and grinning slightly as she nodded firmly before glancing over her shoulder and adding hurriedly: “But… listen, I need to get out of here before the next patrol pass. Why don’t you two come with me? I’ll show you the way we get in and out and mess with the unicorns every now and then.”

Luna and Scrivy smiled at each other at this, and the Pegasus leaned down and traded a quick, tight hug with her brother before she turned and bounded quickly down from the patio, and the two disguised unicorns followed after her, the mare gazing over her shoulder with relief as they headed quickly into the back yard and towards the back wall of the unicorn district in the distance. “Good, you’re following. Was worried for a minute… bad enough my half-brother’s working there, but I don’t want him getting involved in any of this stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you two aren’t Bramblethorn and his useless wife… but if they got caught…”

“I understand.” Luna said softly, smiling slightly as she and Scrivener followed close behind the Pegasus mare as she turned, running now alongside the wall… and then, even as Luna opened her mouth to ask another question, the Pegasus jumped forwards into a large bush and simply vanished from sight.

Luna and Scrivy both stared at this in surprise… and then the Pegasus stuck her head out near the bottom with a wink at them, gesturing quickly with her head as she called: “Come on, there’s a tunnel here that leads north… be quick, the Pegasus patrols will be by any moment!”

She ducked back down… and for a moment, Scrivy and Luna glanced awkwardly over their shoulders towards the houses behind them… but if the mare spoke the truth, then they would be able to return any time, and as it was, both were aware the only reason they hadn’t been caught so far was luck more than it was skill. The moment the real Bramblethorn or Caprice showed up at the gates, it would all be over… and the two hesitated only a second longer before Luna leapt down into the bush, and Scrivener followed her, the ponies landing with awkward grunts of surprise on a pile of hay at the bottom of a dusty, shallow cavern, the Pegasus standing on a ladder at the side of the room and quickly sliding a heavy concealed door into place the moment they were through.

She laughed and grinned, jumping down in front of them as Scrivy and Luna both straightened and brushed themselves off, looking back and forth curiously: the tunnel was well-maintained, shored up with wooden supports and lit by small lanterns filled with magical flame, and the Pegasus smiled as she surveyed them before holding out a hoof as the cutie mark of an extended ivory wing on her flank gleamed. “Swiftly Wing.”

“I am Luna, and my husband is Scrivener Blooms.” Luna said quietly, and then she paused, glancing at him before winking as her horn glowed, then flashed, and Scrivy winced a bit in pain as he felt his body returning to normal, frame rippling and horn vanishing as Luna’s own form restored with slightly-more grace. Swiftly stared at them, and then Luna reached up and politely took her hoof, shaking it once with a nod. “Art thou rebels?”

“I… oh. Wait, rebels?” Swiftly laughed and shook her head, looking at Luna with entertainment as she recovered her senses, gazing from one to the other as she murmured: “There haven’t been rebels in North Neigh for a long time, Luna. A long, long time… fifty years, maybe. I’m just an outlaw, a criminal… my mom’s a Pegasus. Only met my father a few times… he and mom had the whole ‘forbidden romance’ thing going until she got pregnant with me, then he panicked and skipped out on her and married a unicorn. I actually have met my dad, talked to him a few times, not a bad guy despite all that… and I met Neville a few years ago. My half-brother… I look out for him and he helps me a lot. They call him a splinter-horn a lot because he doesn’t have that same unicorn pride, because… dad told him not make stupid mistakes for other ponies. And there’s my whole damn life story, shucks.”

She laughed again awkwardly, shaking her head briefly, tan ponytail flicking over one shoulder. “Anyway, I’m not pure-blood Pegasus and other Pegasi know that, so they wouldn’t let me in their army. Pure of race or those who fake it really well only. That means I’m a shorn-wing, and that means my only means of making money is running don’t-ask deliveries. ‘Care’ packages… drugs for posh unicorns who act like they’re way better than me when they place the order but are usually all but begging and drooling for it by the time I show up, and more honest stuff for the servants in there. Food, drawings, letters… Pegasus and unicorn servants inside the Unicorn District aren’t permitted to have their own possessions, or even to leave without proper permission. It’s just a goddamn jail with pretty cells, and none of the fancy-pants unicorns in there seem to realize it.”

Scrivener grimaced a bit as Luna nodded slowly, Swiftly looking at them awkwardly before she asked quietly: “But that means my entire business is information, is learning who to talk to, when and where. I… I can help you guys out. I’d love to help you guys out. It’s not that I just want to crumble the unicorn regime in North Neigh, even if I kind of do… but you were looking for something in there, right? Or wanted something… I can get you that. If it screws with the unicorns, it’s a bonus.”

“Actually, we are not here to battle unicorns, Swiftly… although that may well end up what happens all the same.” Luna grimaced and shook her head slowly, and Swiftly cocked her head curiously. “I was seeking the lair of a possible unicorn mage who is interfering with my ability to contact my sister, and whom I fear may have something to do with other events here, including the apparent horde of ghosts that comes into this town some nights…”

Swiftly grimaced at this, and the two cocked their heads at the same time, making her rear back in surprise before she said quietly: “Yeah, I’ve seen that. Some… old friends were in the middle of that, other runners I used to work on-and-off beside, who got thrown into the ‘prison caves…’ and once you’re in, you’re usually dead. It’s… too cold in there for most ponies to survive for long. It’s slow… it’s painful… and the unicorns do it because then they can say it wasn’t their fault.”

She shook her head grimly, then looked up with a sigh and a faint, bitter smile. “So, you’re actually really here to fight ‘evil,’ huh? You sure you want to save these unicorns from evil? You sure you want to save these ponies?”

“There is darkness spreading over Equestria… and I intend to save all the ponies I can. Even the unicorns of North Neigh… although I will also be very glad to pummel them once this is all said and done until they learn proper respect.” Luna replied moodily, nodding slowly as she looked up with distaste. “Sadly, if I leave, ignoring the disease of darkness here… it will not just annihilate the prideful unicorns. It will kill the innocent ponies as well, and I cannot permit this.”

Swiftly nodded a few times, looking down and murmuring: “I wish I could just move away. But where would I go? Snow Saddle, Trotronto? They’re all so far away… and even worse, through the barrens. North Neigh is frozen in the past, just like Silver Hoof was, just like all the other little snow-covered settlements along the Gray Mountains. Stuff is wrong up here. It gets into your head…”

She looked away, then gestured for them to follow as she turned, beginning to lead them down the tunnel as the Pegasus continued quietly: “As to your problem, tell you what. Normally I sleep in a junkyard. Let me hang out with your Starlight Knights or whatever they’re called at that nice place you’re setting up, and I will gladly gather all the information I can, on anything you like. I ain’t even asking for food or money… I can get both of those if I want, but it’s hard as hell for a shorn-wing runner to find a roof over her head in these parts. I’d sleep in the tunnel, but other runners use ‘em every now and then, too… and not all of them are exactly as conscientious as I am, you understand?”

Luna and Scrivy traded a look, and when Scrivener shrugged, the winged unicorn sighed before saying slowly: “Thou… will be welcomed to our encampment, then. When I return, I shall inform those who need to know that thou art endeavoring to aid us. But can thou spare us no information now on any happenings around here?”

“Well… since most of my job is running weird, illegal packages and gathering information to stay on top, and a lot of the other runners are chatty… okay, okay.” They halted at the other end of the long, dirt tunnel, a ladder in front of them leading up to a trapdoor… but the mare turned around in front of this and smiled grimly at them. “I was at my usual dive one night, listening in on conversation, when some of Scutum’s boys walked in. Weird to see Pegasus soldiers striding into a dirty, filthy bar favored mostly by slave-hooves and shorn-wings like me, but then it got pretty clear why they were here when they ordered Horse Tranquilizers. And I mean the drink, not the drug.”

She smiled wryly, and Scrivener grunted as Luna said ruefully: “Sleipnir and I once engaged in a contest using drinks of similar repute. It did not end prettily.”

“And they probably woke up feeling like unicorns that just got their horns turned inside-out. But of course, by the third round, they were tipsy enough I was able to sidle over and find out what they were doing here. Only meant to find out the patrol schedule for the next few days, but one Pegasus just grabs me, starts crying and whimpering ‘mommy’ this and that. But between the sobbing and the whining he mentions stuff I didn’t believe at first… stuff I know they wouldn’t’ve said to Scutum. Some of it was pure drunken crazy talk, like a dragon playing solitaire in the mist… but they kept going on and on about… about the ghosts that were everywhere. That their friends couldn’t see but for some reason, they could. Ghosts, just staring around at everything, walking through the wreckage, like they were looking for something.

“And his friend kept tracing this symbol on the bar. I watched him, and finally caught it… I think it was a horn, like the instrument kind. I asked him about it after I got momma’s boy off of me but… he only shook his head and said something about how that was why Silver Hoof was gone.” She stopped, then said quietly: “It all seemed like nonsense, but… two days later, they were gone. Just… gone. Scutum sent out a patrol for them but… no sign of ‘em ever again.”

She fell quiet, then shook her head and added: “That’s all you guys get for now. Come on, it should be safe.”

Swiftly turned and hauled herself up the ladder quickly, shoving the trapdoor at the top open and peering back and forth… and then she slipped out and gestured to the two ponies at the bottom. Scrivener’s stomach writhed as Luna grimaced darkly, not liking what this piece of the puzzle could mean as they followed quickly up the ladder… and then looked back and forth in surprise as they realized they were on the outside of North Neigh, the northern wall of the city and the unicorn district to their back, and before them empty, lonely ice fields across which breathed a bitter, painful wind. “I’m sure two resourceful ponies like you can pretty easily find your way around and back into North Neigh. Me, I gotta make a short trip up to a little hidey-hole and pick up some packages. Nice meeting you both.”

With that, Swiftly hopped into the air, not sparing any further words and flying quickly, smoothly away over the packed snow towards the ominous mountains the distance. Luna and Scrivy both looked after her for a few moments, and then Luna shook her head, glancing over her shoulder and sliding the trapdoor closed as her horn glowed and she murmured: “Odd, talkative, abrupt creature. She told us much and very little at the same time. And somehow I am all too sure there were many mistruths hidden alongside the legitimate in her speech.”

Scrivener Blooms nodded slowly, lowering his head with a sigh as he looked moodily towards the stony, jutting bases of the rock and frost that made up the looming peaks, watching as the aptly-named Swiftly Wing dove quickly behind an outcropping. “She’s certainly fast. But Luna… do you think…”

“I know not what to think, Scrivener Blooms. All I know is those mountains… are a terrible place. That inside them can be found artifacts of incredible potency and power, such as when sister led us to the Elements of Harmony… and somewhere, I hope still buried beneath the avalanche that my brother brought crashing down upon it, vile monsters such as Fenrir lay in wait, and I hope sleep dreamlessly until Ragnarok comes.” Luna halted, then she shuddered and shook her head, murmuring: “Something was either sought or discovered at Silver Hoof, aye, this I believe. Just as my instincts tell me… whatever ravaged Silver Hoof is coming here, if it is not already. When we hunt the Gatherers, we shall learn more.”

“That’s what I love about you, Luna…” Scrivener smiled a little as the winged unicorn began to stride slowly through the snow towards the northern wall, the male falling into step beside her. “We aren’t simply going to wait for the parade of ghosts to appear. We’re going to go looking for them, and then smack them around until they tell us what they’re doing here.”

Luna began to laugh… and then there was a click ahead and a glint of silver as a turret spun on its base towards them, a snowbank bursting apart as the winged unicorn’s eyes widened before she instinctively dropped her head forwards, a barrier forming in front of herself and Scrivener Blooms as the short barrels extending from the square turret that had been hidden beneath the snow gave a short series of bangs, half a dozen nail-like bolts bouncing uselessly off the blue barrier.

The camera ‘eye’ in the center of the turret gleamed, staring at them soullessly as Luna snarled through the sapphire wall, then flicked her horn decisively upwards; static rumbled through the air, and then a blast of lightning shot downwards, smashing into the top of the metal box and making the machinery squeal before it exploded in a burst of light and yellow flame, chunks of shrapnel flying in all directions as Scrivy winced.

Luna stepped backwards, dropping the barrier as within moments, a patrol of Pegasi shot towards them, dropping down on either side of the ruined turret and glaring at them challengingly as one snapped: “What the hell are you doing here, split-hoof? This is a restricted area!”

“Nay, ‘tis a field. We were just on our way back from a pleasant walk through the mountains.” Luna retorted, sniffing distastefully as she glared back and forth, Scrivener narrowing his eyes: probably an obvious enough lie, but it wasn’t exactly like the Pegasus could do anything about it either way. “That damnable box attacked us!”

“You just destroyed private military property.” one of the Pegasi replied coldly, and one of the soldiers glanced nervously over his shoulder as the other three members of the patrol stepped forwards threateningly. “You should come with us.”

Luna, however, only grinned in reply, electricity crackling along her horn and starry mane as she stepped forwards, her ivy necklace swaying and the black pearl glinting almost in challenge as she asked quietly: “Oh really? Do the four of thee really think that thou art enough to battle the Champion of Equestria and her husband? For whatever thou may call him, he is still larger than thee… little birds may have the advantage of flight, but forget not their bones are hollow… and a falcon caught in the claws of a manticore rarely survives for long.”

The Pegasi looked nervously back and forth now… and then the leader cursed and took flight, and the rest of his patrol hurriedly followed him, even as he shouted over his shoulder from the air: “Get out of here, ground-kissers, you’re not wanted here!”

“Oh believe me, I wish we could leave and let all thee damnable louts die a horrid death.” Luna grumbled under her breath, and then she sat sulkily back on her haunches with a sigh as the glow died out from around her horn, looking moodily over at Scrivener Blooms as the earth pony smiled awkwardly. “Scrivy, this is ridiculous. I have discovered I am so powerful because I am a Valkyrie, rudely thrown to Midgard from Valhalla and reincarnated in this body. We are being pursued by a cult which worships Nightmare Moon because they believe her to be the bringer of Ragnarok and a new, happier world. Our adopted daughter is a Blood Seer, the town we have been sent to save from destruction is filled with preening holier-than-thou unicorns, and every time I pummel or kill something it only leads to something even larger and meaner crawling perhaps out of Helheim itself to complicate the puzzle further! And I will not even start upon the problems of Bob of Ginnungagap, Pinkamena the Lemon Drop, or Celestia the… the… stuffy!”

She dropped her head forwards sulkily, and Scrivener stepped over to her and wrapped a foreleg around her, kissing her temple gently and saying softly: “Well, let’s go back to our home, then and remind ourselves a little of what we’re fighting for by visiting with family and friends. You can tell me more awkward stories about your past, Luna the Cranky, and maybe we’ll consult Nightmare Moon for some ideas before tonight, too.”

“Aye, I suppose.” Luna said moodily, shifting a bit before she checked him with her shoulder, knocking him back a step as she stood up and nodded once with a mumble. “Still, ‘tis… much to deal with all at once, and unlike what I thought, things grow murkier instead of brighter. Still, our answers must lay at some point along this path… I only hope we learn them before it grows too late.”

She halted, then shook her head quickly, adding grouchily as Scrivy gazed at her softly: “Nay, enough dark thoughts. Luna the Cranky requires enjoyment… yes, yes, after being responsible. I know there is likely much to tend to at the campsite… I only wish that our welcome here had been warmer, so the Starlit Knights could put themselves to better use without having to worry about angry unicorns.”

The two quietly made their way through the snow fields, keeping an eye out around the northern wall for any turrets, but then simply following the dilapidated, broken fencing that surrounded the rest of North Neigh’s less-than-posh district. As they walked, Luna wondered silently on the situation they were in and rehashed memories… and Scrivy couldn’t help but think of the city, and of Bramblethorn, and wonder how the unicorn had managed to get himself into such an elevated position.

As often happened when they were both thinking hard, their thoughts naturally swam through one another’s minds… and then Scrivener found himself curiously thinking of days in Valhalla he hadn’t lived, smiling faintly at Luna’s memories that surfaced: of a strange life, not a pony, a Valkyrie, fighting and laughing and yet she had been… a little alone in spite of it all. Even back then, different. Luna, on the other hand, thought moodily of Bramblethorn, associating some of what she’d seen with her life more than a thousand years ago and the corrupt Barons… and worse, the viziers and advisors that used the political leaders like puppets. Except Bramblethorn was far too obvious in his puppetry of Caprice… just like he seemed a little too arrogant, a little too cruel, to have ever managed getting into political power by himself.

Then, suddenly, the two ponies looked at each other, realized they’d traded thoughts and memories… and they couldn’t help but laugh, both looking a little embarrassed before nuzzling one-another affectionately as they paused, coming to a halt as they studied one another. Then Luna bowed her head towards him, and she murmured softly: “I am fortunate in what I have lived, Scrivy. I see that now… I am fortunate to have lived my years as a Valkyrie, even if I spent most of them alone, a Night Maiden even then… and I am fortunate to have died. I am fortunate to have been dropped to Equestria, and I am fortunate to have awoken as a winged unicorn. I am fortunate for all that happened from that point on, from Nightmare Moon to my return a thousand years later from the cold imprisonment of the moon… because it has all led to me and thee, together.”

Scrivener blushed a little, gazing at her tenderly… and then she stepped forwards, and they kissed for a soft, tender moment before pulling apart as they smiled warmly into one another’s eyes… before they both glowered upwards as Rainbow Dash said mildly: “That was the corniest thing I have ever heard. Can you hear the sappy music? I can totally hear the sappy music playing right now.”

The blue Pegasus was easily hovering in the air, looking down at them with his forelegs crossed, messy mane falling over his face as he grinned widely… and then Luna flicked her horn with a grumble, and a small arc of electricity zapped through the air around Dash, making him yelp and flail wildly as his wings spasmed before he fell from the sky and landed in a puff of snow on the other side of the fence. “What thou shalt be hearing shortly is the sound of being on fire if thou pushes my patience any further.”

Rainbow huffed as he scrambled his way out of the snow and leaned overtop the fence, looking grouchily down at them. “Oh, bite me. Like Pinkamena hasn’t already tried that already, anyway… I swear, I can’t tell if she likes me or she hates me. But anyway, Cowlick wanted me to find you guys and let you know that she has the wagons repaired and most of the other apartment building cleaned out, but she needs help with heating the buildings or something. I don’t see why we’re doing all this work when we’re not even gonna be here that long, though.”

He paused, then shook himself out and flapped his wings, sending up a puff of snow as he launched himself back into the air and rolled his shoulders with a grimace. “You know what really bothers me, though? What jerks everypony around here is, and how it’s always so… so bleak and gray all the time. I tried talking to some of the Pegasus soldiers and they just called me a shorn-wing and mocked my armor. I tried convincing a few others to help me push away the clouds and most of them just said ‘that’s not my job, I’m a soldier’ or something like that. Apparently their ranks have all gone to their swollen fat heads.”

“Welcome to North Neigh.” Scrivener Blooms said mildly, and then he shook his head, glancing towards a particularly large drift and beginning: “Anyway, Luna and I will be across the barrier in-”

Then he winced as a sapphire glow enshrouded him, hefting him into the air as he flailed his limbs before Luna simply flicked her horn forwards and sent him flying over the fence to crash down with a puff on the other side, and Rainbow Dash snorted laughter as he flew a few feet backwards, Luna neatly leaping up and flapping her broad wings only once to launch herself over the fence. Her cloak, mane and starry tail fluttered backwards, twisting gently as she landed on top of the powder… and then Scrivener sat moodily up beside her and glared at her as she looked imperiously down at him before sweeping up a hoof-full of snow and shoving this into his face. “Now thou truly are abominable, Scrivener Blooms. But come, enough fun for now. Let us go to Cowlick.”

“You guys are the weirdest couple ever.” Rainbow said with a grin, propelling himself backwards and spinning around as Scrivy grumbled and hefted himself to his hooves, then he turned and lowered his head before charging towards Luna and attempting to tackle her back… but Luna only grinned, leaping upwards as her wings flapped to propel her high, and Scrivener stared dumbly before he crashed into the ground, leaving a short trench through the powder before he wheezed when Luna landed on his back and squashed him slightly further down into the snow, peering down at him with a teasing smile on her face.

“I said enough fun for now, Scrivy, we can wrestle in the snow together later.” Luna admonished kindly, as Rainbow stared… then cackled as he flew backwards through the air, grabbing at his head and stomach with a wide grin.

Scrivener huffed, sending out a puff of snow before Luna stepped off him and strode towards the road in the distance, and he carefully peeled himself up from the ground before grumbling as he quickly jogged to catch up, snow still falling away from his body as Luna tossed him a wink before she rolled her eyes as Rainbow continued to giggle, tilting her horn to the side… and a short, sharp wind blew into the Pegasus as they began to walk past the wreckage of the silo, making him wince and list just enough that he smacked loudly into the wall of the half-collapsed structure, grunting and then falling backwards with a loud thud as Luna called mildly: “There is such a thing as too much enjoyment, handsome Rainbow Dash.”

“I’m handsome!” Rainbow thrust a hoof into the air from where he was laying on his back, and Luna rolled her eyes as Scrivener gave her a half-entertained, half-exasperated look. Before he could say anything, however, Twilight strode out of the nearby building, and she let out a sigh of relief, smiling at them as she called something through the still-open doors.

Cowlick’s voice yelled back, indistinct as the doors swung closed, and Twilight rolled her eyes before she smiled at the two ponies, saying quietly: “Good to see you both. You’ll be glad to know I already took care of the heating issue… I would have done it earlier but I was teaching Scarlet Sage, and Cowlick’s apparently afraid of upsetting you by going near her.”

“Good.” Luna said in a pleased voice, and then she glanced towards Rainbow Dash as the Pegasus strode easily out around the apartments. “Rainbow, as thou art both speedy and a gossip, I shall let thee know that there is going to be a Pegasus staying here, named Swiftly Wing. She is an outlaw of sorts… an information gatherer and smuggler, but I believe we can trust her enough to allow her to stay in the encampment, if only because she greatly dislikes the unicorns for the same reasons we do. Her story is… strange, and has a few obvious alterations and possible holes… but nonetheless, we shall give her a chance.”

Rainbow grumbled at this, but then he nodded after a moment, looking grouchily up towards the sky. “Alright, alright, I guess I’ll fly around, letting people know. Swiftly Wing, huh? She a good flier?”

“Perhaps better than thou.” Luna replied with a grin, and Rainbow leaned back, giving her a horrible, offended look. Then he huffed and turned around, flying off towards the skies as Luna turned her eyes towards Twilight… and then tilting her head curiously as the violet pony only smiled at her softly. “What? No argument? No reprisal? Not even a question? Art thou possessed again, Twilight Sparkle? And if so, it had better be something more pleasant than Celestia.”

“Oh stop it.” Twilight rolled her eyes, but then she laughed a little all the same, shaking her head and gazing at her softly. “No, it’s not that at all. I have… plenty of questions, but after spending so long with Scarlet Sage and helping out and… thinking about a lot of things while I was working… I have something I want to say, Scrivy, Luna. Can we go inside? Fluttershy and Rarity are with Scarlet Sage, trying out Cowlick’s heated bath so… we’ll have a little privacy.”

Luna and Scrivy traded curious looks, but then both nodded and quietly strode after Twilight Sparkle as she smiled awkwardly and turned to head towards the other apartment building, and they followed her inside and to the corner room Luna had claimed as their private domicile. She closed the door behind them as the sapphire winged unicorn threw off her cloak and she and Scrivy stomped their hooves out and brushed snow from one another, and Twilight watched them affectionately before she strode towards the bedding, quietly laying down and turning around to face them, half-on and half-off it.

Scrivener and Luna both stepped forwards and laid down as well, looking at her… and Twilight Sparkle smiled a little, closing her eyes as she said softly: “I’ve realized… how fleeting life is, with this journey. And I’ve realized that… nothing is guaranteed. When I look at you two, I think about… everything we’ve been through together, shared, been a part of, and I look at you both and know that… you’re soulmates. I envy that. And I adore you both.”

“Oh Horses of Heaven I think she’s breaking up with us.” Scrivener whispered loudly to Luna, and then Twilight glared at him and a pillow flew up and smacked into his face, knocking his glasses askew.

“God, do you have to ruin everything?” she asked grouchily, and Luna nodded a few times for Scrivy even as the earth pony adjusted his glasses, and Twilight sighed before she cleared her throat, blushed, and said finally in a stumbling, awkward rush: “Once you asked me if I would bear a foal for you if you couldn’t do it Luna and I think I’m finally ready to say yes.”

Scrivener and Luna both stared, then their jaws dropped at the same time as they blinked in unison as they leaned forwards in surprise, and Twilight dropped her face in her hooves with a deep red flush as she snapped: “You’re doing that thing again!”

Luna and Scrivener glanced awkwardly at each other at the same time… then Scrivy cleared his throat as the winged unicorn winced and looked towards Twilight Sparkle, blushing deeply herself as she said in a humbled voice: “Sweet, beloved, wonderful Twilight I… well… we have Scarlet Sage now, and it is so generous and… and kind and… by Odin, I mean… oh talk, Scrivener Blooms!”

“Luna and I are both very deeply touched but… it would be… selfish of us. We wouldn’t want to hurt Scarlet Sage and… you… I mean, you really are… I mean…” Scrivener cleared his throat again, then coughed as he glanced away and Luna dropped her head against his mane, her own starry locks cascading over her face.

But then Twilight looked up at them, and she smiled softly, saying quietly: “But that’s exactly why I’d want to… do this for you. Seeing you… with her as your daughter, how good you are with her. How supportive and loving… we’d have to… work things out, yes, and talk it over and there are a lot of details, but… I think… I think after all this is said and done, if you do want to consider it… I’d be willing. I know I wasn’t before, I was worried and scared… but…” She softened, gazing from one to the other tenderly. “For you two… I’d be honored.”

And for a little while, there was only silence as Luna looked almost shyly at Twilight Sparkle, and Scrivener Blooms smiled faintly, his eyes overbright as the two gazed with warmth and affection to the soft, tender violet pony across from them, before Twilight slipped forwards and they gladly both pulled her into a fierce, tight embrace, snuggling her welcomingly into the warmth of their bodies.