• Published 15th Sep 2012
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An Old Mare's Tale - realbrickwall



What really happened one thousand years ago

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4
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Chapter 11

“Celestia.” The voice came from somewhere far away. It cooed gently. “Celestia, I’m here.” The voice was closer. Celestia tried to lift her head from her pillow to look, but she couldn’t.

“Nn…nnn…”

“Shhh…don’t try to speak, dear sister.” Nightmare Moon’s voice was right next to Celestia’s ear. “You escaped me last time, but now we can play.” Celestia whimpered. “No, no, shhhh,” Nightmare whispered. “It’s going to be alright. Just stop struggling.” The mare of darkness’ weight lowered onto Celestia, making her breathing difficult. Celestia felt a nip at the tip of her ear. Then a bite. Nightmare Moon was latched onto her ear, and pulling. The dull teeth dug into the cartilage of Celestia’s ear. She tried to scream, but nothing came out. Blood dripped down the side of her head.

“Celestia!”

Celestia’s eyes shot open. Her vision was fuzzy. There were indistinct shapes in her vision. Green, white, brown. The light of the sun in back of them made them even harder to make out.

“Hn…who?”

“Hey, she’s awake!” The voice was familiar.

“Flash? Flash is that you?”

“Yeah, Sunny, it’s me. You okay?”

“Flash, where am I?”

“Sweet Apple Acres.” A different voice. A young mare from the countryside. “Same place as you went to bed.” Celestia’s eyes began to adjust. She realized that she was looking through tears. She wiped them away with a hoof and saw that every pony in the room was staring at her.

“What’s going on?”

Morning Glory leaned in to give her a hug. “We woke up to the sun, and we heard you whimpering. Are you okay?” Celestia leaned into the hug. No blood on the side of her head.

“I…I think so.” She looked around. “None of you heard anypony come in here?” The other ponies shook their heads. “Okay.” She looked again. One, two, three other ponies. “Shimmerdust. Where is Shimmerdust?!” She kicked her legs to pull her weight over them, but she felt something holding her down. Her tail was being pulled.

Flash Burn blushed. “She’s over there.” Celestia turned her head to where all the other ponies were looking. On top of the frizzy pink mass attached to her rear was a familiar blue unicorn, slowly rolling back and forth.

Apple Juice giggled a bit. “I’ll, uh, get you a comb.”

The seven ponies stood at the gate of Sweet Apple Acres once more. Though their saddlebags were full, they were all full of energy and ready to get moving.

"Thank you again, for everything." Celestia reached out a hoof, but found that Plum Juice had already leaned in to give her a hug.

"Weren't no trouble at all. Y'all come back anytime once you're done saving Equestria and whatnot." Plum broke off to give hugs to the other ponies. Celestia turned to Appleseed, who made no motion other than eye contact.

"Thank you too, for all the help." She smiled gently, trying not to show that she still felt somewhat awkward about the sudden fight last night.

"Aw, shucks. 'tweren't nearly enough for the Princess of Equestria."

Celestia felt her heart fall into her stomach. "You…how did you…buh?"

"AJ saw that big ol' sun on your flank when you was sleeping. I sure never seen anypony with any kind of permanent marking like that, not even ponies who associate with zebras."

"Oh." Celestia looked at her hooves. "I guess I'll have to be more careful where I sleep."

"Reckon you will." The old stallion smiled. "But you'll always be safe at Sweet Apple Acres. Now go on. You got a long way to go." He didn't offer his hoof, but the warmth of his voice was certainly the most affection that Appleseed offered anypony. Celestia turned to say goodbye to Apple Juice, but she was still talking to Amaranth.

"-and I cleared out my wardrobe so it'd fit nice and proper. Ain't got much to put in there anyways. Just this old dress that'll never see the light of day anyway. No dress in Equestria's good enough to make look pretty anyways." Apple Juice was blushing rather heavily.

"Oh, you hardly need a dress for that." Amaranth smiled gently, and Apple Juice turned redder than her father. "However, I do appreciate it. That armor is old, and some cloths have oils that might degrade it further."

"Yeah, well…" the yellow-green mare pawed at the ground. "You just…you just make sure to come back for it, alright?"

"Of course. I would never have had it with me if it didn't mean a lot to me."

"Right. Yeah." There was a brief pause. Apple Juice took a small step forward. "Well, uh, goodbye." Their muzzles were very close. Apple Juice was biting her lip.

"Goodbye." Amaranth turned around and trotted towards the mass of ponies. They were all, Celestia included, staring at him with their eyes wide and their jaws wider. "Is everypony ready to go?"

Celestia was the first to speak up. "Sure. Let me say goodbye to Apple Juice and then we're off." She brushed past Amaranth and gave the gobsmacked mare a hug, and whispered in her ear. "He likes you; he's just a big idiot."

Apple Juice smiled weakly. "Thanks. And goodbye."

The group headed down the path again, and the Apple family waved until they were out of sight. As soon as they were no longer in view, everypony immediately turned to Amaranth.

"So," Celestia said with a grin, "she really wants you to come back, does she?"

"Hm? You mean Apple Juice?" Amaranth hardly even turned his head. "Well, it stands to reason. Even I hate taking responsibility of that artifact. It's not even hers to look after, so I can't imagine she'd want to be stuck with it for any longer than necessary."

"Yes," said Morning Glory, sidling up to Amaranth, "but I think she really looks forward to seeing you again."

"Well, I suppose that makes sense. It would be a pity to make somepony's acquaintance and never see them again. Plus, I imagine she doesn't meet too many ponies living out on a farm. She certainly seemed to find talking to me awkward. I bet she doesn't have much experience with strangers."

"And don't you want to see her again?" Celestia asked, her tone insistent.

"Well, she seemed nice enough, so why not?" Celestia and Morning Glory poked their heads past Amaranth to look at each other. Celestia made a face, and Glory returned it. They both broke away from the green earth pony.

Hurricane piped up from the back. "Okay, somepony level with me. Is this guy for real?"

Shimmerdust giggled. "Oh, that's nothing. You should have seen how clueless Sage used to be."

"Hey, I wasn't that bad!" Sage retorted.

"Honey, remember when we went on our third date, and I kept making really saucy remarks about glassblowing?"

"Uh…" Sage blushed. "Yes, but do we have to-"

"And do you remember what happened when we reached my house?"

"Really, I don't think anypony wants to hear this." Sage picked up his pace, but Morning Glory and Hurricane headed him off.

"No, no, tell us." Glory leaned in closer.

"Yeah, bro, what happened?" Hurricane pressed even closer, forcing Sage to back up next to Shimmerdust.

The unicorn sighed. "She asked me to come inside."

"Did she ask you nicely and offer you tea?" Glory was now directly in front of him.

"Or was she all sexy about it?" Hurricane stood to his side, so that he and Shimmerdust were on Sage's flanks.

Sage made a pained expression. "She whispered in my ear and wrapped her leg around mine." This provoked an "oooh" from the siblings.

"And what did you say?" prompted Shimmerdust.

"I said," Sage rolled his eyes, "that I should go catch up on my reading, goodnight." That did it. Hurricane and Glory began guffawing loudly enough that Celestia was sure the Apples could hear it. They leaned on each other for support, but ended up collapsing to the ground anyway. Celestia tried stifling her own giggling. She had, of course, heard the story the night it happened, but Sage's manner of painful recollection was simply precious.

"Hey!" Flash Burn yelled from the front. "We've got to get to Cloudsdale before sunset. " Glory and Hurricane picked themselves up off the ground to keep walking, but they were still laughing.

"I'll have you all know," Sage said trying to keep a stern voice, though utterly failing to suppress a smile of his own, "that I have gotten a lot better at being forward and figuring out mares."

Celestia poked him in the ribs. "Given the number of books you've read on relationships, you'd better be an expert."

"I am. If, for instance, I wanted a kiss right now, I would simply grab Shimmerdust and-" he cut himself off, as when he reached over to wrap his hoof around Shimmerdust, he noticed that she had begun galloping ahead of him.

"You'll have to catch meeee!" she teased. Twilight Sage began galloping as well, but was stopped in his tracks as Flash Burn body checked Shimmerdust, stopping her instantly.

"What is wrong with you all? In case you haven't noticed, the freaking world is ending!" Though Flash addressed everypony, she was yelling right in Shimmerdust's face. "Did you forget that we only have twelve more days of warmth? Or that Everfree is being torn apart? We are the only ponies who have any hope of fixing all this, and we're wasting time fooling around. When ponies start dying, it will be on your hooves!" The group stared alternately at the guard captain, and at their own hooves. Flash Burn looked like she was about to apologize, but instead she turned around. "Let's get moving."

Every pony marched along in silence in the long hours of the second day.


An archway made of fog drifting over the path filled Celestia with relief. "Cloudsdale!" The ponies in back of her cheered. They had made good time, and the sun was still hanging in the sky, casting long shadows along the cobblestone path leading to the foothills of the pegasus city. "Okay, everypony, let's get ourselves a flying carriage to Griffonmont."

"Er, Prin-" Flash Burn cut herself off, "I mean, Sunny, there's a bit of a problem. That archway is going to be watched by guards. Guards who will want to see ALL of our travel papers."

"Oh." Celestia felt herself lose her resolve. A long day of walking had made her legs weak, and without the elation from seeing their first milestone, she couldn't stand anymore. Everypony instantly came around her to help pick her up off the ground.

"Princess, you needn't worry," Morning Glory said, while waving a hoof in the air dismissively. "Those guards will be easy to take care of. And we have enough bits to pay for transportation that won't ask questions. It's not like we'll need bits outside Equestria anyway."

"You can't be serious," said Flash with a frown. "You expect to be able to seduce all the guards at the entrance and get all seven of us through with no questions?"

"Oh, Flashie," Glory laughed, "you act as if sex is the only weapon in my arsenal. No, it's far from my only one. It's not even my best. Just the most fun." Flash Burn blushed, but raised no objection. "No, I have a plan. Now, I'll need you all to do a bit of playing along. Line up, please." The group looked at each other, but silently lined up. "Alright, now, first, I need Flashie to play the part of the strong, honorable Captain of the Guard." She stood in front of Flash Burn eyeing her up and down. "Perfect!"

"Uh, I didn't do anything."

"Exactly, you're a natural!" Glory rubbed the side of her head against Flash's. "Now, the rest of you need to play the part of quiet, well-behaved citizens of Equestria." She paused. "Hurricane, dear, you might want to stay in the back."

"Yeah, yeah," grumbled the dark pegasus.

"Okay, everypony, let's get going!"

"But wait," Celestia started, "what are YOU going to do?"

"The same sort of thing I do every single day, dear 'Sunny'." She turned and walked slowly in the direction of the gate. Nopony else raised an objection, and uneasily followed her.

When they reached the cloud-gate, they saw two pegasi in silver armor. There was not much on the ground to be guarded, so the low number of guards was understandable. Morning Glory approached them casually.

"Good evening, gentlemen. We need to take a carriage to Griffonmont. It's somewhat urgent Royal Guard business." The brown earth pony gestured back at Flash, who merely stood stoically.

"We need to see your travel papers," replied one of the silver-armored pegasi.

"Oh, don't tell me that being under the charge of the highest-ranking military officer in Equestria doesn't count for anything." Glory flashed the guard a friendly smile.

The guard leaned in. "No papers, no entrance," he growled. At that point, Morning Glory leaned in further to whisper something in his ear. The guard backed up. He stepped to the side so that the gateway was clear. "You may pass." The other guard looked like he was going to say something, but the first guard shot him an intense glare, and he stepped to the side as well.

The group passed through slowly, avoiding eye contact. Flash gave the guards suspicious looks, but they were also avoiding eye contact, staring straight ahead. Soon, they were well through the gate and out of hearing distance of the two guards. Flash Burn grabbed Morning Glory.

"What in Equestria did you SAY to that guard? I've never seen anypony backpedal like that."

"Oh, it was nothing. I just mentioned to him that if he didn't let us through, I might let the fact that he was on Don Corleoate's payroll slip to the Captain of the Day Guard, and it might not end well for him." Glory didn't shrug off Flash's hoof, but it fell off anyway, as Flash lost all muscle control from shock.

"How could you have possibly known that?" Celestia asked with surprise in her voice. "None of us had even heard of that pony until yesterday."

"Oh, of course not. However, from what we heard, he has been in operation in the area for many years now. Do you think he could get away with that if he didn't have control over the patrols?" Glory smiled wide. "Greed and disloyalty are easy to spot once you've seen the same patterns over and over. Politicians, crime bosses, and businessponies are all the same. You just need to learn to take advantage of that."

"That's…how can you smile at that?" Flash had a bit of a sob in her voice. "Those ponies were sworn to defend Equestria and every pony in it. They've forsaken their duty for a few bits, and you think it's a joke?"

Morning Glory shook her head. "It's no joke. Why do you think I'm in this game? I have been lorded over by ponies who care for nothing more than to stand atop those crushed beneath their hooves. But to get in the game, you have to be willing to take advantage of other ponies." She looked away. "…no matter how despicable it is." Flash stepped forward to say something, but Glory cut her off. "I'm sorry about lying to you about my brother earlier. There's no excuse."

"It's okay, I forgive you." Flash hugged Morning Glory.

"Really? but I thought-"

"Normally it'd probably take me a bit longer, but…" Flash put her hooves back on the ground, "when Appleseed was talking about my father, I realized that every part of me wanted to pretend that I wasn't even remotely related to that pony." She looked at her hooves. "I've never felt that kind of shame before, but I understand it now."

"Hey, drama princess!" Hurricane piped up from the back. "She lied because I practically told her to."

"Say what?" Flash appeared to be too startled to get angry about the 'drama princess' line.

"Yeah, just before you came in, I was telling her I was gonna leave Equestria so she wouldn't be associated with a known criminal." The dark pegasus walked around so that he was looking Flash Burn in the face. "She's responsible for the well-being of every pony who doesn't live in a mansion. I couldn't let her throw it all away just because she looks after my sorry haunches. She wasn't even gonna agree to it until you busted in." He pointed a hoof at Flash. "So get off her case, okay?"

Flash Burn took a second, but then she smiled. "You know I already forgave her, right? Your sister's my best friend."

Hurricane stammered. "Uh…right. Um." He looked back and forth. "Yeah, okay, whatever." He slouched and returned to the back of the group.

Flash giggled. "Your kid brother's a sweetheart, considering he's a notorious thief."

"Yes, well," Morning Glory sidled up alongside Flash, "it's probably because I'm such a good influence." This caused Flash to giggle even harder.

Celestia cleared her throat, causing the giggling to cease. "Weren't you the one saying that we don't have time for fooling around?" Her voice dripped with sadistic pleasure, and her eyes narrowed. Flash and Glory separated immediately with guilt looks. "Now, why don't you two go and find us that nice, low-key carriage we talked about?" The two mares nodded and slowly walked off to the large cluster of carriages.

The other ponies surrounded Hurricane and began throwing muddled teasing remarks about his adorableness. His frustrated cries of rage and shows of manliness seemed to only egg them on further. Celestia just sighed and smiled. Perhaps the worries that she had at the beginning of the journey were unfounded. Perhaps all these ponies really could work together.

There was a loud thud and Hurricane Galloped out of a pile of ponies that had just barely missed collapsing on top of him. He looked very frightened.

Celestia sighed. "Or…maybe not."