• 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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Chapter 8

Bump.

The sudden force under Celestia urging her back into the waking world was immediately disturbing. She never woke up to anything other than the urge of the sun, or occasionally another pony's voice. The physical world being upset beneath her as she was unconscious registered as an immediate threat, and her mind rushed to respond. She immediately tried to open her eyes, only they didn't open. It was no issue of blindness, but she could feel her eyelids refusing to respond. She tried moving her legs next, but they felt even more unresponsive, if that was even possible.

"Celly, Celly, Celly…" came a voice from right next to Celestia's ear. The princess' heart raced faster. "Even your most desperate measure failed. And now you're mine." Nightmare Moon's voice danced all around, as if the evil mare had enveloped Celestia within her darkness. "You never loved me, but you will now." Celestia tried to respond, but her mouth was as immobile as the rest of her body. "I'll make you love me." Nightmare Moon's voice sounded quieter now, but somehow closer and angrier. "I will take your heart, your soul," the evil mare's voice dropped to a whisper, "your body." Celestia tried to move anything and everything. Her body felt like a cage for her mind, now doomed to suffer. She felt the oppressive heat of another body pressed against her. "And I'll take them now." Celestia tried to scream, but felt only the quietest of whimpers escape her lungs.

"Princess? Are you awake?" The voice wasn't Nightmare Moon's. It wasn't even Luna's. Celestia's eyes shot open. She was in a wooden cart. It smelled like the library, and there were a few books wedged in the cart with her. In a panic, the princess shot her leg out to keep everything away from her, to get to safety. She felt her hoof make contact with something fleshy but hard. The fleshy hard thing cried out in pain. As her vision cleared, Celestia saw her faithful advisor, Twilight Sage, staggering back from the cart.

"Sage?" the princess said weakly. The mouth felt perfectly mobile, but when she tried to speak, she noticed that she was incredibly dehydrated. Her throat had never felt drier, in fact. Along with that realization came the one that every single part of her hurt. Her muscles burned like she had been exercising them all at once, and her head felt like she had tied in a game of "chicken" against a rock. She curled herself up instinctively, as if something was assaulting her from the outside.

Sage walked back up to the cart. "Try to calm down, Princess. I believe that your spell may have had an issue in its execution. It may take time for you to recover." Celestia relaxed her body. The pain was already starting to go away.

"Water." She wanted to say something else, to ask what had happened, but that was all that came out.

"Of course, Princess. Just sit tight." Sage walked out of sight, and the cart began moving. Celestia shut her eyes. Exhaustion threatened to overtake her again, but the dull pain kept her awake until the cart stopped moving again. "Here. This fountain is still working. Can you move?" Celestia managed to move her hooves under her body, but as she strained to rise to standing, she merely pushed herself off the back of the cart and onto the floor face-first. It didn't hurt too much, but it sapped her will to keep trying. Celestia went limp and felt herself start sobbing. She hardly registered her advisor dragging her head by the mane until it rested on the edge of a stone fountain. She lowered her head and took drinks between sobs.

"I don't want to rush you, but we have to finish quickly. This wing only has another ten minutes before it collapses." A rumbling shook the building. "Make that six."

Celestia raised her head from the fountain. "What's going on? Is Nightmare Moon attacking the castle?"

"Who?" Sage narrowed his eyes while simultaneously raising his eyebrows, a look Celestia had long ago identified as one that he used when attempting to discern if another pony was crazy.

"I'll tell you later. Just…explain, okay?"

"Short version?"

"Yes."

Twilight Sage took a deep breath. "The other spell you cast seems to be taking more energy than your body actually holds, possibly because that other alicorn is fighting it. It seems that you've unconsciously started unweaving magic around you for more energy. And, since you're in the middle of Everfree Castle, which is a giant pile of enchantment, well…this entire place is coming apart. The throne room and some other places should remain intact, but I had to get you all the way down from the observatory first. It's been a couple hours."

"Hours?!" Celestia began coughing. Yelling was definitely a mistake. "I've been out for hours?"

"Well, yes. Casting a big spell after you'd already drained yourself? I had little hope that you would wake up at all."

"Why do you keep saying I cast two spells? I cast a spell to keep Nightmare Moon frozen in time, and then I blacked out."

Sage sighed. "Look in the fountain's pool." Celestia obliged him, and immediately noticed what was wrong. Her horn was missing from her head, and her wings from her body. Her royal crown and the rest of her regalia were all gone as well. Her proportions also suggested that she was quite the same size as a normal pony.

"My clone spell?" At least her wits had not deserted her. It all made sense. Her muscles were atrophied, her clothes gone, and she felt like she'd never eaten or drank. An incredibly minimalistic clone spell would result in an earth pony body without any excess calories, water, or muscle mass. And, if she'd been in the stasis spell as well, she wouldn't need to use magic to keep up two bodies at once, meaning that she would need to spend zero magic at all until she broke the time freeze.

"Yes. I'm not sure how you forgot about it. Perhaps the blackout gave you a small amount of amnesia?"

"It must have. So, does that mean that my original body is in the stasis bubble with Nightmare Moon?" Sage nodded. "And she's still not moving?" Sage nodded again. Celestia heaved a sigh of relief. Disaster had been averted. She had time to think. "Let's get out of the castle. I need to find some food, and we need to figure out how to fix this mess." She pushed herself off the fountain, only to find that she could still not support her own weight. However, this time, Sage caught her before she hit the ground.

"Let's get you back in the cart." With Sage's help, Celestia managed to climb back into the cart. She was able to make out the titles of some of the books. They appeared to be tomes of theology and history, none of them written in modern Equestrian.

"Sage, what are these for?"

"You'll see," said the unicorn dourly, as he picked up the cart and took Celestia down the corridor.

"Don't play games, Sage. I'm far too tired for them."

"You need to rest. It will take some time to explain, and we really have to get moving. Besides, I think you need to see it for yourself." Celestia's stomach churned. Mostly out of hunger, but she was also nervous. What else had gone wrong?

A short time later, Celestia noticed that they had arrived in the throne room. Non-magical torches had already been placed in the sconces along the walls, casting the room in a light that seemed somehow more eerie than the dimness of the hallways. She heard quick hoofbeats rush to the side of the cart.

"Sage? Are you alright?" It was Flash Burn's voice.

"I'm perfectly fine, Captain, but the princess could use your help." Flash Burn's head appeared over the cart.

"Your Majesty! I am so sorry. I didn't see you there, Your Majesty."

"It's all right, Flash." Celestia smiled weakly.

"Please, Your Majesty, tell me what I can do for you."

"I need food."

Flash frowned. "The areas leading to the kitchen have collapsed. There's no way in. The only other food I could find quickly is the food being taken by evacuees, but…"

Sage's head appeared next to Flash's. "What about the food in the hospital wing that's kept there for emergencies? None of the nurses were taking anything with them when they left, and we still have a couple minutes before that part of the castle collapses."

"The hospital's going to collapse?" Flash sounded very panicked.

"Yes, but there were no patients there, so-" Sage was talking to air. He looked around the room before turning back to Celestia. "If she's not back in a minute, we have to go."

"Sage, what did she mean by evacuees? What's going on?" Sage walked around to the back of the cart so that they could talk face to face.

"The pattern destabilization I spoke of earlier is spreading. Most of the upper quarter has magic architecture of some type or another. Once that destabilizes, the entire city will become a disaster zone. I was not confident that the issue leading to your sister's imprisonment would be resolved quickly, so I proposed at the Senate's emergency meeting that we evacuate immediately, under the standard protocol. They agreed."

Celestia felt her head swimming. Had she actually made things worse by trying to stop Nightmare Moon? "How exactly can you tell that's my sister up there?"

"Her flank, of course. It appears that no matter what form you two take, you keep those divine marks." Sage gestured towards Celestia's flank, which still had a golden sun emblazoned on it.

"Okay, second question: how did you get the Senate to agree to something like that? I may trust in your expertise, but those ponies can't agree to do something reasonable, let alone force everypony to abandon their homes."

"They've already been spooked. I didn't have to try hard to push it through."

"Spooked from what?"

Sage sighed. "I guess there's no putting it off. I'll show you." He took hold of the cart once again and wheeled it to the gates of the throne room. In an instant, Celestia understood everything.

The sky was black. There was no moon, and there were no stars. It was even blacker than the space between the stars had ever been.

"That's why."


"This feels wrong." Celestia looked apprehensively at the array of food in front of her.

"They're not coming back for it." Sage pushed a plate of fruit salad towards the princess.

"But still. Breaking into a noble family's house to eat their food? That's just not right, especially for a princess." In spite of her words, Celestia cleaned the china plate in front of her with a ferocity unmatched by any mortal pony.

"Desperate times, Celestia." The unicorn ate some food himself, albeit much more slowly. Celestia attempted to telekinetically summon a dish of baked vegetables before remembering that she had no horn. She leapt onto the table and dug into the dish, entirely ignoring table manners.

"So, you never explained all the books," Celestia managed between bites.

"I suppose now is as good a time as any." sage pulled the largest tome from the cart and placed it on the table. He opened it to a page somewhere near the middle. "This book is a compilation of traveler's tales from before the foundation of Equestria and the establishment of Everfree. The wild ponies had many legends concerning the Elements of Harmony."

"They're real, Sage, if that's your concern. You saw one earlier."

"Yes, yes, that's where I got the idea in the first place." He pointed to the book. "The wild ponies did, in fact, have what I now believe to be accurate descriptions of them. This tale here and another one speak of golden necklaces which can be summoned in a flash of light. Other tales mention stones with symbols on them which match descriptions of ancient symbols. I think that these are the unbound forms of the Elements. Why, they might have evidence as to the creation of-"

"Focus, Sage."

The unicorn cleared his throat. "Ah, yes, well, do you remember what the ambassador said? A single Element has the power to render her invincible under the correct circumstances. Not even your magic can do something like that. If we could harness that power, we might be able to fix whatever's going wrong."

Celestia finished another bowl of food and looked around for more. Finding that she had cleared the entire table, she climbed back down to the floor. "Well, I'm not sure that we can get the Element of Loyalty from Groza. It's bound to her."

"Ah, but I have a backup plan." Sage pulled out another book. "This is what was recovered of the Testament of Freedom after it was destroyed in the war."

Celestia frowned. "And what does that evil thing have to do with the Elements of Harmony?"

Sage grinned. "Maybe if you'd ever bothered to learn Draconic, you'd know."

"Even dragons don't speak Draconic anymore, Sage."

"But they did when they wrote THIS." He pointed to a section of gibberish. Celestia raised an eyebrow at him. Sage's smile became a nervous one. "Ah, I'll read it aloud. 'The Dragons of Wisdom', ah that's part of their creation myth," Sage commentated, "'handed down the Elements of Harmony to all the free beings of the world, and so they shall not be kept from any. To the Sons and Daughters,' that's the dragons, 'goes the Element of Generosity, for though the power is theirs to take or destroy, they give equally to all the free beings of the world.'"

Celestia mumbled a few syllables in an attempt to invent new vulgarity, but didn't interrupt.

"The damage makes the next section unreadable, but here it says 'griffons' and 'Loyalty', and we know that still matches up. It also has 'serpents' and 'Kindness' in the same line, so that's a pretty safe bet too. Already we have solid leads on two other Elements." Sage shut the book.

Celestia sighed. "I guess if the griffons still have theirs, then the others might be the same too. Alright, I'll start off towards Griffonmont as soon as I can. I guess that will leave you in charge of the Senate, if they can even meet outside the city."

"Don't be ridiculous. I must go with you." Sage closed the book and placed it back in the cart.

"You must? Sage, you know that I would not deny your company without good cause. The people need an intelligent pony to keep things together."

"And you need me more. Celestia, you don't know any provincial tongues that weren't around centuries ago, and the road to Griffonmont alone takes you through two places where you'll need to use local dialects. Outside major cities, very few ponies speak proper Equestrian."

Celestia placed a hoof on Sage's shoulder. "My trusted advisor, I have journeyed through Equestria time and time again. Do you really think I am without ways of getting around?"

"And what might those ways be?" Sage asked with a cocked eyebrow and a doubtful tone.

"A rather obscure, though handy, spell that-" Celestia gestured to her forehead and felt a sinking sensation in her gut. No horn. No magic at all. She smiled weakly at her advisor. "So, how's your packing coming?"

Sage smiled back at her. "It's all done, actually. I'm always prepared for a journey. I've left an emergency travel pack with Shimmerdust, and she knows where to meet me in case of emergencies like this."

"I'm not sure, Sage. She seems like the kind of pony who wouldn't notice an emergency was going on."

Sage scrunched up his face a little. "Well, I…when did you have the chance to meet her, anyway?"

Celestia's eyes narrowed despite her smile being quite small. "Not too long ago. So, we'll be stopping by her shop, then?"

Sage shook his head. "Whether or not she thought anything of the sky darkening, the Guard would have informed her of the evacuation. She is situated right on a square, after all. No, it would be best to make haste to the rendezvous."

"You sound like you're excited to go."

Sage smiled, but looked at the floor. "Well, can't a pony want a little adventure?"

"Of course." Celestia began walking to the door. Her hooves felt sure beneath her, like the banquet had restored her to perfect health in an instant. "And actually living one will most certainly be better than just writing novels about it."

There was a pause. "How does everypony know about those?


The lower quarter of Everfree was not as it should have been. Even at night, the ponies of Everfree would light the streets with lamps. Lovers would sing to their beloveds from beneath windowsills. Whispers would be heard in alleyways. Drunkards would stagger out of taverns. But in the darkness, not a whinny could be heard. Only the sound of the hoofbeats of two ponies, walking along slowly.

"Sage, do you think that everypony is alright?" Celestia turned to her advisor with a worried look.

"I do." Sage did not look back at his mentor. He was too busy looking around. "The evacuation protocols are quite sound. Even if they were made before the city was divided, they are designed to keep up with a changing populace. Although," he looked down at the ground, "they were made assuming that the Guard would be maintained at full strength."

"The Guard is very diligent. I am sure that any slack caused by loss of numbers was taken up by determination."

Sage laughed. "Ah, you should have seen Captain Flash. She was giving out orders like presents on the Winter Moon Celebration. Even Captain Destrier wasn't safe from her. I was sure somepony would wet themselves before she was through."

"She can be quite fierce when she's doing her duty, can't she?"

"So it seems. I guess my impression of her as shy was mistaken. In fact, nopony else seems to think of her that way."

Celestia rolled her eyes. "All those brains, and yet so much to learn."

"And what do you mean by that?"

"Oh, look, the gate." Sage turned his head. Indeed, the main gate of Everfree was just ahead. A line of guards stood in it, all facing outward, standing between the city and thousands of ponies. "We should probably warn them that we're coming."

"Good idea." Sage took a deep breath and called out. "Hello, the gate!"

Some of the guards turned. "Twilight Sage! Where's the princess?"

"Here." Celestia turned her flank mid-stride so that the guards could see it. They went slack-jawed.

"Er, yes, of course. Your Highness. Sorry." They separated to make way for the two ponies. Celestia and Sage passed through quietly. After they were out of earshot, Sage leaned in so that his head was next to the princess' ear.

"Did you need to do that so…like that?"

"Like what?" Celestia raised her eyebrows in confusion.

"The way you, uh, showed your flank. When you walk like that it's…well, it's a little bit…oh, I'm not sure how to put this."

"Just speak plainly."

"It's what ponies in the Lower Quarter call 'shaking that thang'." Sage stared intently at his hooves.

Celestia boggled. "That? That is what gets stallions in a tizzy? THAT is what you ponies make a big deal over?" Sage's silence told Celestia all she needed to know. "Wow. Next you'll be telling me that bucking is 'sexy'." Sage scrunched his face up and drove it into the ground. "You can't be serious."

"Just, please, never EVER do that again unless you absolutely have to. Either of those things, actually."

"Hey!" The voice didn't come from Celestia or Sage. Both of them looked over to the source. It was an earth pony with laden saddlebags and a strong build. "Are you really the Princess?"

Celestia stood in front of Sage. "Yes, I am. The state of affairs has left me in the body of an earth pony, but with any luck, that will soon be-"

"What happened to the sky? Where's the moon?" The large pony stepped forward until his height pressed on the princess.

"Calm down, sir. We're working to resolve it right now, if you'll just-"

"Don't give us that damn politico talk!" Another pony stepped forward. A mare just barely old enough to be an adult. "You tell us straight up what happened."

Celestia sighed. "Something happened to my sister, Princess Luna. She's had to be dealt with until-"

"What did you do with Princess Luna?" A third pony stepped forward. Then a fourth. A mob of ponies began surrounding Celestia and Sage.

"We've had to temporarily-"

"You royals and your infighting. Do you ever bother to consider the rest of us ponies?"

"Yes, I-"

"We've had it with you messing up our lives for your little power games!"

"It's not-"

"This ends now!" The mob closed in around the two ponies. The blaze of torches lit their bodies, but in the darkness, none of their eyes could be seen. All speech was drowned out by the rising collective noise of the ponies, and their hoofbeats coming closer.