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

What really happened one thousand years ago

  • ...

Chapter 9

The din of the refugees closing in made Celestia unable to hear her own voice. She could vaguely make out her advisor, Twilight Sage, yelling something back at the other ponies, but he was pushed to the ground as he tried to fend them off. Celestia was running out of room to move. She felt the muscles in her back tense, as if she still had wings to fly away with. Without that option, though, it was starting to look like fighting would be the only answer. But she was still weak. Her tail brushed against somepony. She prepared to kick.

Her back hooves met with empty air. Celestia looked up and saw that, one by one, the ponies around her were being lifted into the air, surrounded by magical glows of varying colors. They were even louder now, many of them screaming in surprise. As they cleared the ground, three unicorns in silver armor, horns bursting with energy, marched under the levitated crowd. They parted from their triangular formation to reveal a green earth pony in a very old-looking set of bronze barding.

“Amaranth?” Celestia took a single step forward. “Is that you? What in Equestria are you wearing?”

Amaranth closed his eyes. “You’ve missed a lot in the past few hours, Princess.” He gestured with a hoof at the three unicorns. “These are Sirs Mistlocke and Dream Catcher, and the Lady Nightshade. They’re elite members of the Night Guard.” The unicorns glanced, but they didn’t bow. Their eyebrows were furrowed in concentration.

“And why are you marching around like this? And in that ridiculous getup?”

“This is not the first time tonight that a mob has formed targeting the nobility. Many nobles are far from able to protect themselves, so those who are able have taken it upon themselves to keep the rest of the nobility safe.” The unicorns set the crowd down many feet away, and the other ponies began to disperse. “I just hope this doesn’t get out of hoof. Being of the noble class does not always give one noble intentions.”

“You still haven’t explained-“

“The armor,” Amaranth interrupted, “belonged to my ancestor, who fought in the war and earned our family the duchy. I did not want to leave it behind in Everfree in case we were forced to abandon the city forever.”

“How optimistic.” Celestia helped pick Twilight Sage off the ground. “I have to say, Amaranth, I never pegged you for the fighting type.”

“I am not. I believe I mentioned that the nobility with fighting ability were protecting those without.” Amaranth’s statement led Celestia to look again at the three unicorns. They had returned to a triangular formation around the green earth pony.

“So you’re going around getting yourself into trouble even though you’re…” Celestia looked at the bronze armor, “basically defenseless?”

“I am not a weakling, Princess, merely untrained.” Amaranth looked at his own hoof. “Also, I have not yet found a convenient place to store this. I believe that I will require some ointment for the chafing.”

Celestia stifled a giggle. “You’ve been very brave, Amaranth. We’re looking for a unicorn named Shimmerdust. Can you and your retinue help us?” The unicorns all gasped, and Amaranth sighed.

“Finding her won’t be hard. Come with me.” The unicorns all looked at each other hesitantly, but raised no objection.

Twilight Sage groaned. “Oh, no.”

The walk took the ponies over ten minutes. As much as Celestia had tried to get Amaranth to reveal what had given everypony such apprehension at Shimmerdust's name, the green pony refused to say anything. This change from Amaranth's normal open bluntness upset Celestia. What could be so bad that even he wouldn't say it?

Finally, the walk led to a large cluster of ponies who seemed quite a bit more calm than the last one. The unicorns ordered the ponies to make a path, and they complied. However, the group was not ten feet in before somepony yelled out.

"That pony has the royal mark on her flank!"

This caused the ponies to erupt in frantic conversation. Unlike the last group, however, this one was not talking to the princess directly. Rather, they seemed to be arguing among themselves. Celestia was unable to make out any of it, though she swore that she kept hearing the word "goddess". She turned to Amaranth.

"Are these ponies going to cause trouble?"

"Not for us," Amaranth said curtly. "Come. We're very close." The crowd gave Celestia a lot of distance, but their arguments were becoming more pitched, many ponies even yelling.

"Why are they all arguing? Amaranth, you're not telling me something, and I'm getting really worried."

"Here." Amaranth pushed an earth pony aside, giving Celestia a view of a clearing. The ponies were dressed in simple white cloths and bowing before a makeshift throne assembled from the remains of merchant stalls. Two ponies in what appeared to be bronze bikinis stood fanning the pony who stood upon the throne. That pony was a very familiar blue unicorn with glittering hair. Celestia's jaw dropped.

"Shimmerdust?!" Her yell was accompanied by Twilight Sage's. His expression was more composed, but his voice no less shocked. The blue unicorn on the throne turned her head.

"Sage!" Shimmerdust leapt from her throne, the force of which caused the thin wood to creak. She rushed to hug Celestia's advisor. "I was worried after they closed the gates."

Sage returned the hug half-heartedly, still looking worried. "Honey, what's going-"

"The Prophet has chosen a consort!" One of the ponies near the throne held a hoof in the air. The surrounding crowd cheered. "Praise her glory!"

"Praise her glory!" repeated the entire crowd. They parted so that everypony could get a good view of Twilight Sage, who looked as if he had just had a door slam on his tail.

"Prophet?" Sage slipped out of Shimmerdust's embrace. "What are they all talking about?"

"Oh, I think they mean me. Somepony must have gotten my name wrong, and I guess it caught on. I've tried to correct them, of course, but misconceptions spread so fast, you know?" Shimmerdust giggled.

"Honey, listen very closely. What were you doing before they started calling you that?"

Shimmerdust looked off to nowhere in particular. "Let me see…I guess the last thing I was doing was talking with some ponies about the whole stars going out thing. I drifted off for a bit while I was talking, and next thing I know, there are a hundred ponies surrounding me and calling me Prophet. Maybe I accidentally introduced myself wrong? From what I hear, the things I say that I don't remember can be quite silly." She giggled again. Twilight Sage looked nervously at Celestia.

"Have you met Shimmerdust before?"

"Yes, once, not a few hours ago," Celestia answered uncertainly. She certainly didn't remember the blue unicorn being terribly prophetic.

"Oh, don't be silly," Shimmerdust said with her head between the two of them. "We've never met before."

Celestia raised an eyebrow. "It was just before sunset. You gave me glasses."

"Nooo…" Shimmerdust smirked. "At sunset, I met the Princess. And if your story were true YOU would be wearing glasses." She turned to Sage looking proud of herself. "I'm totally getting the hang of this 'deductive reasoning' stuff you're always talking about." Sage's hoof was buried in his face.

"Darling, that IS the Princess."

"Nuh-uh. The Princess has a horn, wings, and a really straight mane. This girl's an earth pony with a really frizzy mane. See?" Shimmerdust used a hoof to bounce Celestia's mane up and down. Celestia felt her heart fall into her stomach. Her clone had started out fresh, which meant no brushed mane.

Sage stepped beside Celestia. "Look, she really is Celestia. See her flank?" Shimmerdust peered around the voluminous hair.

"Wow! So do you, like, turn into a normal pony at night because you're the Sun Goddess?"

Celestia inhaled to respond, but felt her breath arrested when a pony nearby yelled out. "The Prophet reveals to us the secrets of the divine! Praise her glory!"

"Praise her glory!" replied the crowd.

"Oh but wait," Shimmerdust looked off to nowhere, "we saw Luna during the day, so that can't be it. Maybe you're a clone." Celestia's eyes widened and she tried to respond, but she didn't get that far.

"The Prophet sees through mysteries and deceptions! To her, all truth is revealed! Praise her glory!"

"Praise her glory!"

"Enough!" Celestia reared up and slammer her hooves on the ground. "I am your goddess, and I am trying to have a private conversation! Hold the praising for just a minute, alright?!" The princess tried to slow down her breath, but her heart was still beating quickly. The other ponies quieted down quickly, though they were still murmuring. However, one of the fan ponies dropped her fan and stepped forward.

"The Goddess must speak with The Prophet! Everypony, please do not disturb them." Celestia turned her head. The voice sounded very familiar. The pony stepped out from the shade of the throne and into the torchlight, revealing a dark coat and a flowing auburn mane. She trotted up to the princess. "About time you got here," she said dropping her voice to a more conversational volume.

Celestia closed her jaw. "Morning Glory? What are you doing here?" She looked down. "And where did you get that outfit?"

"Don't ask questions you don't want to know the answers to, Princess." Glory waved a hoof in the air dismissively. "And as for what I'm doing here, well, I noticed this little cult forming, and I figured I'd try to get in so I could keep it twisted around my hoof."

Celestia raised an eyebrow. "Are…are you trying to take over the world?"

Morning Glory laughed. "Oh, heavens no, Princess. I wanted to make sure they could be easily dealt with once you were back on your hooves. Although I wish I'd seen you before they did. They've already started splitting into…denominations. It could be tricky."

"Right." Celestia rubbed her temples. "Look, Sage and I have to go save the world, and he left his stuff with your 'Prophet' here. We came to get it."

"Where are you going? Surely Everfree's library has the best resources for you to fix this."

Celestia shook her head. "The only magic powerful enough for this task is the legendary Elements of Harmony. They're all in foreign lands."

"Oh." Morning Glory looked away. "Yes, of course. I suppose I'll," she sniffled, "I'll just have to get used to not seeing you every day. And worrying if you'll ever return. But don't fret, Princess, I'm sure I can handle it."

Celestia rolled her eyes. "Fine, you can come with us."

Morning Glory leapt in excitement. "Oh, thank you, Princess! As long as we don't take any highways, I don't think we'll have any trouble at all!"

"Don't worry, Glory. We still need those supplies, though."

"Of course. You there!" Morning Glory pointed at one of the ponies in white cloth. "Fetch the divine regalia!" The pony quickly zipped off and reappeared with two sets of saddlebags and a white bandana. "That will be all. Return to your meditations." The pony disappeared again.

"Hey, my bandana!" Shimmerdust excitedly grabbed the white cloth and tied it around her head.

"Hey, my pack!" Sage hoisted one of the sets of saddlebags up. "This is it, Princess. We can head out any time now."

Shimmerdust went to Sage's side and nuzzled him. "You're going so soon? But you just got here. Do I have to go right back to missing you and worrying about you?"

"Absolutely not," said Morning Glory. She turned to the Princess. "We can't leave her here. With me gone, this whole cult thing could spiral out of control. She has to leave Everfree, and she's better off coming with us."

Celestia sighed. "Fine. She can come too. Let's just get going. And maybe find some place where I can brush my mane."

Shimmerdust broke off from Sage. "Oh, but why would you ever want to? It's so bouncy and fluffy! Just like a cloud, or a pillow." The unicorn rested her head on top of Celestia, though Celestia could hardly feel it through her thick hair.

"The Prophet has chosen another consort!" came a voice from the crowd.


"The Prophet is the consort of the Goddess!"

Celestia pushed Shimmerdust off her. "I don't-"

"The Princess has taken The Prophet to be her eternal bride!" Celestia began backing away.

"Okay, everypony, we have to run. Amaranth!" Celestia turned back to where Amaranth had been standing moments ago. He was still there, but now surrounded by female cultists, who were giggling and running their hooves through his mane and tail.

"Hm?" he mumbled incoherently through a mouthful of grapes.

"Get those unicorns to cover us, we gotta run!"

Amaranth swallowed. "Sorry, ladies. another time. Night Guard, cover!" The three unicorns seemed to materialize from nowhere, and in mere seconds, the entire area was blanketed with thick mist. "Follow me, Princess, I can see the way out."

The four ponies galloped off after Amaranth. Celestia heard Twilight Sage say something just before they left.

"The ponies in this refugee camp are CRAZY!"

The group slowed as they heard Morning Glory begin to pant with exhaustion. They were far enough around the wall that they were no longer in sight of the mist that had provided for their escape. However, they were now lacking the Night Guard unicorns, who must have stayed behind.

Twilight Sage turned to the auburn-maned pony. "Are you alright?"

Morning Glory growled back at him. "I'm fine. I just…don’t run that much. Besides, look." Celestia saw that Morning Glory's hoof was pointed straight at her. She then noticed that she had collapsed face-first onto the ground, and that her legs felt like jelly. Her new body was not at all fit to be doing that kind of exercise yet. She felt Glory and Sage begin to lift her up.

"Don't bother, you two. I'll just fall right back over." She curled up to a more comfortable position. "Give me a couple minutes, alright?" The other ponies sat down as well. None of them said anything, but Celestia sensed that they were glad to be away from chaos for a little while. "I swear, every time somepony notices me, things just seem to get worse."

A voice from above came. "Princess Celestia!"

"EEEEK!" Celestia tried to get her hooves under her, but she couldn't push even a pound, much less her full weight off the ground. She looked up, and relaxed when she saw a familiar orange streak in the sky.

"Your Majesty, are you alright?" Flash Burn spiraled down to the rest of the group, with an airborne litter attached to the harness of her armor. She touched down delicately, and the litter settled down behind her.

"I'm fine, Captain. Where have you been?"

"I remembered that criminal was still in the infirmary. When Sage said it was going to collapse, well…" she gestured at the litter behind her where a dark pegasus was lying with his hooves bound. "I couldn't just leave him to die."

Morning Glory galloped to the side of the litter. "Hurricane!" She leaned down next to the bound pony. "Are you alright?"

"Peachy," grumbled Hurricane.

Glory embraced Flash Burn. "Oh, thank you. Thankyouthankyouthankyou." Flash retreated from the hug.

"And what are you so excited about? I thought you didn't know this pony." Morning Glory's smile turned to a frown. She looked around, and all the other ponies were staring at her. She sighed.

"I guess there's no avoiding it now. Fillies and gentlecolts, this," she gestured to the pegasus, "is my half-brother Hurricane. We used to stay in a room together at the bar where I worked. Recently, however, he turned to a life of crime. I knew, but I kept quiet."

"So you lied to me?" Flash pressed forward so that her face was up against Morning Glory's. "You told me that your brother meant nothing to you while he lay there crippled?"

"Yes, but I had to, because-"

"Because you couldn't afford having ill repute attached to your name, is that it? I can't believe you would leave your own brother in the dust so you could keep playing at politics."

"But he-"

"I don't want to hear it!" Flash broke away and marched off to the other side of the gathering. "From this moment on, you and I are not speaking!" Morning Glory reached a hoof out to try to stop her, but pulled it back quickly. Her eyes glistened as tears began to form.

Celestia lifted her head. "It's alright, Glory. She'll calm down. She's just a little sensitive when it comes to these sorts of injuries. She didn't mean what she said."

Glory turned away. "Maybe. But she was still right." The earth pony walked away a few yards so that none of the group could see her face.

Celestia walked unsteadily towards the captain of the Day Guard. Her legs were aching, but at least they were working. She got the pegasus' attention by brushing up against her.

"So, are you going to be taking care of Glory's brother while she's gone?"

"Yeah, I guess I'm the only- wait, gone?"

"She's coming with me while I find the elements of harmony. Actually, all the ponies here are, it seems." Celestia giggled in spite of herself. She had originally intended to go travelling alone, but it seemed she had wound up with quite a bit of company.

"What? No, you can't, Your Majesty! In the past few hours, Equestria's become more dangerous than it's been in centuries, Your Majesty. You need somepony who can fight, Your Majesty. A warrior." Flash glanced over at Amaranth, who was adjusting his bronze helmet. "Er, a REAL warrior. Sorry, Amaranth."

"No, I completely agree," replied the earth pony.

"Right. Anyway, Your Majesty, I must insist that you let me accompany you. I know that it might be a bad idea to travel far with a large military force, Your Majesty, but at least take me, if nopony else."

"And what about Hurricane?" Celestia gestured to the litter.

"Don't worry, Your Majesty, this is a litter made for pegasi. It won't slow me down at all, Your Majesty."

"You could just let me WALK," said Hurricane from the litter.

"You're still a criminal, criminal!" yelled back Flash Burn.

"Oh, yeah, I might fly away with all your stuff. Oh, wait." Flash Burn frowned. It was rather obvious she was trying to get away from the guilt she felt at causing the injury in the first place. However, she detached the litter from her harness and untied the rope around Hurricane's legs, whereupon he clumsily climbed out of the litter.

"Happy now?" Flash tossed away the now-useless litter.

"Yeah." The two pegasi glared at each other for a moment before going in opposite directions. Amaranth put a hoof in front of hurricane. "Dude, what's your problem?"

"Are you angry at her because she is your enemy, or because she saved you in spite of that?" The two of them locked eyes, but Hurricane broke away quickly.

"I don't know what you're talking about, dude. All you nobles are the same. Us commoners are like dirt to you."

"If you say so. But think about what I said." Amaranth walked away to where Flash burn had gone, and Hurricane went to rejoin his sister.

Celestia sighed. With tensions so high, could the ponies even make it to Griffonmont before it took a turn for the worse? Things were definitely not looking up.

Celestia looked over the supplies again. Only Twilight Sage, Shimmerdust, and Amaranth had anything with them, and only Sage had packed well for travel. She put the packs aside and stood in the center of the clearing that the other ponies were resting in. They had all fallen asleep hours ago. She took a deep breath.

"Okay, everypony wake up." The others stirred, some of them grumbling. "I know you've only had a few hours of sleep, but we have to get moving. We don't have enough food between the seven of us to last a single meal, and it'll take two days worth of travel to reach Cloudsdale where we can get transportation to Griffonmont. That means we'll have to make a stop somewhere for food. I've been looking at Sage's map." Celestia rolled out a map of the territory surrounding Everfree, "and the best place for us to go is a farming community known as Sweet Acres. We should have enough gold between us to buy supplies there if the farmers are kind. Is everypony clear on the plan?" The other ponies nodded. "And one more thing. In the space of an hour, I was subjected to a riot and a mad cult simply due to other ponies recognizing me. We can't allow that sort of thing to delay us. And so, from now on," the princess took the cloth from the litter and tied it around her neck as a makeshift cloak, "just call me Sunny." There was silence. Everypony looked rather uncomfortable, but none spoke any objection. "Okay, let's get going."

The group moved quickly. They soon stood at the foot of the trail leading to the provinces. As the bell tolling the seventh hour struck, they set off on the path. Celestia, however, didn't move immediately. Twilight Sage noticed this and turned back.

"Prince-er, Sunny, aren't you coming?"

"Sorry. It's just that…if I were still capable of raising the sun, it would be scheduled for a minute after seven."

"I don't think we'll find the Elements of Harmony that soon." Sage smiled weakly.

"Yeah," the princess said, returning the weak smile. "I guess we're going to have a day without sunshine."

Shimmerdust giggled. "That's gonna screw up so many proverbs."

A cool wind blew in the spring morning, and the seven ponies all looked to the West, to see the dark sky at dawn. And so they immediately noticed as the rays of the sun began to creep over the plains. They all cried out in unison.