• Published 1st Nov 2012
  • 2,995 Views, 91 Comments

Starlight Over Detrot: Nightmare Night - Chessie



At a Nightmare Night party, Hard Boiled gets drunk and tells of how he and Taxi met Princess Luna.

  • ...
6
 91
 2,995

Part 2: Play Me Those Nightmare Blues

Starlight Over Detrot: Nightmare Night Special: Part 2

Junior stopped at the door to the kitchen and smiled at his mother, who was bustling over a heap of cherry tarts that had just finished baking.

She was an earth pony like his father, but a whole world of color away; her mane was a mix of curly tie-dyed blues and greens, making it look like a waterfall. Her fur was the same shade of red as a ripe raspberry.

It being Nightmare Night, Dovetail had tossed on a pair of black wooden cat ears she’d carved and lacquered herself. Half of Junior’s toys were things his mother made; give her a piece of wood and she could whittle it into just about anything you could ask for. The roses in a vase on the kitchen table looked like perfect flowers, but still smelled of fine cedar.

“Oh, hello Miss Shine! My, my. Don’t you look just the perfect vagabond tonight?” Dipping a hooftip in some pie filling, Dovetail quickly licked it off. “Mmm, almost done. Junior, hooves clean?”

The colt immediately ducked into the hall bathroom, turning on the tap and pushing his hooves under it for about half a second, then shutting it off. “Yes, mom!”

“Right... and if they’re not, are you gonna give me half your candy?” His mother asked, pointedly. The tap came on again and stayed on for a full minute. Dovetail nodded to herself, satisfied.

A rattling rickshaw coming up the drive announced her husband’s return home. Tugging off her spotty apron, Dovetail threw it over the end of the exquisitely carved kitchen chair and trotted over to the door.

Hard Boiled Senior tromped in; the self-assured saunter of a bear coming home to his cave was only disrupted momentarily, when a raised eyebrow from his wife prompted him to wipe a bit of mud off of his hooves. Then, as per nightly ritual, he took her in his forelegs and delivered a kiss that had the two foals tittering like birds. His cloudy, drab pelt belied a warmth that seemed to fill the house.

“Good evening, dear!” He greeted Dovetail with a grand smile. In his son’s mind, of course, everything about him was grand, including the gesture he used to sweep off his blue police cap and hang it on the hat-rack just inside the door.

He turned to his son. “Ahhh, Junior! You do that uniform proud. You’ll be stomping the streets with me in no time!”

Junior swelled at the praise. “Thank you, sir!”

His father’s eyes went to Shiny... and dimmed, just slightly, as he gave her a deferential nod. “Miss Shine. Your... ‘suggestion’ paid off, you’ll be happy to know.”

“Good.” The yellow filly murmured, biting her lower lip. “Mister Boiled... don’t tell my dad, okay? I... after last time...”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Junior’s father agreed, tugging off his waistcoat and hanging it alongside his hat. “Dear, what smells so amazing?”

It was Dovetail, waiting with a slice of pie ready to stuff in her husband’s waiting mouth.

Meanwhile, Junior leaned over and nudged Shiny. “What’d he mean your ‘suggestion?’” he whispered.

She lifted her mouth to his head and replied quietly. “You remember the stallion on the radio we were listening to last week? The one who was asking for help finding his filly?”

“Sure, why?” Junior asked.

“I... told your dad I thought he really should go check that pony’s basement.”

“Oh.” He thought about this, then shook his head. There were no good questions to ask about that, so he changed tack. “What did you mean about speaking to your dad?”

Shiny hesitated, then dropped her forehead against his neck. “Your father thinks my cutie mark might be a talent for police work one day. He talked to my dad a few months ago and... I... I don’t really want to talk about it, okay? You remember when you promised?”

Junior did. A few months ago, Shiny had come to school limping. She wouldn’t say a word no matter how hard he pressed. Finally, she’d made him swear never to broach the subject again. Admittedly, she did so by putting him in a half-nelson, but he took promises very seriously, even if they were just made so he wouldn’t have a headache after lunch period.

“Okay, that’s cool.” Junior held up his hooves in submission. “Just don’t make a habit of that kind of thing, alright? Neither of us needs that kind of attention.”

Shiny nodded. They both turned back to Junior’s father, who was mid-way through an animated rant about his day. “-and those idiots in the PACT let it escape! I swear, those ponies need their heads banged together. Celestia knows where the damn thing is now. Probably still in the sewers somewhere.”

“What escaped, dad?” Junior asked, inquisitively. “There’s something in the sewers?”

“Ahhh... my boy, I... mmm.” Hard Boiled’s lip twitched slightly; he glanced at his wife for permission.

Dovetail snorted scornfully. “Oh, go on... you’re going to tell them the second my back is turned anyway. It’s Nightmare Night; I doubt they’ll be sleeping as it is. Besides, it’s not as though the PACT won’t have caught it by tomorrow.”

Shiny’s eyes glistened with nervous excitement. She knew a ‘Mr. Boiled’ story when she saw one and they were always the best, even if they weren’t always entirely true. “Oh yes... what is it? Is there a super big fangy demon bear loose in the city?”

“Weeell, it being Nightmare Night I suppose it can’t do any harm. If you get bad dreams, though, you asked for it!” Hard Boiled Senior’s deep, sonorous voice took on a particular tone he always used for spooking the kids as he dropped his flanks into his traditional place at the table. His wife merely rolled her eyes. “Do you two know what an ophiotaurus is?”

They both shook their heads, sitting closer together. Junior’s father continued as Dovetail began preparing dinner, “It’s a beast with the body of a bull and the head of a snake! Fangs you could use for swords and eyes of fire! Great creatures so big they could snap a little pony up in one bite!”

He lunged forward and clacked his teeth together an inch from their faces; they both gasped fearfully, drawing away. Satisfied with the reaction, Hard Boiled Senior sat back, his tone slipping back to casual. “Well, scary as they are, there’s something scarier: smart ponies doin’ stupid things.”

Right on cue, Junior asked: “How is that scarier than sword-fangs and eyes of fire?!”

“Oh, son, you’d be amazed what a pony with a big brain can do if he forgets his I.Q. doesn’t make him invincible.” He paused to let their interest build, turning to his wife as though he meant the story to end there. “Honey, what’s dinner going to be tonight?”

The foals both let out piteous moans. “Nooo! Sir, you can’t stop there!” Shiny said, unhappily. Junior concurred, though he wouldn’t have dared say it aloud.

Hard Boiled Senior cocked one eye at her. “If you must know...The Academy was transporting a small one this morning to do some ‘research’ and the thick headed foals let it get into some of their chemical agents.”

“Oooh, what happened?” The filly bounced in her seat. “Did it grow as big as a skyscraper?!”

“Heh, no... you kids and your imagination.” The dusky stallion replied, grinning hugely. “No, it was worse... the chemicals drove it mad. They usually only scavenge dead things mind you but this one broke out of its cage and escaped into a storm drain. It’s still down there, somewhere, lurking around, waiting for some pooorpony... to gobble right up!”

As he finished he banged his rear hooves under the table loudly; both Junior and Shiny let out a delighted, terrified shriek, clutching at one another.


“You’ve got a pretty rosy memory of our foalhoods, Hardy.” Taxi complained, plucking at her dress to straighten the hemline. It really was a lovely dress on her, even if it had probably cost her a whole paycheck.

“Yeah, but I was a kid, alright? I didn’t understand a lot of things.” I said, brushing off her objections. “I mean, when we were blankflanks, you still had fun at my house, right?”

“When you weren’t being a total prude!”

Swift snickered and bit off a hunk of a cupcake.

I sucked down a bit of rum, swirled it around my mouth, and swallowed. “‘Shiny’... I wasn’t a prude. I just knew precisely how long we’d have gotten grounded if we’d actually put a paint bomb in the teacher’s desk.”

“Same thing. And don’t call me ‘Shiny.’ You can call little me ‘Shiny;’ big me can still break your ankles.”


As the last piece of pumpkin pie was tucked away to a percussion section formed by appreciative burps—and in Hard Boiled Senior’s case, a belch that earned him a solid kick under the table from his wife— Shiny began looking pensive. Junior noticed her glancing again and again towards the clock, each tick making her just a little jumpier. Finally, he couldn’t take it any longer.

“Shiny, you look like that time we tried coffee.” He said, giving her a little poke. Rather than poke him back as expected, she sat up straighter.

“Um... Mr. Boiled, sir? Don’t you have something to tell us?” She asked, kicking her hooves under the table a bit.

Hard Boiled looked to his wife accusingly. Dovetail, who had been balancing a stack of dishes on her back en route to the sink, nearly dropped her pie tray.

I didn’t tell them!” she protested, wiping a stray bit of cream off her flank.

He turned back and glared hard at Junior, who just looked genuinely baffled, before switching his gaze to Shiny, who was doing her best to appear cherubically innocent. Hard Boiled let out a slow breath.

“Miss Shine, you’re going to be the death of me. Yes, I do have something.” Heaving himself up from the table, Junior’s father trotted out to the living room. There was some rustling about in his woolen jacket and he returned with an envelope in his teeth, setting it on the dinner table.

Junior and Shiny immediately leapt for it; Hard Boiled had to fend them off with a hoof on both their foreheads, until they grumbled and sat back down.

“There, that’s better. May I present, my impatient foals...” He tore open the envelope and lifted it by one end. Three shiny, black pieces of paper fluttered out onto the table. “Three tickets... to Nightmare Moon’s Castle! Hosted tonight by Princess Luna!” He turned to his wife quickly and began, “Honey, I know you’re not interested in a haunted house my dear, but I had intended to at least ask-”

Dovetail put her hoof over her husbands mouth, then leaned down and gave him a quick kiss. “You know me. I jump when the newspaper colt tosses the morning post against the door too hard. Take the kids.”

Junior and Shiny meanwhile were sitting there with their jaws agape and eyes bulging. “Sir?! Really?!” Junior squeaked, almost toppling out of his chair in his eagerness to clutch his ticket, holding it like it was made of pure gold.

“Yes, my boy! Tonight, you will see Princess Luna!” Hard Boiled couldn’t keep a bit of excitement out of his own voice. “She’s on her annual national tour for Nightmare Night, and this year is the first year since the Crusades she’s been in Detrot. Thanks to your assistance in cracking that case, Miss Shine, I got VIP tickets that include a special event, led by the Princess herself!”


“There was no greater gift you could give a foal on Nightmare Night than a trip to Nightmare Moon’s Castle, but meeting the Princess... I’m surprised our little hearts didn’t explode on the spot. Every year since Princess Celestia gifted her Castle to the DPD, we used to have the single greatest haunted house in any part of Equestria, but until that night, I’d never gotten to go. Nothing compared-”

“Sir?” Swift interrupted. “Um...do you mind if I ask why there isn’t still a haunted house every year? I mean, aren’t the catacombs where we... hic... eep!... are now?” She put a knee on her breast to hold back the hiccups. The hard lemonade was giving her cheeks a fiery tint.

“Ehhh...” I looked around the stony cell. “No, I’m pretty sure they were a lot deeper than this. It was a long time ago. The city is... different these days. Luna still visits from time to time, but Equestria is a lot bigger. Might be ten years before she makes it back this way on Nightmare Night.”

Taxi sighed, wistfully. “We still have the party. It’s a smaller affair and mostly funded by the police department. Keep in mind, this was back when everypony thought the financial collapse was going to be a temporary thing.”

“I wish I could go see those old catacombs though!” My partner wiped a bit of frosting off her cheeks and clambered onto a crate, wiggling until she could get comfortable atop many unopened bags of cotton candy. “I bet they’re amazing.”

I picked up a bag of candy corn, popping it open and chewing on a few of the waxy kernels. My stomach was starting to gurgle with a pleasing fullness. “We ever get out of here, you can send the Princess a letter and see if you can get permission.” I said. “They usually only let scholars down there. You mind if I continue?”

“Oh... sorry, sir...”


Junior’s father had one further trick up his sleeve. After the dishes were cleared away and the evening had well and truly set in, a sound like a roaring beast zoomed up the road in front of the house and stopped. Junior and Shiny, fresh from the story of the ophiotaurus, immediately zipped behind the sofa into the tiny space only they could fit, peeking over the top.

“Ahhh, our driver is here! Oh kids, stop it... it’s just a car. You must get used to these things, my boy! They’re going to be everywhere one day soon.” Hard Boiled pronounced, trotting over and opening the door.

Junior and Shiny emerged, trying to seem casual about it. They’d heard of cars before, of course, and even seen one or two. They were still a novelty, though, almost as much as those incredible ‘televisions.’ For all their efforts to avoid seeming foalish, their tails both hit the ground almost in unison as they gawked at the sight just outside their door.

A shining metal creature the size of three bulls standing nose to tail sat in the road. It was painted a dark, forest green and it’s spoked wheels seemed made of glittering silver. The vehicle even had a woven canopy over the driver to keep the rain out.

A tall, ivory colored mare in a waistcoat and vest covered in gleaming buttons stood there with a very professional smile on her face. At the sight of the two foals gaping at her, it became just a little more genuine. She tipped her black and white checkered hat slightly.

The edges of Dovetail’s mouth dipped into an irritated frown. “Sweety, did you really pay for a ride in a cab?” She asked, prodding her husband firmly in the side. “Only rich ponies can afford rides in those things!”

Hard Boiled consoled her with a nuzzle on the neck. “I didn’t pay for it, thank the princesses. These were the Chief’s tickets, but he’s ‘otherwise occupied’ tonight. I think he’s taking his special somepony out to a movie. Call the cab a ‘bonus’ for cracking the case with the kidnapped filly so quickly.”

Her look of displeasure deepened a little and she let out a low sniff. “Well, you’ll never catch me in one of those magical motor carriages. Still...” Allowing the frown to drop she pulled the two children into her forelegs and hugged them close to her breast. “Y-you kids... y-you remember this night! You’re going to see something some ponies would give both left hooves to watch. You’ll get to meet the princess herself. Oh, part of me wishes I were going! Have fun now, you hear?”

Junior and Shiny both nodded vigorously. Hard Boiled whispered something in the driver’s ear and she nodded, turning back and marching off the doorstep. A few seconds later a howl of horse-power chained down only by the straining bonds of magic and metal.

“Dad, are... we really going in a... a c-c-car?” Junior stammered, finally finding his voice.

“That we are.” The stallion affirmed, sweeping on his long coat against the evening chill. “Come now! The princess won’t wait for us. Afterwards, we’ll come back here and you can go trick-or-treating, alright?”

“Okay!”

Junior dashed over to the car. It was even bigger up close and rumbled ominously, light jumping and dancing under the hood. He desperately wanted to see how it worked, but even more than that, he wanted to see it move.

The driver slid from behind the wheel and held open the back door of the vehicle. The colt immediately leapt in, only realizing after he’d sat down that Shiny wasn’t with him. He poked his head out of the window to find his friend standing in the door with a look on her face he’d never seen before: unrestrained avarice.

Sweet Shine was a filly of few wants. She never really tried to follow trends at school or get ‘cool’ things: When other kids were collecting Wonderbolt cards, interesting yo-yos, or — depending on your socioeconomic status — dead animals, Shiny had been content with a few books now and then.

But the moment she got her first good look at the cab, something changed inside her. This wasn’t her special talent calling out to her, but nonetheless her reaction to this machine was something... visceral. When confronted with that growling monster, built of gleaming steel and crackling magic, she wanted nothing more than to leap behind the wheel and let it take her to the horizon at pegasus-baffling speeds.

Shiny was in love.

Hard Boiled put his hoof gently around her shoulder as they both gazed upon the incredible vehicle. “They say we’re going to be getting those for the force soon.”

“Really?” The filly asked, breathlessly.

“Yes, they’re rebuilding part of the old chariot garage to accommodate them.” He replied, his eyes following the beautiful lines of the powerful motor vehicle. “One day, officers are going to be chasing criminals at a hundred miles an hour. Who knows? You join the force, you could have one of your own.”

She tried to think of something she could say, but all that came out was, “I...oh...my...”

Junior stuck his head out of the car window, “Shiny, let’s go!”

Jolting back to life, Shiny almost tripped over her scarves as she rushed over to the vehicle, hesitating for only an instant before crawling in beside the colt and pressing her cheek into the plush seat cushion. Junior already had his hooves up on the window, as though the neighborhood had already changed somehow by virtue of seeing it from the back of such an uncommon mode of transport. Hard Boiled slid in beside the two children, patting his coat to make sure he had the tickets before he pulled the door shut.

“Driver?”

“Yes, sir?”

To the Castle!

****

Junior contented himself with watching the passing scenery outside. The city seemed so small from inside the car, moving by quicker than he’d ever felt before. Even the time he ran down a hill as fast as he could wasn’t as fast. The streets seemed to zip by urgently, like they all had someplace else to be. For some reason he couldn’t ferret out, that thought made him feel a little sad, even though on all other fronts, he was the happiest he’d ever been in his whole life.

Shiny, meanwhile, had both hooves up on the passenger seat and was badgering their driver with endless questions about the function of the cab.

“So the engine is just covered in a big spell?” Shiny asked.

“That’s right.” The cab driver replied, giving the accelerator pedal a little goose which sent a shiver through the car’s chassis. “The engine has the spell carved into the block. I turn the ignition crank and it moves gems into a position that starts casting the spell which makes the engine turn over. The pistons inside have jewels that repulse and attract each other depending on how the spell is moving. They push up and down and then a flywheel and a bunch of cogs put power through the rear axles, making them turn. Imagine it like a whole herd of unicorns pushing in a circle all at once. That turns the wheels.”

Rubbing the side of her head, the filly tried to wrap her mind around the incredible device. “But... doesn’t unicorn magic have to have somepony thinking about the spell to make it work?”

“Unicorn magic does, yes.” The mare answered, sounding slightly impressed at the child’s knowledge. “The spell itself is triggered by zebra runes, so it’s always ready so long as the shape of the spell is right, but it needs power. Unicorns shape power from pegasus lightning in the weather factories to charge up gems to do that, and all I have to do is switch them out when they get drained. Everything but the magical bits are built by earth ponies, like us!”

“Oooh... I see!”

Junior had only been half listening, but something was bothering him the entire time.

He gently grabbed Shiny’s tail in his teeth and tugged until she sat back beside him. He leaned close for discretion’s sake; while his father seemed, outwardly, to be dozing, he knew that could be a mere facade. Hard Boiled had sharp ears for anypony who thought he could sneak an extra piece of dessert early in the morning.

“Shiny, I... okay, I get that the car is neat, but answer me something. Did you really know my dad was going to have these tickets?” He asked, rubbing his hooftips together.

“I... I didn’t know.” His friend muttered, slightly abashed. “I just knew I had to come see you just then, and something good might happen.”

“Are you sure that’s the only reason?” He pressed, putting his hoof on her saddlebag over the crystal ball. “You never get those ‘feelings’ when it’s just good.”

Shiny wouldn’t meet his eyes. She shuffled about on the seat, then lowered herself to her stomach. “Hardy... can’t we just... have fun tonight? Please?” She pleaded, leaning into his side. She curled up against him, trying to let her warmth leech away his worries.

Junior let out a resigned breath and put his leg around her. “Fine. You’re gonna tell me later though, right?”

She said something quiet that he didn’t quite catch. Since the alternative was pressing her somewhere she clearly didn’t want to be pressed, he took it for agreement.

****

“Filly and gentlecolts,” the driver announced over one of his shoulders, “we’re almost to the Castle. You may want to take a quick gander out the windows if you want the ‘full effect’ this evening.”

Junior and Shiny threw themselves at the windows and Hard Boiled, rousing himself from his fortifying nap, soon joined them. The gatherings of costumed ponies on the streets were getting denser the closer they got to the city center. Soon they were starting and stopping regularly to let groups of pedestrians dash in front of the car, which made it easier to see the storefronts, lit up by dozens of Jack-o’-lanterns engraved with rictus grins.

Just as Junior was about to ask ‘How much farther?’ a flight of what looked like gigantic bats swooped low over the car, buffeting the roof. The driver didn’t bat an eyelash. “That’s our signal for ascent. Brace yourselves!”

"Hang on, kids!" Hard Boiled shouted as the entire vehicle shuddered. A low hum began outside followed by a strange pressure on everypony's chests.

"What's happening?!" Junior yelped.

"Did I forget to mention? The tour starts on the top floor!" His father answered, holding the two kids to his chest as the car’s wheels left the tarmac. Leaning up to the window he looked around until he caught sight of a unicorn standing on the roof of a nearby building, horn aglow. She waved and blew him a kiss.

As they soared up over the Castle, Junior gathered the courage to peer out. He'd never been a fan of heights, but these sights were not to be missed.

Hundreds of dressed up semi-equine forms swarmed outside, dancing and drinking in the Castle’s bailey between bonfires. In the distance, projected illusory shadows that looked like enormous, tentacled creatures, which could have swallowed the stone fortifications whole, roiled and beat themselves against some invisible boundary, making it seem like the old fortress was an island of shining safety in a land of eternal, terrifying night.

He'd been to the Castle before on a particularly memorable 'Take your colt to work' day, but that evening, on Nightmare Night, he saw the ancient buttresses as though it were for the very first time. Some part of him was dimly conscious of the fact that must have been the way his ancestors had seen it as they arrived from the wilds of Equestria on their routes of trade and immigration. It was a place lifted from his dreams, and he couldn't help but let a joyful shout.

It was, in some strange way, like coming home.

The car did one slow circle around the building, a series of unicorns standing on the curtain wall passing it from one magical levitation field to the next. As they neared the back of the structure, Shiny pointed towards two parallel lines of torches suspended in mid-air, forming a makeshift landing pattern.

As the vehicle’s nose dipped towards it, Junior's stomach seemed to rise into his throat. Shiny let out a squeal, and even Hard Boiled, normally unflappable, couldn't suppress a gasp as gravity chose that moment to re-assert itself and send them plummeting into the side of the Castle.

As Junior was mentally willing his entire collection of baseball cards to his mother, something glowed blue in the darkness of the archway into the minaret. The car slowed down until it was barely crawling forward, then eased into total, all consuming blackness. There was nothing to see outside, but when wheels met a surface again with a soft bump and the squeak of rubber on marble, Junior breathed a sigh of relief.

“Sir... Your stop.” The driver said as she casually pressed a button under her dashboard, opening both rear doors.

Shiny poked her head out from inside Hard Boiled’s coat. “A-a-are we d-d-dead?”

The stallion ruffled her mane lightly. “No, Miss Shine... we’re very much alive. We’re here.”

Through the windshield, Junior spied a small gathering of other kids and a few adults standing together in a group beside a flickering candle on a table which was the only source of light. Sliding down off the car seat he took a careful step out of the vehicle, feeling his hoof sink into a wonderfully thick carpet. His eyesight hadn’t quite adjusted to the darkness yet, but solid ground was solid ground, so he reached into the vehicle and gave one of Shiny’s gypsy scarves a solid pull.

“Come on out! It’s fine!” He said, encouragingly.

The filly took a bit longer, but finally emerged, stepping out a second before Hard Boiled did. The instant they were out, the car’s doors swung shut again and the vehicle shimmered, then rocketed backwards out into the night sky.

The trio trotted up behind the eager group, who all seemed to be various flavors of well-to-do. Junior inspected a filly wearing Royal Guard armor so perfectly crafted she might almost have been a tiny model for the force. His own costume, home sewn with wooden painted buttons, felt just a little shabby by comparison, but it was still an order of magnitude better crafted than Shiny’s thrown together mish-mash. She was staring with undisguised envy at a colt with hair done up to look like snakes.

Hard Boiled saw the look and nudged her flank with his forehead. She turned, looking up at him and let out a depressed whimper. “Oh... sir, what are we doing here? These kids have probably all got diamond toothbrushes!”

The stallion turned to Shiny and gave an eloquent shrug. “Does that matter? I doubt any of these ponies ever saved a life.”

“...Mr. Boiled?”

“That filly who was in her father’s basement is alive because of you. Don’t shortchange yourself.”

Shiny straightened a bit, let out a shaky breath, and nodded. “T-thank you, sir.”


“May I inquire?”

I jerked my head up as Slip Stitch finally decided to put his two cents in. I hadn’t realized I was staring at my hooves while telling the story until he broke my little monologue.

“Yeah?”

“It’s well known that Princess Luna is never one to skimp when a celebration is happening, however, I’m most impressed by this ‘flying car’ trick.” Stitch said, setting aside his sixth bottom of vodka. He’d already put away enough alcohol to kill most ponies or, incidentally, most Ursa Majors, and his speech wasn’t even slurred. “I must ask if this is some relative of the ‘fixed feather aircraft’ which have been in development for some years?”

I cocked my head. “The aero-fliers? I guess somepony might have looked at that and said to themselves ‘Yeah, sure, let’s take the pegasi out of the sky chariot.’ I think there’s been a big push by the charioteers unions to make sure that you have to have a high speed flying-license to use one, though, and since pegasi are generally the only ones who get those, I don’t think you’re going to have a flying car without somepony else driving it anytime soon, if that’s what you’re thinking. Besides, some things unicorns and pegasi are still just better at than zebra runes and alchemy. Levitation and flight for two.”

“Ahhh, well.” Stitch’s lips twitched into a smile. “More is the pity, though I will never cease to be amazed at what ponies come up with. Please, do go on.”


The small crowd of ponies was exchanging pleasantries and inspecting the table. Around the candle was a circle of little baskets, each full to the brim with gold foil wrapped candies in every shape imaginable, each one was capped with a shiny gemstone. One overeager colt dressed as a devil reached up to take one and his nose bumped against an invisible shield spell that whistled softly. He let out a little whine and fell on his haunches, rubbing his muzzle while his lacily costumed mother inspected him for damage.

Junior touched Shiny’s shoulder and pointed out the way they’d come. “Hey, your eyes are better than mine. What time does the clocktower say?”

Trotting to the edge, the yellow filly squinted down at the huge clock built into one of the shorter towers. “Um, it looks like-”

A massive clang reverberated through the building. The sound was followed a second later by another, even louder bell. Each reprise thereafter the noise grew, until Shiny and Junior were covering their ears with both hooves.

Junior counted off eight tolls before total silence descended. Eight’o’clock, on the dime. As his ears recovered, the candle flame disappeared. It didn’t go out; there were no lingering embers on the wick. It was simply gone. There were a few shrill screams in the dark followed by some scuffling of hooves. Then all was quiet again.

The flame re-appeared, hanging in the air beside the cloaked figure of a pony. The black robe obscured everything about the figure, except a toothy smile which gleamed in the candlelight. A farmer’s scythe with a twisted wooden handle hung beside the pony’s head in a soft, twinkling glow.

A collective gasp went up from the assembled crowd as everypony drew back. A heavy-set mare swooned against her husband, obviously expecting him to catch her. When he didn’t, she ended up flopped on the floor. For a moment, her irritation conquered her fear; she righted herself indignantly and proceeded to kick him in the fetlock.

Even with the resulting “Ow,” however, everypony else’s attention remained fixed on the robed stranger. The figure didn’t move, but the scythe lifted into the air, slid onto it’s side and spun over the heads of the little herd who, to a one, dipped low to avoid it. Swinging back around in a circle, the blade cut through an apple which just happened to be hanging there unnoticed above the crowd, slicing it neatly in two. Juice spattered Junior’s face, and in his anticipation-burdened imagination, he’d thought somepony’s head had been sliced open and blood now coated him; a delusion that persisted until the flavor of apples trickled onto to his lips. He quickly licked them and smiled at his own foolishness.

Levitating the fruit to its lips, the pony in the cowl took a bite and munched at it contemplatively, ignoring the ring of frightened eyes.

One of the stallions, a snooty looking fellow in period dress about a hundred years out of date, took a step forward. “N-n-now s-see here...w-whoever you are! T-that wasn’t f-funny!”

The anonymous pony regarded him coldly until he shrank back. Wind whipped in through the open window and the robe seemed to dissolve into a wisp of fog, swirling away, and revealing, in all her royal glory, the tall and regal form of Princess Luna.

Her billowing, cosmic mane swept out and flew up towards the ceiling, constellations flickering in it’s shape. She wore form fitting armor around her flanks, and a crown of what could only be artfully arranged animal bones. Junior recognized the presence of dragon’s teeth from science class. The outfit suited her, in a way.

“My apologies. You are correct, of course. It wasn’t funny.” Her voice was cool, like a calming breeze, but even standing at the back of the pack, the trio had no trouble hearing it. “It was hilarious!” Luna burst into raucous laughter. It seemed to fill the tiny space and left the smaller ponies shifting from leg to leg uncertainly. There were a few nervous giggles here and there.

As her chuckling died down, the princess straightened, sweeping the room with her eyes. “My friends! Excuse an old pony her little jokes. I wish to welcome yo-ouuu...” She stumbled over the last word, as one of her elegantly shaped eyebrows shot skyward. Her nose wrinkled and she shook her head violently back and forth.

She turned a suspicious gaze to one side, then the other. Her horn lit, an electric blue. A shiver passed up Junior’s back; It felt like the time he’d been to the doctor for a broken leg and the unicorn pediatrician examined it with his magic. “Welcome or not, there is somepony here who is too nosy for their own good...” She murmured.

Princess Luna’s mane seemed to grow until it filled his vision and her august presence swelled with it. Everypony, even those who had never shown a hint of deference in their lives, seemed to simultaneously realize precisely who was leading their little tour, and dropped to their knees, foreheads pressed to the floor. Junior realized in a detached sort of way that it must have been some sort of hypnosis like in his detective comics, but the feeling wasn’t unpleasant. It was just imperative. She hadn’t taken control of his body; he’d wanted to kneel. It felt important that he pay homage. And he wasn’t alone: It seemed to be affecting everypony at once...

...everypony except Shiny.

Junior hadn’t even realized he was kneeling until it was done, but as soon as he was there, he became aware of his friend standing beside him. He tried to catch his friend’s attention with a subtle poke, but she only had eyes for Princess Luna.

The immortal princess regarded, with a hint of a frown, the tiny filly who dared to stand when everypony else knelt. Lifting one hoof, she reached towards Shiny and he tensed, prepared to watch his only friend in the world banished to someplace dark and smelly where he’d never see her again. He put all his will into trying to leap up so she’d banish him, too.

However, Luna merely tapped Shiny lightly on the tip of her sunflower yellow nose. A second gust of wind billowed through the room and something seemed to pass between them.

Shiny’s face tightened like she was straining against an unseen force. Luna held her gaze for a few more seconds then a broad smile spread across her blue lips and she let her leg drop.

“You are an interesting child, little one. You were trying to look inside me.” Luna said, reflectively.

Sweet Shine touched her muzzle where the alicorn’s armored toe had brushed her. “I saw... endless grey. And it was... cold...”

“That which you have witnessed is between ourselves, dear filly. Maybe one day, you might find ponies who will understand you and your gift, but until then, I pity what you have lived through. Regardless, it is best you learn that curiosity is not always healthy. I have seen your mind... and there are things therein I do not think you would like revealed, either.” Luna paused meaningfully, her apple dicing itself into chunks on the edge of her scythe. One piece she snapped out of the air while the other floated down to the filly, who stared at it blankly before taking a tentative bite.

Shiny chewed for a second, paused, then gave a slow nod. Something about the act held a weight she hadn’t really had time to consider. It was a deal; a promise of some uncommon variety the young pony wasn’t wholly equipped to understand, and it had been sealed with an apple. “Yes, your majesty.”

“Good.”

Turning to the herd, who were just then realizing something had happened which they hadn’t been party to, Luna put on her most affable grin and the compulsion was released. They started got to their hooves, dusted themselves off, and looked around at one another, wondering what had just happened.

“Dear friends, please rise.” She began, dropping into a practiced storytelling mode and projecting pitch perfectly so the whole room could hear every word. “As I was saying, I wish to welcome you to my home. Once, this was a place of retreat for my beloved sister, when the cold winds blew and the nights in Canterlot grew long. Now, this Nightmare Night... it is mine."


“Wait, wait! What happened?!” Swift suddenly rocked upright, scattering bags of cotton candy in all directions.

I stopped again, sipped my drink, and swished it around my mouth. “What do you mean ‘what happened’?” I asked.

“What was that with the Princess?” My partner pointed one wingtip at Taxi.

“Ahhh...” I turned to my driver whose ears splayed out to either side. “You want to ‘illuminate’ that particular piece of awkward business? I can only tell what I saw and what I think. Do you want me to start making conjectures?

The cabbie rolled onto her belly, looking very suddenly sobered and not at all inclined to answer questions. “Like she said. That’s between me and the princess.”

Swift shook her feathers out. “I don’t mean that. I mean... what did you do? Was it a spell?”

Taxi waved a hoof over her forehead in a little circle. “Do you see a horn? I just... I was looking at her, and it was like I... felt like I was seeing into... this other place. It’s... damnit, I was a foal and foals are sensitive. Apparently. I looked too hard. I don’t feel like discussing it, alright? I’ll try to explain later when I’m sober and in a good mood, but not now, okay?”

‘Later’ was an obvious lie if you’d known Taxi for even a few months, and I’d heard that line plenty of times over the last few decades. A list of ponies wanted to poke around in Taxi’s head, from the Chief right on through public prosecutors and police psychologists down to mystified patrolponies. All of them, myself included, had given up after the first decade or so of beating their heads against her eternal, stubborn self-secrecy. It made her a great undercover cop, but also a frustrating conversationalist when the topic turned to personal matters.

Swift was about to press for details that might have ended in thrown edibles, but I put my toe over her lips. “Let it go, kid. Not worth getting your blood pressure up. Besides, Taxi irritating Princess Luna wasn’t anywhere near the wildest thing that happened that night.”


The crowd parted for the princess as she strode through then followed at a respectful distance. Not all eyes were on Luna, however; a few of the adults and one or two of the foals were giving Shiny sideways glances as Junior tried to move between them, blocking their curious stares. The yellow filly, for her part, was studying her hooves, apparently lost in her own thoughts. Junior stepped on her scarves to get her moving.

The princess’s horn let off a huge globe of soft white light that drifted towards the ceiling. As the room was illuminated, a series of gems spread around the walls caught and scattered the light, finally revealing the space in its entirety. The space was one of the huge royal chambers, though it didn’t seem to have a door; just a precipitous drop. Against one wall there was a line of cushions and couches, and on the other, a huge table was practically sagging under the most incredible spread of food Junior had ever seen. His mouth watered at the sight of celery drizzled with chocolate.

“My friends, this next segment of the tour is for the children only.” Luna announced, waving towards the spectacular outlay. A few of the parents raised their ears and opened their mouths to object, but the princess silenced them all with one raised hoof. “You may, of course, exempt your foals if you prefer, and should any of them at any point wish to leave, they will appear here. Otherwise, please feast and converse.”

The adults turned to one another, clearly a bit nervous; on one hoof, she was a princess, but on the other, it would have been leaving their young in the care of somepony they didn’t know all that well. The decision was made for them, however, when they looked back at the children: Puppy-dog eyes from your own kid are bad enough, but a whole herd of them was impossible to deny.

Hard Boiled bumped Junior’s shoulder and whispered, “Hey, tell me about it when you get back, alright?”

The colt nodded eagerly, excited tension flaring in his gut. “Yes, sir!”

Seeing that nopony was going to make a scene, Princess Luna lifted her midnight wings and turned in a circle. ”Now then, children, do you all see the eternal sun on the floor?”

Junior hadn’t noticed it before, but he was standing on a huge rendering of the royal seal. The golden eight pointed star spread out on the floor was almost wide enough for the car they’d all arrived in to park comfortably inside it.

“Stay inside it unless you wish to be ground into a fine paste or fall to your deaths,” the princess instructed, smiling in a self-satisfied fashion. There was a hustle of tiny hooves. Junior was shoulder to shoulder with Shiny and a pegasus colt dressed as Wonderbolt Captain Soarin’, all keeping carefully away from the edge. Despite the shortage of room, nopony had the audacity to stand under the princess, and she was left plenty of space at the center of the emblem.

The alicorn’s horn lit up, casting moonlight on the faces of the ponies nearest her. Junior noticed a soft shine gathering around his legs and tried to lift one for closer examination, but discovered he couldn’t. A grinding noise somewhere under them set the small herd murmuring to one another.

“Oh, and children?” The Princess practically purred, waiting until all eyes were on her to go on. “If you might happen to feel the need to scream, now would be the time.”

Junior turned to ask his father what she meant, and the ground dropped out from under him.

****

Gravity is generally a friendly fellow one interacts with every day without incident. Every now and again, either because of foolishness, incaution, or — in Junior’s case — the whim of a powerful magical being with a particularly rough sense of humor, gravity goes completely off the rails and decides to scare the pants off of you.

As the great seal plummeted down the shaft, Junior had plenty of time to consider all the choices in his short life which had lead him to the point where he was falling atop a marble stone with only the grace of the princesses to protect him, one of whom had put him there. He couldn’t even flail or wave his legs around and, now he had the chance to think about it, those things would probably have been silly, childish, and unproductive. He could scream though, and when all other courses of action are exhausted, you go with what’s available.

Twisting to Shiny he decided to check if she was screaming too because if they survived, then he’d at least be able to feel a bit better about himself. No such luck. In stark contrast to her reaction to being in a plummeting car, she handled this with grace: Her hooves locked to the surface by the shimmer of magic, her mane and scarves blowing straight up, wearing a knowing little smile on her face.

Screaming was just beginning to get tiring when the princess gritted her teeth and their descent slowed, cutting everypony off mid-squeak. One little filly managed a breath, started to begin again, and a pony who could only have been her brother swatted her with his tail until she shut up. A second later little rain of personal accessories that’d come loose in the downward flight started. Finding their legs free, those that could caught their possessions with magic, wings, or teeth and set them absentmindedly back in place. Most were too scared to do more than hang on for dear life and trust their tour-guide wasn’t intent on splattering them across the bottom of the deep hole.

Junior’s knees were shaking as he stumbled sideways into Shiny, giggling drunkenly.

“Hee... ugh, you could have warned me...” He scolded, using her back for balance.

She shrugged, sitting down and adjusting her cap so her ears poked through the holes evenly. “It woulda ruined that awesome girly shriek if I’d done that. I’m so telling your dad you scream like a filly, by the way.”

Junior swatted her in the shoulder. She gave him a return punch in the ribs that sent him sprawling.

Most of the other kids were looking around and realizing they weren’t gonna die, and it was the best feeling in the whole world. The filly who’d been about to start yelling again was verging on tears, until her brother shoved a whole peanut butter bar from his candy satchel into her muzzle.

Their ‘elevator’ was still dropping, though at a greatly reduced speed. As Princess Luna was still concentrating on not letting them all splash on the bottom, Junior, rubbing his side where Shiny had smacked him, started inspecting the walls. The shaft seemed to have been cut very carefully out of the stone and polished to a mirror shine. Looking up, he tried to find the hole, but it was lost in the distance.

With a gentle bump, the platform came to a rest and the princess exhaled a long breath, grinning at the kids surrounding her. “Well, I am glad that actually worked. You would think in my long life that moving the moon would prepare me for something like that. You would be wrong, of course but you would think. Is everyone alright? If you need to vomit, try to do so in a corner.”

Shiny stepped up and put her hoof in the air. Luna acknowledged her with a wing.

“Your majesty... where are we?” She asked, lowering her leg.

“Ahhh, a good question!” The princess replied, folding her wings against her sides. “To answer, we are in the underbelly of your city, deep beneath the streets. I have not been here in more than a decade since I closed this vault. Let us see if I can remember...”

Turning towards a particular section of the wall, Luna’s horn blazed. A shining silver line appeared in the stone surface, spreading out into the shape of a doorway just tall enough for Luna to pass through comfortably. All at once, the outlined part of the wall vanished leaving a pitch-black tunnel.

“Here we are!” Luna declared, turning to her charges. “Now then children, I must ask you... have any of you studied the Cutie Mark Crusades in school yet?”

A particularly brave unicorn filly just a little older than Junior made her horn flash and the princess nodded in her direction. “It was a big fight with the dragons, right?”

“Yes! Very good, child!” The princess gave her an approving pat on the head with her feathers and the girl turned beet red. “It was a big fight. A war, some would call it, though not in the conventional sense.”

Striding to the passage, Luna turned and her wings flared to their full, impressive width.

“Tonight, I will reveal a secret to you I feel the world must know.” The alicorn began, taking in each of the small faces staring up at her. Their expressions held a mixture of awe, fear, and wonder. “I tell this tale Nightmare Night because it is the night over a millennia ago when I was banished from this world and became a myth, told to scare children. My sister might disagree with me discussing such dark matters with young ponies, but young ponies... like you... are the only ones who can see that such a thing never happens again.”

“Miss Luna... I mean, your Majesty! Sorry!” A little green unicorn colt wearing a pair of wolf-ears ducked his head.

“It is fine, child. Tonight, while I am with you, I will be Luna. Speak.” The princess flicked her tail against her cutie-mark.

Bucking up his bravery, the boy asked, “My mum was in the Crusades. She gets scared sometimes while she’s dreaming and throws things in her sleep and talks about dragons... but there’s a baby dragon in my school and she’s nice. Mum says I shouldn’t play with her though. Why are so many of the adults scared of dragons?”

“It... is complicated, my little pony.” Luna’s voice was full to brimming with a deep seated emotion that only one of her audience really understood; grief. “You can study the whole truth yourself one day. Suffice to say, when there is bad blood for many years, one tiny mistake can set off an atrocity. That... is not what tonight is about, however. Tonight.. .is about one of the things that ended the war. A lesson you must keep in your hearts...” Her eyes glinted with mischief. “-which might also just scare the fur off you!”

Stepping back into the shadowy passage, she beckoned them all to follow.

Shiny was first after the princess, with Junior quick on her heels; after a brief pause, the rest of the group went after them.

With only Luna’s horn for light, there wasn’t much for them to see. Junior could make out vague, boxy shapes on either side of the tunnel in low alcoves. The floor felt like some kind of brick or stone, but it was warm under his hooves. Something in the air smelled like dead leaves. He expected dust, but the hidden vault was immaculate. It’d been sealed so perfectly that even the spiders had long since died of starvation.

Luna stopped at a seemingly empty wall. Raising her wings, she shot a blast of shining sparks from the tip of her horn that arched high overhead... then hovered in the air, illuminating everything, as though a night-time firework had burst and refused to fade.

At last, Junior could see his surroundings. And so could everypony else. Every one of the foals let out a simultaneous breath as they took in the splendor behind the princess.

It was a mural in colors so perfect they might almost have been looking at a photograph. It depicted the familiar cityscape of his home city in a different time. Junior could make out a few shapes he recognized, including the peculiar arrangement of Shield obelisks near his house, and the ice-cream factory’s solid pink dome jutting into the sky. The artist’s perspective must have been from the air, as he or she looked down on an impossible army.

Hundreds of ponies stood on balconies, battle platforms, and manned unusual, dangerous devices he’d only seen on a few of the buildings that had been around since before he was born. In the sky, pegasi dove and wound around the few skyscrapers daring to poke up into the clouds, all wearing different kinds of armor. At the very center of the image, the Castle squatted in the middle of a carpet of ponies so dense it almost hurt to look at all the colors; at the very top of the Castle, Princess Luna stood atop the battlements of the bastion facing an ominous cloud of what looked like bats in the distance, gathered above a forest he couldn’t remember being that close to the Castle.

“It was the final days of the conflict that is now known as the Cutie Mark Crusades.” Luna began, her voice carefully neutral. “The last days, perhaps, for our civilization. Suffice it to say, it was our pride that drove us closer to annihilation than since I first left this world and it was pride that set me on that path.”

Gesturing towards the mural she let their eyes slide over the various details. “The war had been going on for nearly five years.” Regret snuck into her words. “We lost many of our most spectacular athletes, bakers, doctors, and writers to the war effort, and wasted our most brilliant minds on devising new ways to make death. Never had we constructed such evil devices of metal and mysticism as during those most foul times.”

Letting her wings slide down until the feathers dragged the floor, Luna started deeper into the dark, followed by more spots of light leaping from her to brighten the gloom. Junior took the time to stop and inspect one of the boxes lining the hall. Shiny stepped up beside him.

Each box had a face of a pony carved into the top of it with a number, a cutie-mark, and a symbol: a unicorn’s horn, a pair of wings, or a set of horseshoes.

“Coffins.” Shiny said, reverently. “This is a tomb.”

Junior hopped back from the sarcophagus like it might bite him. “What, for real?!”

His friend nodded, looking into the closed eyes of the mare whose face was carved into the top. Her cutie-mark looked like wood carving knife cutting a heart shape out of a log. It reminded him a little of his mom’s.

“Number one seven three. I wonder what that means.” Shiny said, pointing at the numerals.

“I... think we’re gonna to find out.” Junior pointed after the princess and then took a few steps in that direction before realizing Shiny wasn’t with him. She was still standing there, one hoof poised in the air, head swiveling back and forth.

“Do...do you feel that?” She asked, a note of worry entering her voice.

Turning his head left and right he listened but couldn’t hear anything besides the shuffling hooves of the other foals getting farther away. “Feel what?”

“I... don’t know.” She replied, sounding very unsettled. “It was like that time I licked a magic gem to see if it was charged.”

Junior started off in the direction the others had gone. “Shiny, we’re with a pony who can raise and lower the moon every day, a half mile underground. I think we’re okay.”

She shook her head as though trying to get a fly out of her ear. “I... I guess it... it was nothing...”

“Yeah, now let’s go before we miss any of the story!”

****

Luna halted again in front of a second mural. This one was painted on a wide wall, surrounding a particularly ornate coffin with a lid of shining obsidian.

It depicted Luna holding conference in a great hall before a roaring fire with three other ponies: a pegasus mare in the golden armor of the royal guard, a wild-eyed green earth pony stallion with a slicked back mane and enough tools in various pouches of his barding to make his knees sag, and a tiny unicorn that couldn’t have had her cutie mark for more than a couple years, yet wore a huge weapon strapped to her back, with a massive barrel that was almost as long as she was.

The princess’s head hung low as she continued her tale. “The dragons, all through the war, had always preferred to raid. Never to attack directly nor in great numbers. They carried off what they wanted or needed, destroyed what they thought would demoralize, but they preferred to leave survivors to burden the living. That changed when we developed... a new kind of weapon.”

Drawing herself up, she pounded her chest with one knee. “They were weapons so destructive that they should never have seen night nor day, much less ever be fired, but we were proud of the sheer power of those weapons, and no place was more proud than this city. Detrot was the center of our entire weapons development program. You had all the parts here: The gem mines. The Shield. The Twilight Academy. Unfortunately, you also had I to lead while your generals were away... history’s greatest fool.”

Luna put her leg on top of the black coffin and leaned against it like an old friend.
There was no cutie-mark nor face on its surface. The only distinguishing marks were the numbers one, two, and three, side by side.

Lifting her gaze from the box, she smiled sadly at each little pony around her one after the other. “Nopony knows how the dragons found out about the weapons; we only built a few.” She said as a single tear formed in the corner of her eye then leaked down her cheek. “They were meant to finish the war... not escalate it.”

Junior thought he should have been shocked to see his princess weep. He’d learned about her life in school or at least, what was known. Celestia’s was well documented, but over the centuries much of Luna’s had been lost despite the sun princess’s best efforts at preservation. A thousand years is a very long time. It was so odd to see her, to see an apex royal, as just a pony; a living, breathing creature with memories and emotions.

Pulling herself up, the midnight blue alicorn trudged down the corridor, every step seeming to add an invisible weight to her shoulders. Her small charges trailed along, listening attentively.

“Instead-” She continued. “-for our hubris and daring to create something so vile as those weapons, the draconic hordes set aside their myriad internal disputes and gathered to see us ended.” Turning around a corner, Luna stopped in a doorway that appeared to lead into a wider room. “Their leader, Lord Smoulder, hurled an enormous force at the city of Los Pegasus. - greater even than the dragon migrations, greater than anypony had ever seen. Our advance scouts barely got warning to us in time. It was strange, seemingly unprovoked, and completely out of character. We should have known it was a trap.”

Pointing her horn into the room she thrust it towards a wide trencher ringing the room. Oil inside it burst into flame, sending light up towards the tall roof.

Junior could only stare at the enormous painting therein.

A glowing metropolis in the clouds hung above a beautiful desert colored almost white by the mid-afternoon sun. Junior had seen deserts only in books and there, in that cold mausoleum, he found a rendering so perfect he thought he might almost prick himself on the cacti needles.

All was not well in that frozen city. He could make out small shapes falling from the clouds and curls of darker cloud which he realized could only be smoke. Lizard shaped beings clung to the clouds, blasting great gouts of fiery death down skyways and air-lanes. His curiosity got the better of him and he trotted forward first with the rest of the children quick behind. They spread out around the room, taking in the little elements.

The oil fires provided just enough luminance to see by but not much more so he had to get close to actually make out what the tiny forms raining from the city were. They were ponies. Wingless, burning ponies.

It must have taken months to finish with even the most skilled hooves at work.

Luna went on, regaining a bit of her strength in the telling as the children gawked at the visions of brutal warfare. “We dispatched our finest... the one the dragons called ‘The Demolisher.’” She indicated a group of strange looking vehicles blasting through the clouds, each one pulled by fliers, with a unicorn standing on the roof and an earth pony at the gunnery station on the side. The foremost vehicle in front was painted red and gold, with a badge of a rearing pony on it’s side. “She took Detrot’s entire mechanized defense force. Every war-scooter we had available took wing with her. We gave them gladly to save the lives of those ponies in Los Pegasus.“

Junior tried edged around, trying to see the features of the pony driving that lead scooter, but her face and mane were covered by silvery armor plating. Her pelt was a rich rusty orange.

“We sent the prototypes of the new weapons with them. Every... last... one!” The princess angrily beat her hoof on the stone to punctuate each word. “We sent them our finest warriors and left ourselves, foolishly, unprotected!”

In her fury, the alicorn was a truly terrifying sight. All of those listening took an unconscious step back.

“Our defenders didn’t even have time to engage the enemy at Los Pegasus.” Luna dipped her head in the direction of a carving, which spanned three of the room’s pillars, of mighty lizards being chased through the clouds by the boxy, horse drawn weapons platforms. “The dragons simply fled when they saw our war-wagons coming. They didn’t even bother to fight a delaying action. It was only then, our forces realized their mistake...”

Her starry tail fell, dragging along the stones with a strange rasping hum. “One cannot blame ponykind I suppose. A thousand years of peace left us unprepared for war. Our books on strategy were from ancient times of lances and raw lightning. Our guides for fighting dragons said simply not to. So, in the end, the decision to send our warriors was mine. The consequences... were mine.”

Reaching up to one of the frescos, she pressed a hidden switch. Gears twitched and an entire section of the wall swung up and out, revealing yet another passage. Junior was beginning to wonder just how deep this particular rabbit hole was going to go.

The group toddled along behind the princess as she left the chamber, her armored hooves clicking on the brickwork, sending echoes in both directions.

****

“It’s... it’s a map?” Shiny inquired, as she studied the grand hall they’d entered.

“Very good, child. Yes... this is your city as it was some years ago.” Luna affirmed, sweeping the soft ray of light from her horn tip back and forth over the area.

Spread out on the floor down a short series of steps, a huge and carefully modeled version of Detrot lay, preserved in time. The detail work on each of the buildings was absolutely amazing. Junior tried to peer into one of the little windows, only to discover it was carved from spectacularly painted stone.

“This was built for my war room by the great cow artisan, August Moodin.” Adjusting her crown, a faint blush entered her cheeks. “He and I... well, he was a quite a sweet bull.” Her face slid once more into carefully cultivated neutrality, but not before Junior saw a whisper of a smile.

Gesturing towards the far side of the city with a wing, Luna directed their interest towards a huge number of tiny figures of flying reptiles, each exquisitely carved and each no bigger than a baseball. Junior set his chin on the floor at their height, trying to imagine the perspective of a pony in the city then decided to try to find The Castle. When he did, it looked... odd. There was a circle of pony figurines surrounding the central tower and a strange spire-like object jutting up from its roof that, were it to scale, would have been immense.

He raised his hoof and waited until the princess nodded in his direction. “Your Majesty... I mean... Miss Luna... um... what’s that thing? It’s not really on the Castle outside.”

“Ahhh, our ‘final solution.’” Luna told him, musingly. “Pray you never see such a thing in actuality, my dear little police colt, because you are looking at the single greatest atrocity of the war.” Junior tilted his head, waiting for the princess to explain. It took a moment, but when she did, her voice was rife with guilt. “This was the first dual purpose weather factory, where we converted electricity to stored magic on a grand scale... and more than that, it’s where we designed and constructed those weapons.”

“The dragon attack on Los Pegasus was a feint. Lord Smoulder was... a canny foe... and their true target-” She sat and raised both foreknees, spreading them to encompass the whole model. “-was Detrot.”

Luna turned back to the crowd. “Smoulder foresaw the eradication of his species if we’d been allowed to make more than a few of those foul weapons. His plan was to eliminate any and all who might have contributed to their construction, just to be certain. But the very fact that we made them at all should have told him... just how far ]we were willing to go.”

Sidling over he put her muzzle under Shiny’s ear and asked very quietly, “Hey, how... come we never heard of any of this? I mean, grand-dad fought in the war. He even gave my dad his service gun, and dad told me about the attack on Los Pegasus. I never knew about any huge attack on Detrot.”

“You think I know?” The filly answered, her eyes roving over the miniaturized city. “Mom... said things were different when she was young. Nothing... nothing like this... thing.”

Shiny seemed disgusted by the entire idea of the war-map. Her lips curled as though she’d eaten something nasty and couldn’t get it out of her teeth. “Something about this feels... wrong.”

“What, like earlier?” Junior jerked his head back the way they’d come.

“No... This feels like... Like I’m in a hospital full of screaming voices nobody is listening to.” Shiny raised her head, and the colt felt himself go cold inside. “Hardy, this is a terrible place.”

His friend’s face was a mask of red hot anger. He’d only seen her like that once before, when she’d watched a group of colts tormenting a cat, and that had ended very poorly for everypony involved.

She stalked towards the princess, her shoulders high and tight as she advanced. Her saddlebags slid back on her hips, but she ignored them.. “You... what’s down here? What did you do?!”

Junior threw himself in front of his friend. “No way, Shiny, do not—” but she just shoved him aside as she strode towards Princess Luna, standing at the alicorn’s hooves, absolutely shaking with emotion as she glared up at her. The other foals in the room could only watch in abject horror as one of their number placed herself in front of the most influential, powerful being they’d ever been near, and leveled unbridled judgement at her.

Luna met the filly’s little pink eyes with that same stoic expression of boundless patience. Her mane blew a bit faster, as though the lunar tides were disturbed by the tiny pony’s rage alone. She offered her hoof to Shiny, who brushed it aside with a vicious swat.

Junior tried again to push between them but found his hooves no longer touching the ground. He hung there, suspended again in a field of gentle levitation, flailing to reach the two of them. Not that he had any idea what he was going to do if he could reach them.

The princess turned her head to peer at him critically, then back to the furiously trembling girl daring to demand truth from her. She spoke very slowly, in measured tones.

“If I were of the same mind as my dear sister...” She started, her horn lifting Shiny off the ground. The filly didn’t so much as blink at finding herself at the same height as Luna’s piercing eyes. “...I might be inclined, at this time, to take a student. Be glad, for your sake, that I am not. I am a much... harsher teacher than she.”

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!