• Published 12th Nov 2012
  • 1,388 Views, 11 Comments

Rising Night - StLeibowitz



A meeting with a dark pegasus in the Archives thrusts Twilight into a world she never knew existed.

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Chapter 8

The shifting sights and smells of the Marketplace crowd washed over Twilight like a wave as she and Starshine entered the cavern. She gazed in awe upon the sheer number of stalls that had been set up; as large as Lower Canterlot had appeared to be from her idle wanderings in the two weeks since she’d arrived, it was now glaringly obvious to the unicorn that she had barely scratched the surface.

They pushed swiftly through the streams and eddies of ponies, their routes almost like the currents in a mighty ocean. She struggled to take it all in at once – there was music, hauntingly clear, that seemed to come from everywhere at the same time; there were carts being pushed around, stacked high with hot vegetable pies and cider. Dozens of fillies and colts, blank-flanks all, raced around between the hooves of the adults, seeking adventure and the chance to play with the equipment the craftsponies had set up in their stands – and what stands they were! The herbalist led her past a two-story tower made entirely of wood and fabric, center of the Architects’ Guild in the fair – past a stall that seemed to be built entirely out of a worrying amount of pyrotechnics – past something that looked like a massive version of one of the book forts she built when she was a filly in the Royal Archives.

The grey pony bounced merrily ahead of her new apprentice, the crowd parting to let her through, several of the more respectable-looking browsers actually dipping in shallow bows as she passed. Starshine glanced back over her shoulder, grinning.

“Oh, this is going to be so exciting having an apprentice! I can teach you about medicine and herbalism and alchemy and how to fly and how to draw runes and how to teleport without magic and how to breathe underwater and how to cook – this is going to be amazing!” She skidded to a halt as they reached an empty gap between a pie-maker’s stand and his arch-competitor, a veritable demilitarized zone already littered with the scorched remains of bad pies turned into artillery shells. “Yeah, it’s busy this year. I doubt we’ll get anywhere better than this. Start setting up, new apprentice!”

Twilight dumped the saddlebags she wore onto the ground, levitating out a pair of brown burlap sacks in confusion. “When you said you packed everything, I kind of expected a bit…more.”

“Silly Twilight! They’re bags of holding!” Her new teacher explained, hugging on of the bags out of the air. “See, you just open it up and reach in, and you’ll probably find what you were looking for!”

“Probably?”

“They’re bigger on the inside.” Starshine dropped the seized luggage onto the stone floor and opened the top, and then proceeded (to Twilight’s shock) to fit her entire body up to her waist into the thing. When she emerged, she was holding the top of a pole about a length and a half tall that by all rights should never have been able to be concealed within.

“How – what -“

“Bag of holdin’, ma’am.” Twilight turned to look at the black-maned, mustachioed baker that had inserted his head into their space through the side of his stall. “Powerful magic.”

Sí, signora – molto potente!” The baker opposite to them agreed, nodding sagely. “Very hard to find outside the old country.”

“They’re rare even within Bitaly, you dog!” The first exclaimed.

“Perhaps around Neighples, peasant!” The second laughed. “Roads carry many things, and all of them lead to Veneighce!”

“Ha! Your soggy little island wouldn’t know a road if one swam over and bit it!”

I canali are far more beautiful, mio amico!” He smirked. “You Neighapolitans mock only because you harbor a dark secret – siete gelosi!”

“I’ll fill you full of cannoli, Veneightian!” The dark-maned unicorn roared furiously, ducking down to draw a slingshot and a dish of tubular deserts. “Nessuno accomodamento!

Cittá invitta!” The Veneightian responded, bringing his own pies to bear.

“We’re leaving.” Starshine decided, with Twilight’s full support. “Pack the bags again and let’s hurry before this is the only spot left!”

In a flash, the bags were back in the saddlebags back on Twilight’s back, and the pair galloped back out into the highly amused audience that had gathered to watch the Bitalians battle it out. The sounds of deserts slamming into ponies echoed after them as they made their escape.

“Crazy Bitalians.” Starshine shook her head in wonderment. “How the hay do they manage to get permits every year?”

“Maybe somepony in charge has a sense of humor.” Twilight suggested.

“Well, they’re doing it wrong, then. There wasn’t even a musical number!” The grey mare muttered. “My older sister would never…”

“Never what?” The lavender unicorn asked, as the sudden pause stretched on. Starshine seemed to deflate slightly, some of her perpetual good cheer fading.

“Never mind.” She answered, almost too softly to be heard over the background roar of the crowd. “I don’t want to talk about it. Just…just keep looking for a place to put up the stall.”

“Okay…” Puzzled by the sudden change in her friend’s demeanor, Twilight kept her head on a swivel, trying to find a decent-sized empty patch for them to set up in. They passed through the rest of the craftspony area without luck; likewise for the mages’ area and the bakers’ area – unsurprisingly, the Bitalians had been banned from ever setting foot in that section of the Trade Day fair again. At long last, they found a niche in the Artists’ area, on a corner adjacent to a luthier’s stall and an extremely focused abstract artist whose art consisted of her bucking clay balls filled with paint at a large canvas at the back. She seemed to be doing a decent amount of business, and it was obvious that the fillies and colts loved her.

“Okay, better spot: still things flying in the air, but at least not through our personal space.” Starshine sat in the center of their spot. “Begin setting up, apprentice!”

“How will the poles stay upright?” Twilight asked in confusion. “The floor is solid rock!”

“Fairy dust and spit.” Starshine responded seriously. The unicorn gave her a look of pure incomprehension. “What? Mix them together and you get the best glue ever!”

“Fairy dust.”

“There should be some in the bags.”

“What isn’t in the bags?”

“The kitchen sink.” The herbalist paused to consider the question further. “And my house and Lower Canterlot and the Royal Palace and Marco Foalo’s lost expedition, and a rock farm and a jellyfish too. Past that, it’s probably inside.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“More or less. Now hurry!”

Twilight sighed and lit her horn. Now, shortly after sunset, her magic was back at full strength, and she was able to withdraw all four of the poles from the bags, as well as the display stands and every tincture and potion Starshine had brewed and diluted expressly for the holiday. A large number of the potions were unlabeled, and the herbalist revealed that in more than a few cases she’d just mixed a few non-poisonous reagents together and shaken the bottles.

“That’s ridiculously unsafe!” Twilight exclaimed incredulously, looking at the pony who was now supposed to be teaching her. “And besides, how are you supposed to organize these things when you don’t even know what they do or what’s in them?”

“That’s your job to figure out. I hate organizing things – too much time, too little benefit.” Starshine began grabbing the hovering vials out of the air and setting them up along the racks at random. Twilight’s eye twitched involuntarily, but she managed to restrain herself from immediately correcting the error. Instead, she did her best to organize the flasks that she set up. When they were done, the display reflected its creation in its appearance – it looked like it had been assembled by two ponies who both had a deep and abiding dislike of the other’s style.

Somehow, in trying to organize the mess, Twilight had made it messier.

“It’s perfect!” Starshine declared happily, and then the unicorn mare lost it. Each and every potion flew up into the air, wrapped in individual auras of magic, and hovered there for inspection. One by one, they zipped down to be classified and placed by their master.

“Since I’m not advanced enough yet to know what any of these things do, I’ll just sort by color if it’s unlabeled.” The floating mass divided in half, one group labeled and one not, and the unlabeled one subdivided itself into colored swarms that began orbiting around. “And healing potions…here…magical restoration potions…there…waterbreathing potions over there…”

The colored liquids dropped purposefully down upon their new positions, lined up in ranks like the soldiers of a battle-ready army. The herbalist watched silently, confusion etched across her features – hadn’t it been good enough already? Everypony should have been happy! They both got their ways!

“Done!” Twilight grinned at the newly regimented stall. “And that is how you organize, Starshine!”

“But all the healing tinctures are over there in one big group!” Starshine protested.

“Exactly! We know exactly where they are – in that one big group – so if somepony needs one or wants to buy one, we can just grab one off the shelf and hoof it over, no fuss!”

“But what if it’s an emergency, Twilight?” The Night pony moved closer to the potions, examining them like some form of alien life beneath a microscope. She glanced at her apprentice again. “What if it’s an emergency and we’re not over here? What if we’re over on the other side of the stall?”

“We just – “

“But if there isn’t time!” She insisted. “If there’s not any time to trot all the way over here and ‘grab one off the shelf and hoof it over, no fuss’?”

“That’s ridic – “

“Then somepony dies, Twilight!” Starshine triumphantly concluded, jabbing the unicorn with a hoof for emphasis. “Somepony dies. Now, I think a lot of things are funny, and even more are ridiculous, but death isn’t. Death isn’t ridiculous!”

“But the idea of a situation like that is!” The exasperated apprentice sighed. “There is no possible situation where a few milliseconds to grab a potion from across the stall could make a significant difference in the outcome!”

An expectant silence settled over the two. After a few moments,

“Funny. I was expecting something to happen.” Starshine giggled.

“Strangely, so was I.” Twilight admitted. “So what solution do you propose for this problem?”

“Move half of them over to the other side of the stall so one will always be in reach.” The herbalist ordered. Rolling her eyes, the unicorn shifted the formation three rows to her left and filled in the new gap with healing potions.

“Perfection!” The grey pony said, pleased. “Now, let’s get ready for the visitors!”

With a slight flourish of magic, Twilight lifted the “open” sign into place atop one of the poles. With festive lights at a comfortable brightness strung overhead and a multicolored front that would make the Nightwing Aurorae artists envious, Starshine and Twilight’s stall was still barely noticeable amongst the other structures in the Artists’ zone. When the meanest of your competition is a sculptor’s tent shaped like a giant banana, it takes more than colorfulness to make an impression.

Somehow, though, the Night ponies knew exactly where Starshine had set up shop, and flocked to them like starving ponies to an all-you-can-eat buffet. The older ponies dropped by and exchanged silver coins for cosmetic mixtures that shifted coat or mane color, or for solutions that (Starshine assured them) would give them the ability to predict the future with stunning accuracy, but so far as Twilight knew just caused uncontrollable muscle spasms and other assorted negative side effects for no real benefit. The younger ponies – the blank-flanked foals and the adolescents with images emblazoned proudly on their sides – came for potions to prank their friends with, to turn them invisible to escape their parents, and even – in one instance – for love potions. To the unicorn’s relief, Starshine refused to mix one of those incredibly volatile elixirs, citing Lower Canterlot laws with perfect recall until the filly who had asked wandered off in embarrassment.

The hour drew closer to midnight, the crystals in the ceiling brightening appropriately to maintain what would have been the light levels of on the surface – an incredibly complex enchantment that Twilight had learned of as she perused her new mentor’s private collection of books. The potion display in the front had been replenished several times from their stocks now, but they had run out of the highly coveted invisibility potions, and Starshine was now teaching her apprentice how to mix one. It seemed to involve a great deal of high-precision titration and measurements.

“Careful…” Starshine urged, her face pressing close to her student’s as they both watched the solution in the beaker beneath the blackleaf-extract-filled buret intently. Twilight opened the valve on the piece of equipment a miniscule amount, letting a single drop of the deep purple fluid fall into the otherwise clear liquid below. The solution in the beaker turned purple, then faded until only the slightest, almost undetectable, tint was left. The herbalist nodded in satisfaction.

“Um…hello?”

Twilight jumped at the sound of Regulus’s voice from behind her, bumping the buret’s valve and dumping another thirty milliliters of blackleaf extract into the potion. Starshine sighed in disappointment.

“So close…” She turned to their newest customer. “Hi, Regulus! Trade Day Special?”

“Much as I would love a randomized bag of prank potions, I must respectfully decline your offer, Starshine.” The marzipan unicorn answered sadly. “I wish I had time for that, but unfortunately I’m dealing with something of a family crisis at the moment.”

The herbalist had a healing potion in hoof in an instant, her normal smile replaced by a grim look of determination. “Where?”

Regulus laughed. “No, nothing needing your attention. If anything, I am here for Miss Sparkle.”

“Excuse me?” Twilight looked up from her fruitless attempt to recover the potion.

“Unicorn magic would be most helpful in resolving this crisis – I’ll explain in more detail when we are on our way, but yes, I’ve already tried myself.”

The lavender unicorn looked to her mentor for permission, and Starshine nodded. “Go ahead! I’ll be fine alone. I’ve done it often enough in past years since Nightshade died.”

“Okay!” With a quick flash of light that was painfully bright to all onlookers, Twilight teleported out of the stall to Regulus’s side. She swayed slightly as she regained her balance. “Where are we off to?”

“The chasm near Crystal Park. My sister dropped something of importance down it, and we need to recover it soon.” He began trotting off through the crowd. “This way – just a short walk once we’re out of the Marketplace.”

To Twilight’s surprise, they didn’t exit through the main archway, but rather through one of the secondary arches that were scattered along the walls. They descended a long and curving flight of stairs and emerged into a hallway three times her height, though only about two and a half times as wide. Ponies dressed in fine clothing pushed past to either side, making as much room as they could for Regulus. After another few minutes, they pushed through a small door to the right and emerged in a truly cavernous space.

The Crystal Park was an immense space beneath the earth, its walls made of plates of polished amethyst; formations of quartz and other semiprecious gems thrust upward from the rocky crust of the public space, and the majority of the room was a steep drop-off to a floor that was invisible from the distance involved. The park was situated on a thick ledge, but still took up only a tenth of the room.

“This object fell to the bottom of that?” Twilight asked as she trotted down the steps from the door to the Park proper. “I’m not sure what I’ll be able to do here, Regulus.”

“There’s a path down to the bottom, don’t worry.” He reassured her. “It’ll be a simple matter to get down there.”

“Do we want to get down there?”

“This chasm’s perfectly safe – it was explored and cleared of the monsters centuries ago, and kept that way by the Guard.” Regulus laughed. “Nothing to worry about.”

They threaded their way between large, softly luminescent crystal spires, heading to the far end of the ledge where the path down to the chasm bottom was located. It was a depressingly narrow thing; a sloped ledge about a length wide, winding around the edge of the huge pit to untold depths below. The unicorn mare drew back from the thing like it was an immense snake.

“Is there a safer way?”

“Nope.” Regulus stepped onto the path, dislodging a few pebbles and sending them down in a shower to the pit below. “I’ll go first. Watch your step!”

Half a terrifying hour later, they were at the cavern’s base. Twilight looked around for the object, realizing that she still had no idea what she was supposed to be helping with.

“It’s over there, on that stalagmite.” Regulus pointed out, indicating a rock formation twice Twilight’s height, with a small golden necklace improbably encircling the tip. It seemed to have some sort of large pink gem in the shape of a heart on the front, and the band was made of elegant gold netting.

“How did that get there?” She asked.

“My sister dropped it from the Park. She doesn’t have any idea how it fell off her neck, either.”

“And why am I needed again?”

“Because of this.” Regulus’s horn lit with crimson light as he tried to pry the necklace off the stalagmite. His aura enveloped the necklace, pulled upwards – and the gold band tightened itself around the stone, actually wiggling further down. “See? I can’t move it except downwards.”

“Fine, let me try.” Twilight drew upon her prodigious reserves of energy and grabbed hold of the necklace. To her surprise, she detected an immense reservoir of power within the jewelry – a reserve that surpassed her own to such an extent that she couldn’t find the end of the reserve. She tried to find the boundary, pushing into the gem with her mind and exploring its outer limits, but the pool just seemed to go on and on forever, and endless ocean that she could easily sink beneath –

Focus. She pulled herself back from the power as she felt her mind begin to slip; some things, it seemed, were far beyond a pony’s capacity to understand. The unicorn gave a swift tug upwards with her aura, but the necklace repeated what it had done for Regulus.

“Try pulling down on it?” He suggested thoughtfully. “If it’s so intent on being contrary, we should work with that.”

“Good idea in theory.” She yanked downwards on the thing, but only aided it in its attempts to wedge itself further down. “Bad one in practice.”

“This is ridiculous.”

“Agreed.” Twilight glared at the golden band, deep in thought. She would not accept defeat to an inanimate object. With a gasp and a grin, a plan came to her. “Midnight!”

“What about her?”

“I’ll go find Midnight and see if she’ll fly up to the necklace and remove it physically.” She clarified. “Magic just makes it drop further; maybe it’s been enchanted with a charm to resist that.”

“And a physical effort would bypass that charm entirely, yes.” Regulus nodded. “That could work.”

“I’ll be back soon – wait here.” She concentrated on the image of Starshine’s stand in the Marketplace, the furthest point that she could accurately image. Her horn glowed as she poured energy into the picture, and she felt the world warp around her as she teleported. When her eyes opened again, she found herself less than an inch away from her teacher’s magnified eyes.

“Twilight!” Starshine greeted her happily. Twilight responded with a yelp of surprise as she realized how close she’d come to killing them both. “Did you fix Regulus’s problem?”

“No; we need Midnight. Do you know where she is?”

“She just left, actually. She should be around still.” The Night pony leaned out the front of the stand and shouted for the pegasus.

“Thanks, Starshine.”

“No problem!”

“I heard my name?” Midnight dropped down from above, folding her wings as she landed. Arcturus galloped over as well, curious as to the reason his friend had been summoned.

“Regulus and I need some help with something.” Twilight explained. “I’ll teleport us back to the chasm floor; just grab on.”

“Regulus.” Arcturus growled. “Yeah, I’m out. Have fun, Midnight.”

“Oh, come one, Arcturus. You’re being ridiculous.” The pegasus sighed. “Bring him too, Twilight. If I had to face my parents’ death again, he gets to face his colthood nemesis in a social setting.”

Now who’s being ridiculous?” The red unicorn snorted. “Burying your family’s death was unhealthy in the extreme. Avoiding a pony I dislike isn’t anywhere near as harmful.”

“You won’t even stand in the same room as him!”

“So?”

“Arcturus, you will detour around his home at all times, even if that means backtracking and adding a few miles to your trip. You wait for him to leave a shop before going in. You – “

“And he’s earned every bit of it.” He pointed out calmly. “Eight years of torment does not fade from mind easily.”

“Especially if you aren’t willing to do him the kindness of giving the benefit of the doubt.” Midnight shook her head in exasperation. “Just grab him, Twilight.”

Arcturus tried to turn and melt back into the crowd, but Twilight wrapped him in her aura and lifted him over. Placing a hoof on his shoulder and feeling Midnight grab hers in turn, she teleported both of them back to the chasm. The red unicorn dropped down to the ground with a thump, followed by the pegasus and Twilight herself.

Regulus just stared at Arcturus. Arcturus stared back.

“Oh, for the love of Luna!” Midnight interposed herself between them, fixing each of them with a furious look in turn. “Here, let’s reintroduce you two. Regulus, this is Arcturus. Arcturus, Regulus. Past is behind us.”

“Charmed.” Regulus held out a hoof. With a defeated sigh, Arcturus shook it.

“Hello again, Reg.”

“It’s been a while.”

“Intentionally.”

Twilight looked at the black pegasus, who was rubbing her forehead in a desperate attempt to relieve the migraine that was approaching. “Well, this went well.”

“What do you need me to do?” She asked. “Let’s get this over with so I can send Arcturus back to time out.”

“Just fly up and grab that necklace off the stalagmite.”

She looked at the piece of jewelry and frowned. “Couldn’t you or Regulus have – “

“We tried. It’s enchanted to resist magic or something.”

“This shouldn’t be too long.”

As Midnight hovered up to retrieve the necklace, Twilight watched the two unicorn stallions attempt to interact kindly.

“So…er…lovely weather we’re having?” Arcturus offered hesitantly.

“We’re underground. If there were any weather I would consider it a problem.” Regulus responded wryly. “Now, why exactly have you been avoiding me?”

“Because you tortured me for all of my childhood and never once apologized.”

“Is that it?” The marzipan unicorn gave him a stunned look. “That’s it?”

“All of my childhood, Regulus! It took a while for my magic to manifest itself, you mocked me! I was a blank flank until I was eight, you laughed at me! I failed an aptitude test, you laughed some more!” Arcturus’s voice rose with each accusation, until he realized he was causing echoes. “Sorry. It’s a delicate topic, but I shouldn’t lose my temper.”

“Perfectly understandable. I’ll admit I was a bit harsh in judging others when I was a colt, but I’ve grown out of it.”

“I’ve seen no sign of – “

They were interrupted by a pained screech from Midnight. The pegasus skidded to a landing in their midst, keeping her forehooves lifted gingerly off the ground and using her wings to balance herself on her back legs. “The stupid necklace burnt me!”

“What?”

“It heated up until it was white-hot and burned my hooves!” She hissed in pain as she licked at the frogs on her injured feet to soothe them. “Luna damn that bucking necklace!”

“Any other bright ideas, Twilight?” Regulus asked. The mare shook her head.

“If it wants to stay there, I say let it stay there.” She proclaimed. “Come on; let’s get back to the Marketplace.”

“Perhaps it simply needs a gentler touch?” Arcturus suggested, trotting up to the stalagmite. “You’ve been rather harsh; what if it were intelligent? Would you yield to somepony that was willing to use force to prevent you from doing as you wanted?”

“It’s a necklace.” Regulus deadpanned.

“A necklace that has defied your best efforts to remove it.”

“Fair enough. Have a go at it, then.”

Arcturus closed his eyes and took a calming breath. With a slight flicker, barely detectable even to Twilight’s sensitive eyes, his green magical aura enveloped the necklace and slowly lifted.

The stone cracked. Everypony except the red unicorn jumped in surprise.

Slowly, the necklace floated off the stalagmite, drifting through the air until it hovered just in front of Regulus’s stunned features.

“There you go, Regulus. No charge.”

“Thank you, Arcturus.” Regulus grabbed the necklace with his own magic – or attempted to, in any case. With a flash of light that had everypony blinking stars from their eyes, the necklace fired a pulse of energy along his telekinetic grasp, hurling Regulus backwards into the chasm wall and bending his foreleg at an impossible angle. In a flash, Twilight and Arcturus were at his side.

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” He insisted, struggling back to his hooves, spiked mane charred and smoking at the ends. Twilight noticed that a worryingly long hairline crack had appeared in his horn. “Stars above, that thing does not like to be touched.”

“Are you sure you’re fine?” Arcturus asked, concerned.

“Perfectly so!” He answered. “And didn’t you hate me a few moments ago?”

“Not enough to want you hurt.” He caught Regulus as his left foreleg gave out beneath him, appending: “And you are definitely hurt.”

“I’ll live.”

“You’ll live without magic if we don’t get that crack in your horn fixed.” Twilight observed. “Come on; Starshine’s probably got a few extra healing potions laying around, and if not we should be able to mix one.”

“Then let’s go!” Regulus stood again, wincing as he put pressure on his wounded leg. “The sooner the better.”

“Not on your own power, you don’t.” Arcturus’s horn lit as he picked Regulus up and dropped the unicorn on his back. “I’ll carry you up. That leg looks bad.”

“I’ve suffered far worse. Let me down!”

“Not bloody likely.” The red unicorn smiled. “Should we bring the necklace too?”

“Please. It will be humiliating enough to face my mother with injuries like this from a piece of jewelry without having the stench of failure rising off my body in waves.” Arcturus lifted the thing from its spot on the chasm floor and put it around his own neck.

“Which way?” He asked, and then the necklace flared with the intensity of a dozen suns. Twilight just barely managed to avert her eyes in time, and the others’ vision was saved only by virtue of them not looking at the object directly as it happened. When the light dimmed, the lavender unicorn – and all else in attendance – watched as what had been gold shimmered grey-white for a moment and turned to silver. The heart-shaped gem at the center reshaped itself to match Arcturus’s Mark – a pair of nested crescents – and shone a brilliant rose for an instant before dropping down to within Night pony tolerances. The bearer himself staggered slightly under the force of the magical force.

“What just happened?” Midnight asked, a note of awe creeping into her voice.

“Forget Starshine.” Regulus ordered. “We’re going to Moonwatcher.”

“Regulus, your horn is – “ Twilight began, but she was interrupted quickly.

“Forget my horn!” He shouted. In a more normal voice: “The Seer needs to see this. I’ll explain when we get there, but let’s get there quickly.”

“But – “

Quickly.”

“Fine!” The unicorn mare surrendered. “To Moonwatcher, then!”

“Which way?” Arcturus repeated, apparently unfazed by the magical artifact hanging around his neck.

“I’ll give directions. Just start walking.” Regulus told him. “May the Stars prevent us from meeting anypony from my family on the way.”

“Why?”

“Because then my humiliation would be complete.”

Author's Note:

Well everypony, it's been a while. Computer troubles and school work prevented me from writing nearly as much as I would have liked, but Chapter 8 is finally here! As per usual, point out mistakes, share your thoughts, use the thumbs up button and its evil twin below...and enjoy!