• Published 13th Jan 2013
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The Lion and the Unicorn - Feather Book



When Twilight finds herself stranded in an alien land of sand and war, she must find a way home from this crazy wold.

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6. The City of Gold

Chapter 6: The City of Gold

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The Grand Librarian was an old man. He had seen many things in his life. He had travelled far and wide, to all the corners of the known world. He had seen many people, read many books, and had more knowledge than any other man of his time. But he had never seen a man as angry as the Grandmaster was now. If he didn’t know better, the Grand Librarian would suggested that his lord had gone stark raving mad.

“It was right here! On this table! It looked at me, and when I tried to attack it, the thing attacked me with some kind of light and ran away!” yelled the Grandmaster. He hadn’t stopped moving around the table and gesturing at it since the Librarian had arrived.

“I understand, sire,” the Librarian said hesitantly, “But with all due respect, the guards haven’t reported any sightings of this… unicorn. Nor have they overheard any rumours or stories about it.”

“That’s why I asked you to devise a way to see it.” Along with the words some foam escaped the Grandmaster’s gritted teeth. “I judge that you have made progresses?”

“As a matter of fact, my Lord, I have,” calmly replied the Librarian. He reached into his large sleeve and removed a small vial containing a clear blue liquid. “In the folktales of the Pollarains, there is a story of a man who could see and communicate with mystical beings. It is also said that a sorcerer devised a concoction to allow anyone to see these mystical beings. This is the result.”

“And you want me to drink it?”

“I’ve already tested it my Lord. I can assure you that it is safe for consumption.”

The Librarian remained calm in the face of the Grand Master’s glare. As always, whenever something new was presented to the Grand Master, he had entered a staring contest with it. And as always, it stood a good chance of losing. It, in this case, being the vial. Finally the Grand Master held out his hand, and the Librarian was more than happy to hand it over. The Grand Master wasted no time in downing the concoction before making a face resembled a melting death mask.

“It tastes like stale urine,” he finally gasped.

“Well, that is one of the ingredients,” answered the Librarian. “Along with ash, sand, sea salt, a number of different herbs, sweat of a dying man, horse se-“

“That’s enough,” snapped the Grand Master. “I honestly have no idea how you people can come up with such things.”

“Not everyone has the right mind for the job,” offered the Librarian. The Grand Master’s glare was more than enough to make him believe that he should shut up or something very bad would happen to his person.

“How do we know if it works?” he asked.

“Well, can you see a unicorn?” said the Librarian.

“If I could, I wouldn’t be here debating it.” The Grand Master steadied his hands on the table and let out a sigh. “Just… Just get enough for my personal men to have. I’ll inform them all myself of what’s happening in the morning.”

“Of course, my Lord. By your leave.” The Librarian gave a short bow as the Grand Master waved him off. As he exited the tent into the cold night he turned his mind the ingredients, or rather lack of them. He let out a long sigh as he started walking towards the nearest corral.

It was times like this that he hated his job.

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There were few defining features around beyond sand, rock and dirt. It was depressing for Twilight. The few features that did break up the monotony of the landscape were the occasional dead shrub and tree. She had walked all night, which was a mistake itself. Now her eyelids were so heavy she expected, if properly tethered, they could raise the sun. The early morning rays that washed over her face almost made her believe that.

She slowly trotted up a rocky hill and looked over into the valley painted red in the early morning light. She was surprised to see on the other side a sea of stone pillars and columns that jutted out of the sand like matchsticks scattered in a sandpit. Twilight remember reading that this land is the great crossroads of the world. Ships and trade caravans have travelled these lands for centuries. Civilizations and empires had risen and fallen, and these ruins were the remains of one such civilization.

Twilight clambered down the hill and came to rest under the shade of an old broken pillar. She lifted her water skin in her magical glow and let the cool liquid flow down her dry throat. Next she brought out the hard loaf of bread; she tapped it with her hoof and instantly knew that back in Equestria would be a crime to feed it to ducks, let alone for pony consumption. Anypony caught trying to sell this as food would definitely get at the very least a very hefty fine.

Twilight snapped off a clump of bread and placed it in her mouth. Spending a month living on the stuff, along with some helpful tips from Robert and Catherine made eating the stuff easier, but it wasn’t any more enjoyable. She almost broke a tooth or two.

After a short rest she walked further into the ruined city. The wind blew through the ancient half-buried walls. Around each corner Twilight half expected to see ghosts of ancient humans going about their undead lives.

Twilight soon passed through a crumbling stone archway and into a wide avenue surrounded by continuous rows of broken seats. It didn’t take long for Twilight to realise where she was. This must be a hippodrome; she remembered that they were popular in ancient Equestria before stadiums and race courses came into popularity.

Standing in the ancient stone stadium, Twilight began to feel the weight of history bearing down on her. On this dirt track in ancient times, great athletes galloped gallantly for glory. She closed her eyes and could almost hear the sound of their hoofs hitting the ground over and over. Drawing nearer in their speed and the crowd cheering, “Twilight, Twilight-“

Twilight’s eyes shot open just in time to see Joey skid to a dusty halt in front of her, kicking up a large brown cloud as he went. The unicorn coughed and swished the dust away with her hoof only to see the stallion’s face, plastered with a large smile just inches from her muzzle. “Hello Twilight!”

“Joey? What are you doing here?” Twilight asked.

“We’re here to help you, Twilight,” Catherine answered as she slid off the horse and landed unsteadily on the ground. “What do you think you were doing running of by yourself?! I warned you about the dangers around here!”

“Well, I’m sorry, but maybe I didn’t want you getting hurt by those dangers!” Twilight snapped back. The two females glared at each other until a weak cough by Robert caught their attention.

“Umm, so now that you’re here, can I go back?”

“Yes!”

“No!”

Both females scowled at the opposite for their answer, neither willing to back down. A cold war had fallen across the baked ruins like an unwelcome winter storm. An emotional arms race was building up between the two combatants and both sides were balancing on the brink of battle. Only one spark was needed to send them over the edge and spiralling down into a unicorn-on-human fight.

Twilight’s mind raced for an answer. A tactical pre-emptive strike seemed to be the best option. Catherine’s face twitched. She must have had the same idea.

And then, there was an argument.

“I told you to stay back at the camp!”

“I can do whatever I want! You’re not my Lord or Lady!”

“But it’s dangerous! You could have been hurt!”

“So could you! I know that you are not immortal!”

“I know that, but I have magic! I’m the most-”

“In a fight against merciless Aysyrrasins, anything could happen!”

“Swords are easy! I can disarm them before they even knew what hit them!”

“But how much fighting have you done!?”

“More than you! Besides, I’m invisible!”

“Robert and I can see you! It isn’t impossible for anyone else to!”

“I can teleport! I can levitate! I can fire blasts of pure energy!”

“But you can still be in danger!”

“So can you!”

“Nnneeeiiigggghhhh!”

Both were broken out of their bubble of argument by Joey’s sudden input. “Umm… Sorry,” the horse said as he smiled sheepishly and moved out of the space between them.

Catherine and Twilight turned back to each other. For Twilight though, the rage was gone, replaced only by a sense of disappointment. Catherine frowned.

“Twilight,” she said, “in the stories you told me, what would have happened if you had faced Nightmare Moon alone?”

Twilight knew what she was doing. The unicorn turned her eyes to the ground. Catherine was right; she knew it. Part of her still didn’t want to admit it. “I… I wouldn’t have been able to stop her,” she meekly said.

Catherine kneeled down in front of the unicorn. “And what about when you were fighting Discord?”

“Only by remembering our friendships and sticking together we were able to stop him,” Twilight said in a near whisper. Catherine smiled and gently placed her hand under the unicorn’s chin and brought her face to face. Twilight still refused to let their eyes meet.

“And what about the Crystal Empire? What if Spike didn’t go with you?”

“Then… We would have lost…” A tear fell from her eye. “I… I’ve been so stupid. I’m sorry, Catherine.”

Catherine simply hugged the pony. “I know you have. But we all make mistakes. I promised you that I would help you, and if you think that I’m going to spend another minute in that camp slaving away in a kitchen to feed a load of ungrateful men, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Twilight hugged Catherine back. All the memories of her adventures with her friends in Equestria came pouring into her. For the first time since she arrived, Twilight cried. Tears fell from her eyes and soaked Catherine's clothing as the human hugged her and rubbed her back. “There, there, it’s okay,” Catherine said comfortingly.

“I-I’m sorry…. I just miss them,” Twilight said between her sobs.

“I know you do, that’s why we’re going to help you get back. Isn’t that right Robert?”

Twilight looked around to see Robert turn his head away shyly. “Well… I-“

Joey gave a harsh whinny.

“Okay, okay.” Robert sighed as he dismounted the stallion. “Twilight I... I just... I want to help, I really do,” he said, his feet digging into the sand as he attempted to find a stable place to stand.

“It’s okay. I understand,” Twilight replied. “I know that you have to think about your family and your loyalty, among other things. I don’t know what Rainbow would do in your position... I don’t know what I would do. But I do know that your heart sometimes makes better decisions than your brain.”

Robert finally had sat down on a old stone slab. “My father did that once,” he said quietly. “I... I promised him that I would always be there for my family... but now I’m here in this sand, facing death each day all because of some childish dream of being a knight. I’m just a farmer! My father was one and his father and his father. I... I was never meant be anything more that one, too.”

“Robert, I-”

“No, Twilight... I... I can’t go back now. It’s morning and they know I’ve gone and taken Joey with me. I’m a thief, a deserter, a... a craven. They’ll kill me if I go back.”Robert said, a tear running down his cheek.

Twilight truly felt sorry for Robert. Part of her was mad at Catherine for dragging him out here. “Robert,” she said as she rested a hoof on his leg. “I never asked for you to come... But I promise you, if I find a way home then I will do all I can to help you get home and be safe. Just as much as you’ll help me.”

Twilight looked towards her as she gave him an honest smile. “I don’t know how you’ll do it, but what choice do I have?” he gulped and his lips curled upwards into an unsure grin. “I’ll... I’ll help. Thank you, I guess.”

He did not expect the sudden hug.

--------------------

Twilight looked over the small sand coloured stone wall. “It’s true,” Robert gasped, “The city is made of gold.”

“Don’t be silly,” Catherine replied. “It just looks like gold, doesn’t it Twilight?”

Twilight looked down the hill to the high yellow walls that rose out of the green land by the large river. The city surely did look like gold in the light. Its walls were higher than Canterlot’s yet inside there were many towers and spires that seemed to be competing with each over to see who could reach the sky first. Large green and turquoise domes rose between them from the red and gold buildings within.

“Well, it is obviously made out of some sort of gold coloured stone. Or it could just be yellow sandstone or even gilded stone,” she said.

“Well, either way I’ve seen nothing like it,” Robert said.

“I’ve seen the king’s castle back home and the city around it. But that is nothing compared to this,” Catherine added.

“Well, let’s get down there and start looking,” Twilight said.

“Wait!” Catherine placed a hand on Twilight’s shoulder to stop her. “Don’t you think we would be a little suspicious?”

Twilight looked between the two. Catherine's peasant’s dress and headscarf that kept the sun off her dark hair, along with her tanned skin blended in very well with the locals they saw. Robert, however, couldn’t stand out more if he was bright pink and green with a large flashing light over his head. He wore his full covering of chainmail under his white surcoat with the sun of Solaris. His sword was still strapped to his side and steel mail and white cloth covered his blond hair.

“Well, I’m invisible, remember,” Twilight said. “And you aren’t that different from them, but you, Robert; I doubt you’ll get anywhere near the gates without being arrested… or worse.”

“Gee, thanks, Twilight,” the human deadpanned.

“We could go in and find him some new clothes,” Catherine suggested.

“How? We don’t have any money.”

Catherine just wiggled her eyebrows in response. Twilight frowned in disappointment. “You’re planning on stealing them, aren’t you?”

“Not stealing, just borrowing.”

Twilight couldn’t help but let out a disgruntled sigh. She hated the idea. She knew it was wrong, but she also knew that Catherine was right.

The two females made their way down the hill and towards the grand gates. They looked even bigger and more imposing as they walked towards them. They passed rows of small huts that had grown outside the walls. Traders and vendors were on either side attempting to sell their wares to any travellers before they got within the confines of the Golden City.

“Twilight,” Catherine hissed as she slowly walked down the streets. Much like the unicorn her eyes scanned all around cautiously, hoping that no one would spot them. “I can’t understand a thing they are saying.”

“I know,” Twilight replied. The strange tongue of the locales sounded similar to that of the Saddle Arabian’s, although that was one language Twilight never thoroughly studied. They made their way through the city gates and stood in awe at the site of gold colour buildings decorated with marble, red brick and turquoise tiles arranged in geometric patterns.

Rugs and sheets with carefully sown decorations and patterns hung from rooftops and lay beside the buildings that lined the cobblestone avenue. A long flowerbed with large green shrubs and palm trees ran down the centre all the way to a large domed building in the distance.

“It’s so big,” Catherine whispered.

“The Crystal Empire seems so small compared to this,” Twilight replied. “Well, the Crystal palace is tall, but this city is… more compact.”

The city’s inhabitants paid then no attention as they made their way through the streets and towards the large domed building. They passed under golden archways and though a small well-kept garden. Large banners of green and white fluttered in the wind. Twilight had thought it odd that the Solarian’s symbol was near identical to Celestia’s cutie mark, but the sight of a near identical representation of Princess Luna’s cutie mark on the banners came as a greater surprise. ‘It can’t be a coincidence, can it?’ she thought to herself as they made their way out of the sun and into the coolness of the great building.

The soothing rhythmic sound of a man chanting echoed through the great hall at the centre. Twilight herself had never been in a room this large. Five tall pillars stood at the sides and reached high up to the domed roof that arched overhead as if it was the sky itself. On it was painted in blues and gold what must have been a blind mathematician’s idea of the night sky working of a poet's description. Around the edges red and gold walls rose up to meet it with windows and arches for galleries on the floors around the great chamber. At the far end a large window let in the sunlight onto the back of an old man in golden robes and a long white beard. It was his voice that filled the room as he read from a large book that was gently laid on a wooden stand in front of him. Large cushions rested under him and incenses filled the air around with a sweet smell.

“I’ve got an idea,” Twilight said as she walked over the tiled floor and up the podium to the man. Her horn lit as he read, the light washed over him and the unicorn before spreading to Catherine. Twilight focused on the strange writing in the book and the words that he spoke. Before long she began to understand them.

“…Said, ‘I am the bringer of the day and the night, for they both must exist for there to be harmony. Fear not the sun that burns in the day, for my night guides you and keeps you safe from the darkness. I am the Lord Munass, and you are my children…’”

As much as Twilight wished to continue listening she turned and walked back to her companion. “I… I can understand them,” she gasped.

“Yes. It was magic,” Twilight proudly replied. “Now let’s go and find some clothes for Robert.”

It wasn’t hard to find the market. It was a long maze of stores under long arched roofs. Catherine was soon running off like a foal in a candy shop to see all the sights, sounds, smells and to sample the tastes. She grew very fond of a sweet called Tarqis Delight. The shopkeeper, however, was less than pleased that she took all the free samples.

Soon, to Twilight’s dismay, Catherine was able to acquire some suitable clothing for their metal-clad friend and made their way back towards the city gates. Twilight’s fascination never ended as she got as close to the people as she dared, watching their lives and eavesdropping on their conversations, so long as they weren’t private of course.

“I’m telling you, they brought something big into the treasure house,” she heard one man whisper to another. Twilight stopped trotting and listened some more. “It all came from the Holy City; they reclaimed it from those Solarins. Walid sent out a message saying how it was unlike anything he’d ever seen before-“

“And look where he is now,” The other man replied. He had a big black beard and wore green robes. “Whatever it is, once it’s in there, there is no way to get it out. I will not lose another good thief on a fool’s errand.” The two turned and walked down an alleyway.

“Catherine,” Twilight said to the confused woman. “Go and find Robert, I’ll meet you back here in a bit.”

Catherine looked ready to argue but only nodded and continued to the gates. Twilight followed the two into the dark confined spaces between the buildings. She stepped past rats and beggars in ragged clothing and out into a quieter street. She saw the two men disappear through a door and close it behind them. She looked around for anyone watching before she moved up and placed an ear to the door.

“But what about Walid?” said the first voice, muffled by the distance and the door. “He’s just a kid.”

“He knew the risks. The first rule is not to get caught. He broke it and now his fate is up to the Emir.”

Twilight lit her horn and in a flash teleported inside. A group of men were sat in the dark in a ring of pillows and cushions. A tea set was in the centre along with burning incense. Some men were dressed in fine blue, gold and red silks and opposite them sat others who only wore rags and dust covered tunics. “I still say that we should try breaking in,” one of the poorer ones said.

“Yeah. Just because it’s never been done before doesn’t mean that it can’t be done,” another added.

“No, no, no. It’s far too dangerous and risky. There are guards everywhere,” an older one added.

“But Walid-“

“Forget about Walid,” the man in green said. He seemed to be the leader. “I will have no more talk of this. You all know the rules of our creed, the first of which is do not get caught.”

That was the end of it for the group. They went on to talk about items that they had stolen from the town’s people. Twilight silently left them and trotted back towards the gates in deep thought. If this treasure room was the same one in the letter, then how in Equestria would she get in? Magic could work, but without knowing what was on the other side, she ran the risk of getting trapped inside a wall or object. She turned back to the main street, at first ignoring the laughter and clatter of hooves as armoured men on horseback rode past. A scream, however, diverted her attention to the two horses in the middle of the group.

“Oh no,” she gasped as she saw Catherine hogtied on the back of one and Robert bound behind another, being forced to run after the horse or otherwise be dragged through the street. And Joey was simply being led along behind, as absent minded as always.

Twilight could only watch as they were lead away and towards the large gates of a citadel that rose above the town.

Author's Note:

Sorry it’s late. And an extra special thank you to my proof reader Legofan24.

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