Chapter 13: Rock Bottom
Deep in the underbelly of Rainkeeper Mountain, three groups of ponies stood on the shore of an underground lake. A pillar of dim light was shining through a shaft that led all the way up to the top of the mountain.
At the edge of the water stood Celestia, and laying just behind her in a deep slumber was Greed, recently brought back from the clutch of death.
Celestia’s mane hung limply from the water that was dripping off her body. Her chest heaved as she spread her good wing and stood in front of the unconscious body of Greed, ready to defend him from the group of ponies pouring in from a tunnel that led to the cavern.
Three pegasi flew in the air above their heads. Sneering ponies stared them down like a creature eyeing it’s prey. Some of them wore pieces of ragged clothing or goggles that covered their eyes. Celestia’s breath was growing labored but she ignored it.
Fate and Trixie were pushed forward towards Celestia by a group of close to a dozen bandit ponies. The bandits entered the cavern and surrounded the group, passing remarks to one another.
Fate trotted up to Celestia and gave her a friendly smile. “It’s good to see you again, princess. I knew you would make it back, even if this isn't really what I had in mind.”
“Are you alright?” Celestia asked.
“Don’t worry about me.” He answered her. “I’m fine now that I know you’re ok. Or...as ok as you could be, given the situation.”
A yellow earth pony with brown hair and wearing a red bandana around her neck stepped forward and spoke in a loud voice. “I would very much like to know what so many ponies are doing running around our caves.” She said, looking Celestia over.
“We mean you no harm.” Celestia said as boldly as she could.
“Your appearance begs to differ. In fact you look like a pony who just inflicted a great deal of harm.” The earth pony looked down at Greed, lying just behind Celestia.
Celestia panted as she was reminded of her injuries. Her leg and left wing both complained about the projectiles that had tore open part of their skin.
“This pony had something I needed.” Celestia frowned and looked at Greed.
“Well you had better be done taking things, it might lead you into some real trouble.” She sneered. “What is your name, alicorn?”
“Do you not recognize me?” Celestia asked, shocked. “I am Princess Celestia, ruler of Equestria and princess of the sun.”
Noise filled the cave as the circle of ruffians burst out laughing. Celestia grew from worried to confused at their reaction. The yellow earth pony raised her eyebrows.
“Yer lyin’!” A pony in the back of the cave yelled. “The princesses are all dead!”
“Well, maybe not.” The yellow earth pony spun around and gave the pony a mean look. “Maybe Nightmare Moon missed one. Just imagine how valuable the last princess could be.”
“Yo, Red.” An orange pegasus colt whispered into the earth pony’s ear. “We’re wasting our time here, let’s trash em already!”
“Control yourself Autumn Dasher.” She whispered back. “That grey one’s claim might be right after all; she might be a princess, maybe even Celonia herself.”
“That’s a load of horse feathers, Celonia would have smashed us already if she wasn’t dead. She’s gone, you saw her crown!”
“It wouldn’t be the first time Nightmare Moon has pulled the wool over everyponies eyes. I will see who she is myself, and if she’s lying we will punish her for wasting our time.”
Autumn Dasher flew a few paces away from the earth pony with a look of impatience. He leaned his head and whispered to another bandit next to him while looking at Red Hood.
“Listen to me.” Celestia said. “I really am the princess, but Nightmare Moon has taken the throne from me and I am working to get it back.”
“Yeah sure you are!”
“Celonia’s dead you liar!”
“Let’s get em’ good!” A number of the ragged bandits yelled over each other at Celestia. Fate chuckled to himself at their barbaric tone.
The earth pony sighed to herself and scratched at her bandana. “Let’s all calm down.” She said in a loud voice. “Celestia, or whoever you are, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Red Hood and I would like to apologize for the rudeness of everypony here.”
“Hey!” Autumn Dasher shouted. Red Hood ignored him.
“Let’s go somewhere quiet so we can talk. Just us.” Red hood said with a small smile.
A number of the bandits grew restless and started loudly complaining again.
“Why you huh?” Autumn Dasher demanded with a frown.
“Because,” Red Hood turned to him and stared him down. “I’m the only pony here who has any semblance of thought. That’s why I tell you to do things, and you do them. Need I remind you who found you rummaging through garbage bins in the back of a ruined Canterlot bakery? And that we were the first ones to the Canterlot vault? Be quiet and let me handle it.”
Fate raised his eyebrows and turned to Trixie. “I love all this juicy drama, don’t you?”
Trixie turned her head away from Fate with a scoff. He either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
Autumn Dasher looked at Red Hood for a moment then grew angry. Before he could retort Red Hood turned back around. She frustratingly loosened her bandana before addressing Celestia.
“I feel as though we have much to discuss. Come with me, I insist.” Red Hood said forcefully. She turned and gestured to the tunnel that lead back to the caves.
Celestia looked around the large cavern and then at Fate. Fate made a face that said: “Not like we have a choice.”
The pain in Celestia’s leg and wing reminded her that she couldn’t hope to get herself and the other three out alive, especially since she didn’t precisely know where she was.
“Alright,” Celestia played along. “but only if they come with me, and no harm is to come to them.” Celestia gestured to Fate, Trixie and Greed.
“Nopony will harm them.” Red Hood gave another smile. “Can you walk alright?”
Celestia took a step with her back leg and winced. “I will be fine.” She bluffed.
“Well, let’s go then.” Red Hood insisted, turning around and walking down the tunnel that led back to the bandit’s home. “Oh and Autumn, carry the blank flank, he seems unable to carry himself.”
A few of the bandits followed Red Hood, pushing Celestia, Fate and Trixie forward. Trixie waved her hoof at them as if to shoo them away. One of the bandits responded by pushing her hard onto the ground.
Trixie stood up to respond but shrunk back when she saw the angry look in their eye. Autumn Dasher grumbled again as he flew over to Greed and slowly lifted him onto his back, straining under Greed’s heavy weight.
Half of the bandits went into the tunnel, with the other half boxing the three ponies in. Their snarls echoed off the grimy stone walls. Dread passed over Celestia as she was closed into the cage of bodies.
Lit lanterns and loose stone passed Celestia as she limped along the tunnel next to Fate. She looked over her shoulder and saw Trixie following behind them, her look of disgust still present.
“Fate, are you really ok?” Celestia whispered to Fate. “How did you get here?”
“Like I said, I’m ok now that you’re here. And I got here by taking a stroll while you were gone, but these fine folks found me and scooped me up like candy on Nightmare Night.” Fate answered.
“Do you know the way out?”
“I don’t remember, it’s pretty confusing down here. I did meet Miss Trixie though, she used to be a magician I think. We got along pretty well. Oh, and we also found this, but I have no idea what it is.” Fate looked at the book tied to his back. The words The Penthus were marked with dark, worn yellow ink.
“Perhaps most importantly my mane got messed up when they dragged me in here. It was terrible, my mane is lucky to be alive.” He said, shaking his messy green hair.
“Fate please, this isn’t the time to be joking around.” Celestia snapped.
“But I’m serious, my mane-”
“Hey!” A pony wearing a bandana over her mouth shouted to them. “Keep quiet!”
Red Hood shook her head in disgust, pulling frustratingly at her own bandana.
“I know you’ll get us out of here.” Fate whispered to Celestia. “One way or another.”
Celestia gave an exhausted sigh. “If I could handle Greed I can handle these ponies. I won’t let anything happen to any of you.”
“That’s the spirit.” Fate said.
The trail of ponies passed through the dimly lit tunnels that stretched on as far as the eye could see. Wooden frames made to hold up the ceiling passed by, relics of the mine’s former inhabitants.
As they progressed, a much larger cave opened up to them. It was shaped like a large round dome, with various tunnels branching away from it. Piles of treasure and gold laid haphazardly around the edges of the room and inside old minecarts, seemingly forgotten about.
All throughout the room were poorly made tents and wooden huts, contrasting the enormous mounds of wealth around them. The camp was more reminiscent of a shanty town then someplace where wealthy thieves might live.
“In here.” Red Hood walked up to a door in the rock wall. The door opened to a room well lit by lanterns. Fancy furniture decorated the room, and it seemed to be the only place that had benefitted from having a great deal of money.
Celestia took a last look over her shoulder and reluctantly walked through the doorway, ducking her head under the low frame. Fate followed her inside, looking around the room. Trixie stood in front of door, refusing to go inside.
“Inside.” Red Hood said. “Now.”
Trixie gave Red Hood the most rotten face she could muster before a pony pushed her from behind, sending her stumbling into the room. Autumn Dasher fumbled getting through the door and angrily dropped Greed on the ground.
“Now, get out. I want to be alone with them.” Red Hood stated.
“What? Red, you’re kidding me-” Autumn complained.
“Alone.” Red Hood cut him off. “Give me five minutes alone.”
Autumn Dasher puffed his cheeks in a rage. “Why? You wanna help ‘em escape or something?"
“Absolutely not.” Red Hood angrily replied. “Now get out.”
Autumn Dasher took one last look at Celestia and Greed before storming out of the room, slamming the door behind him. Red Hood picked up a key off of a table at one end of the room and locked the door with a click.
Red Hood sighed slightly and walked over to a cabinet. She opened it to reveal a yellow blanket and pulled it out. She spread it onto the ground and placed a lantern in front of it.
“Sit.” She gestured to the blanket and sat on the other side of the lantern. Celestia carefully laid down on the blanket. She felt the warmth of the lantern begin drying her coat.
Fate sat down next to Greed and Trixie near the door and untied The Penthus from around his midsection. He adjusted his hair while watching the two mares around the lantern. Trixie simply poked at the ground, away in her own angry little world.
“Now then...” Red Hood’s smile faded. “Let’s talk, Princess Celestia. I’ve been waiting a very, very long time for this moment.”
Red Hood sat across from Celestia on the other side of the lantern. She watched Celestia for a moment before looked past her to the door.
“They want you dead.” Red Hood stated. “They don’t really know why, but they do. It’s all they ever want, it’s fun for them. I doubt they even care that one of you almost killed Star Chaser.” She looked at Fate and Trixie.
Fate stopped adjusting his mane and looked over at Trixie. Trixie smiled to herself slightly, refusing to look Red Hood in the eye.
“Miss Red Hood.” Celestia started. “I don’t want anything to happen to anypony here. We can work out an agreement with you and your friends.”
“Friends?” Red Hood looked almost disgusted. “Those cretins are not my friends. In fact, I hate them. We used to work together, taking whatever we wanted, but now they just let their sadistic ambitions lead them by the nose.”
“If you do not like them, then we can take you with us on our travels. You don’t have to live with them.” Celestia offered. Fate’s ears perked up and he looked at her in surprise. “I can clear up any of the confusion regarding Nightmare Moon.” She finished.
“Oh I know who you are Celestia, they don’t, but I do. So long as I live I will never forget you. The thought of you kept me from falling for Nightmare Moon’s lies.” Red Hood said.
“What do you mean?” Celestia asked.
“Nightmare Moon didn’t just change the way Equestria is, she changed the way it thought. The first thing she did was cast a memory spell on every major city. Within a month nopony even knew you were born.” Red Hood explained.
“She made everypony believe you were a horrible ruler named Celonia, and that she liberated Equestria from you. But not me, she couldn’t fool me. I hate you too much to forget you.” Red Hood frowned.
Celestia froze. “Whatever it is I did to hurt you I’m sorr-”
“Oh of course you’re sorry, you were just doing your job. Don’t you remember me? Manehatten, fifteen years ago. It was the biggest gem heist the city had ever seen. It was me.”
Celestia’s eyes focused on Red Hood for a moment before she recognized her. She had spent years trying to find her, but she never expected her search to end like this.
“Thieving was in my blood. Even at a young age I was good at it. It’s exciting; the thrill of taking whatever you want, the rush of playing outside of the rules. It was true freedom. I even got a theiving cutie mark, but it seemed that me living out my destiny was not allowed.”
“You sent your best guards and your brightest minds after me, but I always kept running. Years passed as I was forced to keep doing the only thing I knew how to do. You forced me to waste my life running.”
“Red Hood,” Celestia said in a disarming voice. “things are different now, we can work everything out between us.”
“Ah, now you’re finally making offers to help me, something you should have done many years ago. Did you ever think about what your laws did to ponies like me? Did you think that your actions would not have consequences for others?”
“I am truly sorry for how your life played out, but I could not let broken laws go unpunished.” Celestia said.
A crash on the door interrupted them, causing Trixie to jump away from the door then quickly try to recompose herself.
“Time’s up Red, let us in! We need to teach em a lesson for comin’ in to OUR caves!” Autumn Dasher shouted on the other side of the door. A number of other ponies shouted in agreement.
Fate leaned his head towards the door and listened to the bandits shouting. Trixie scoffed to herself and started brushing some dirt off of her hooves.
“They sound like they want your heads on a platter.” Red Hood said, shaking her head. “It’s all they ever want; not gold, not the pleasure of taking what isn’t theirs, just killing. There’s not even any good thieves left in this world. They’re disgusting.”
“We can work together, Red Hood, we can make everything right between all of us.” Celestia said while Red Hood walked over to a cabinet.
“No, no you can’t.” Red Hood said and opened the cabinet, revealing a red box with a metal ‘T’ sticking out of it. She carried it over to the rock wall that had a small wire protruding out of it. “It’s far too late for that. You ruined me, and now I’m going to ruin you. I’ve been waiting a long time to do this...”
Red Hood took the small wire in her mouth and plugged it into a small hole in the box. Celestia’s eyes widened as she recognized the box. Fate looked from Celestia’s face to the box and his jaw dropped open.
“Whoa,” Fate said. “are you serious?”
“Red Hood...” Celestia said, slowly rising to her hooves. “Let’s keep talking about this.”
“No.” Red Hood sat down and smiled, her hooves resting on the metal ‘T’. “I finally get my chance, and I’m going to take it. This box will set off a dynamite charge that will cave in this whole mine, right on top of all of our heads. You, me, and all those disgusting lunatics banging on my door.”
“I’m done pretending I care.” She spat.
“What!?” Trixie stopped trying to brush the dirt off of her hooves and looked up in surprise.
“Red Hood, think about what you are doing.” Celestia reasoned. “Revenge is not worth your life. If you do this you will never be able to do anything more with your life.”
“You took my life! This is simply returning the favor; it’s fairness. Isn’t that what laws are about? Creating fairness?” Red Hood said.
“Not like this. The fair thing to do is to give everypony a chance to change. That’s why there is no threat of death within my laws, I don’t believe anypony is so bad they cannot change. That includes you, Red Hood.” Celestia said, carefully stepping closer to Red Hood.
Red Hood pushed down on the metal level slightly, making Celestia stop in her tracks. The shouts of discontent from the bandits seemed to grow louder with every passing moment.
Celestia’s horn glowed as she prepared to rip away the box.
“Stop.” Red Hood shouted. “If I see your horn glowing I push this switch.”
Celestia backed off, disarming her magic. “Then why haven’t you yet?” She asked.
“This is the last thing I’ll ever do, and I want it to last. Even if I won’t live to see it, revenge on you will be sweeter then gold.” Red Hood said.
“I gotta go with Celly on this one.” Fate said. “This is kind of nuts.”
“How...how dare you!” Trixie suddenly blurted out, nervously peeking at Celestia and Fate. “Y-You dare threaten the great and powerful Trixie? Why, Trixie is the-”
“Trixie is a loser!” Red Hood cut her off and turned towards Trixie. “Even when your life is at risk you attempt to force your own importance onto this new audience. You talk about yourself because nopony else will.”
“Red Hood, calm down.” Celestia said desperately.
“Wh-ho-you...” Trixie sputtered.
“I made you what you really are: a fake, a useless pony with the mouth of a braggart. You couldn’t perform real magic even if I didn’t break your horn. You are a liar and a cheat!” Red Hood leaned her head forwards tauntingly. “You could never-”
The golden hilt of a sword appeared behind Red Hood’s head and smacked her in the back of her light brown mane. Her eyes rolled back and her body tumbled backwards onto the wall. For a moment the only sounds that could be heard were from the bandits banging on the door.
“That’s enough.” Celestia firmly stated. With a flick of her horn Celestia cut the wire coming out of the box using her sword. A quick flash and the double sided Excalibur vanished from sight.
Fate dramatically exhaled a sigh of relief. “Phew, some negotiation there huh Princess?”
Celestia shook her head. “I was out of time.”
“So, what’s the plan now?” Fate asked, leaning casually on Greed’s head.
“Find a way out of this room, then find a way to get away from this mountain.” Celestia answered, ignoring the casual tone of his voice. Her horn glowed and she moved the red box out of Red Hood’s reach.
A loud crash could be heard outside the door. Splinters began to crack in the area around one of the hinges.
“I’m assuming a way other then that?” Fate said.
Another crash of a body smashing into wood answered his question. Celestia limped over to the cabinet and began pushing it in front of the door. The polished white cabinet scraped against the smooth stone floor.
“Fate, help me with this.” Celestia strained as her tired magic slowly moved the furniture piece.
Fate nodded and leaned his shoulder into the cabinet. Celestia placed her hooves onto the cabinet next to Fate and pushed. The two ponies pressed against the wood and it slowly moved along the floor.
Fate peeked his head up at Celestia and a small smile grew on his face. “You have a real knack for finding trouble, Princess.” He said sarcastically.
“Not now Fate.” Celestia said with a hint of exhaustion.
A small awkward laugh came out of Fate’s mouth. He turned his head away and continued pushing the cabinet.
Across the room Trixie looked at Red Hood’s unconscious body with pure rage. She hated that pony more then she had ever hated anyone or anything before. The pony that had insulted her and taken her magic.
With one last scrape on the rocky floor, the cabinet was nudged into position in front of the loud door. It responded with angry yells and more banging.
Celestia turned and focused her magic on Red Hood’s limp body. Fate looked at her confused.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“I look at her and I see a sad, broken pony, and I’m not going to leave behind another pony who needs help. Not again.” Celestia said, turning to look at Fate.
“I’ve had some dumb ideas in my time but that is insane. Are you sure?”
“It’s my duty to help ponies, and I’m going to help her.”
“If you say so.” Fate said, laughing and shaking his head. “You know...you’re just too good for your own good, princess.”
As Fate and Celestia were talking, Trixie on the other side of the room, eyeing Red Hood’s body with anger. Trixie pushed up her hat and walked over to Red Hood. Her eyebrows furrowed and she turned around, pressing her front hooves into the rock.
With all the strength she had she raised her back legs and bucked Red Hood in the chest as hard as her body would let her.
“I am NOT a loser!” She screamed as she kicked her. Her face began to grow red with rage.
“I am not a nopony! I am important!” She yelled as she repeatedly kicked Red Hood. Celestia and Fate stopped what they were doing and turned to her.
“I am the great and powerful Trixie!” Trixie yelled as tears started to roll down her face.
“Stop!” Celestia shouted, pushing Trixie back with her magic. Trixie laid on the ground and turned away from Celestia, pulling her hat down and wiping her cheeks with her hooves.
“I’m not a loser...I’m not...” She whimpered quietly.
“Trixie...” Celestia said as she approached Trixie.
Trixie walked away from her and sat in the corner of the room. Celestia watched her slump in the corner then turned her attention to Red Hood. Placing her ear on Red Hood’s chest she could hear an extremely slow heartbeat.
Her horn glowed again and magic covered Red Hood’s body. Fate looked at her impatiently as she focused.
After a few moments Celestia stopped using her magic and shook her head with a heavy sigh. Celestia looked at Trixie with disappointment.
“She won’t make it.” Celestia said with a hint of thinly veiled anger.
“What a shame.” Fate said. “And here I thought we didn’t have enough troublesome ponies to make friends with.”
Just as Celestia whipped her head towards Fate she felt a breeze pass through her still damp mane. She turned towards the draft and saw part of a hole in the wall covered up by a large painting of the city of Trottingham.
The painting showed a large city at night, with a tall central tower souring above the rest of the buildings. Celestia looked at the painting with a moment of longing. Her reverie was quickly broken by another loud bang on the door.
Celestia tossed the painting off the wall to reveal a tunnel. She bent her head down to look into it and saw a faint light coming from the distance.
“Look.” Celestia turned and said.
Fate looked at her and his eyebrows raised in surprise. “Nice find, where’s it go?”
“Away from here.”
“Sounds good to me. Hey, what are you doing?” Fate interrupted himself when he noticed Celestia picking up Greed’s body with her magic.
“We’re taking him.” Celestia said.
“But why? Didn’t you take his magic already?”
“This is my decision, we don’t have time to discuss this right now.” Celestia said forcefully. A crash on the door emphasized her point.
Celestia turned to Trixie. “We’re leaving. You too Trixie, let’s get out of here.”
Trixie pulled her starry cloak closer to herself.
“Trixie, listen to me, you are not a loser.” Celestia said. “Every pony has something that makes them great. Come with us and you can be free to find it.”
A wave of heat swept over Trixie and she tugged on her hat, thinking of her broken horn. She lowered her head quietly, staring at her hooves.
Another crash and the sound of wood splintering made Fate jump. The polished cabinet jerked forward as the bandits slammed into it. Autumn Dasher could be heard yelling through the door, drowned out by the others around him.
“Red, open this door right now!”
“Our five minutes are up.” Celestia said. Straining her horn, a yellow glow appeared around Greed and he was lifted up into the air. He floated into the tunnel in front of Celestia and she stepped into it after him. “Let’s go.”
“Yeah.” Fate responded, tying The Penthus around his midsection and stepping in after her.
“Trixie, last chance.” Celestia looked back at Trixie, still staring at the ground in a mix of anger and sadness. With a kick she got to her hooves and entered the tunnel, her head hanging low.
Celestia looked back down the dark tunnel and inhaled deeply. The only way to move quickly would be to run on her injured leg. She ground her teeth and ran, with Fate and Trixie just behind her.
The pain in Celestia’s leg burned, but she ignored it. The light at the end of the tunnel broke through more of the darkness as they galloped closer.
“So Princess,” Fate said over the sound of their hooves. “you think after we escape they’ll invite us back for Hearth’s Warming Eve? They seem like a nice group of-”
“Fate!” Celestia shouted, cutting him off.
Fate’s mouth started to open to say something else but he quickly closed it and pressed his lips together. The three kept running, echoing the sound of hooves galloping on stone off the walls.
Back in the furnished room the group had just abandoned, a yellow earth pony coughed painfully, spitting blood out of her mouth. Red Hood opened her eyes and felt her entire body crying out in pain.
Her eyes opened to the sight of Trixie’s cape escaping far into the black tunnel and disappearing from view. A desperate anger filled her barely conscious mind and she looked down at her wounded body for the red box.
Looking to her left she saw it on the ground. She made a few painful swipes at it with her broken limbs and pulled it closer to herself. Bringing her hooves up to the lever, she brought it down with a click.
But nothing happened. Looking down she saw the wire that Celestia had cut.
“That’s not fair...” She muttered, coughing again.
The sound of ponies smashing into wood faded away from her hearing. As she laid there she could feel her waves of pain coming from her skull.
After what she believed to be a minute her brain recognized the sound of a door lock splitting and a cabinet falling to the ground. A group of shouting ponies poured into the room, searching for something to vent their bloodlust.
Red Hood opened her eyes a sliver and could see a blurry image of Autumn Dasher leaning over her. He was speaking but she couldn’t understand anything he said. The sight of him brought not relief, but disgust.
With great effort she stretched her hoof out again towards the box. She fell over on her side and started trying to tie the wires back together.
Autumn Dasher yelled down at her but she only heard garbled noise. “H..y..........alking to yo...you le...them...un aw...like .ittl..........”
Her hooves fumbled over the wire, twisting the two ends together. After Autumn Dasher stopped yelling for a second Red Hood finished tying the wire back together. Ignoring the screaming pain in her neck she looked up at him and uttered one last thing.
“Shut up you worthless ponies...”
Her hoof raised up and grabbed hold of the lever atop the red box.
Celestia’s left wing hung limply at her side, adding to her strain. She pushed on through the tunnel and soon it opened up for her.
The tunnel opened into a cave filled with piles of gold and treasure. Running past those, she found a row of wagons. But more importantly then the wagons she saw, for what felt like the first time in a long time, grass.
The cave opened up into a field of grey grass that lie at the foot of the mountain, and a breeze swept through the cave. Celestia quickly looked over each wagon. Finding the largest one, she turned back at Fate and Trixie and motioned to it.
“We’ll take that one. Everypony get in.” She ordered.
Four worn, wooden wheels supported the basic wagon. The back was nothing more then a wooden platform with some simple walls made of wood to contain a pair of small crates it held. In the front was a wide seat and two harnesses for ponies to pull the cart.
Celestia placed Greed in the back of the stagecoach and Fate hopped in after him. He pushed Greed’s body to the side, and used the crates to hop up into the driver’s seat. Celestia looked back to encourage Trixie to get on, and found her staring at something.
Something that made her eyes well up.
A yellow wagon with a red roof lay in a pile of rubble nearby. Dirt and rocks covered a smashed purple sign with a light blue wand in front of a thin crescent moon.
Trixie stared silently at her destroyed wagon. Her life lay in pieces before her very eyes. Everything she was was in that pile of rubble, turned to nothing at the hooves of those she had failed to entertain.
“Hurry.” Celestia ordered.
Trixie ignored her and simply sit and stared at her old wagon. Celestia grabbed Trixie with her magic and lifted her into the wagon, then stepped in after her. The open stagecoach barely had enough room for the four of them with each taking up one of the corners.
“Hey princess, normally I’m fine with taking a cab, but shouldn’t we have somepony to pull this?” Fate asked, sitting in the front seat while looking back at her.
Celestia silently responded by filling her horn with magic. The wagon jittered as Celestia’s magic coated it. After flashing yellow, the wheels slowly creaked. They turned and the cart started to crawl forward from the come-to-life spell.
Wheels met grass as the wagon entered the plains. Celestia watched the cave leading into the dark pit of sadism for pursuers but none came yet.
Just as Celestia dared take a breath, she saw the colorful outline of a group of ponies charging out of the caves. She prepared her horn again to hold them off, but as she did a series of fiery explosions blasted throughout the caves.
Large billowing clouds of dust roared out of the mouth of Rainkeeper Mountain like the last roar of Red Hood’s rage. The shockwave from the blast knocked the occupants of the escaping wagon to it’s wooden floor.
Boulders rained down into the cave, crumbling to pieces from the explosion. More screams were heard and soon swallowed up by the roar of the rocks.
One pony flew past the others and towards the exit, but his attempt was cut short by a boulder tumbling onto him, followed by a mountain of rubble. Celestia clung to the sides of the wagon, praying it would stay together.
Stones rolled down the mountain and chased after the stagecoach, licking at it’s wheels as Celestia picked up the speed of her spell. The ponies in the escaping wagon held on as they were bumped around along the rumbling ground.
The loud boom gradually silenced it’s vicious roar as the speeding wagon ran from it. Over the tumbling stone echoed screams of the poor souls trapped inside made their way into the plains.
The stagecoach slowed to a halt a safe distance away. It’s three awake occupants stared back at the carnage in shock.
Nopony knew what to say as they stared into Red Hood’s final act of hatred. Echoes sounded through the plains, slowly dying out into a whimper before disappearing altogether.
Three pairs of eyes filled with adrenaline looked at the billows of smoke fading into the air. It faded out until only the noise of rolling pebbles remained.
“Well...I’ve never had quite a rush like that before.” Fate said from atop his seat.
While Celestia stared in disappointment, Trixie looked at the rubble with a certain satisfaction. It felt good to watch somepony get what they deserved. She pulled her hat lower and curled into her corner of the wagon, wrapping her cloak around her.
Celestia sat up against the wooden wall and leaned her injured leg over the edge of the wagon.
“Bah, good riddance.” Fate said playfully. “They were terrible hosts anyway.”
“Fate.” Celestia looked back at him sternly. “A dozen ponies just died, why do you make light of that?”
“Because they were worth caring about. There is far too much in play to worry about every wasted ruffian. You’ll go bonkers if you try to overcomplicate things.” Fate leaned his head back onto the seat and looked up into the clouds.
“These are pony’s lives we are talking about, ponies like you and me.”
“Oh I don’t think there’s any ponies like you or me.” Fate said with a smirk.
“Every death is a tragedy to someone, somewhere.” Celestia said more sternly.
“You’re overcomplicating things. If you try to think about every single pony your brain will explode. You need to keep things nice and simple: bad guys gone now, good guys still here.”
“If ponies all thought that close-mindedly the world would be a terrible place. I am a princess, I must think about every one of my subjects, I am responsible for them. Including those which have wronged others.”
Fate was about to speak but Celestia’s eyes told him she wasn’t going to be dissuaded. She waited for him to say something else but he instead shrugged and turned around, leaning his head on the back of the seat.
Celestia turned her head back to the mountain, which looked decidedly more grim then when she arrived. She shifted her weight so that her left wing could hang freely. “We should keep moving.” She said.
With that the wagon lurched and it’s wheels continued carrying them through the plains towards nowhere in particular.
“Trottingham should be nearby.” Celestia said and looked around. “We’ll find it and then we can figure out what to do next.”
Fate nodded halfheartedly, seemingly satisfied with her answer.
An awkward silence passed between the two, and Trixie’s skulking corner of the wagon did nothing to alleviate it. Greed’s bulky presence didn’t help either. Fate simply leaned against the back of the seat and stared ahead.
Celestia looked at Greed and sighed inwardly. “I killed him you know.” She said, looking up at Fate.
“Huh? Who?” Fate asked.
She looked back to Greed. “It was a split second decision, my life or his. I chose mine, I had to.”
“You’ve never killed anypony before have you?” Fate turned his head around and looked at her.
“No. When I did I looked into his eyes and as he died all of his anger disappeared and I saw a scared little colt. He was afraid for perhaps the first time in his life. He couldn’t even speak he was so scared.”
“I feel like you’re forgetting he tried to kill you.” Fate said.
“He did, but would you not have done the same? He was born from the Elements meaning he was formed by magic, it’s who he is. If I took that he would be no more. He knew what I wanted, and he reacted accordingly.”
Fate touched his chin with his hoof. “Well, that’s all a good point, but another good point is the fact that he’s dead now. You should be able to just take his magic and be done with him.”
“I’m not going to kill him.”
Fate raised an eyebrow. “He looks pretty killed to me.”
“When I tried something in him clicked and he was suddenly filled with life again. I don’t know what type of magic it was, but it was powerful.”
“Weird element powers?” He asked.
“Possibly.” Celestia answered.
“Well, that does give us free reign to kill him when it comes too it.”
“He could be a powerful ally. His skill with weaponry will be invaluable if we convince him-”
“IF being the key word.” Fate cut her off. “Not when, but if. This is a suicidal move and I do not want to see you pay dearly for it. Are you that desperate to finally make progress that you consider saving the pony who almost killed you a victory?”
“Or maybe you feel guilty again and are trying to save him, like you wanted to save them.” Fate pointed over Celestia’s head back towards the mountain.
“He does not have to die because of me and my sister’s rivalry. He was given a chance nopony is ever given, and I will not let it go to waste.”
“If you keep him alive, he WILL try to kill you again. Keeping him close will only mean nothing but unnecessary misfortune. I doubt he will be very glad to finally open his eyes after being killed and see you looking down at him asking for a favor.”
“There must be something he wants, something he’s always been looking for. Once we defeat Luminaria I can give it to him. I can convince him to side with us.”
Fate shook his head. “And I suppose we’re bringing Trixie too. Heck, let’s just open up our own little orphanage and let everypony in it. Those who try to kill us get extra desserts!”
Celestia looked him square in the eye. “The only kind of pony who would kill someone is a broken one.”
“But I don’t want-” Fate blurted out a few words and then closed his mouth. “Look, I know that in the end everything will work out but it’s just unnecessary trouble.” He said in a more somber tone.
Celestia waited a few seconds, looking up into the sky. “What do you know about loss?” She asked rather quietly.
“Excuse me?” Fate asked with a hint of defensiveness.
“I’m old Fate, older than everypony I’ve ever known. Everypony I come to love passes on, but I still live. I’ve made and lost hundreds of thousands of friends. They don’t get to keep living along with me...” Celestia stopped and thought for a moment. “That’s the curse of eternal life. What I have to live through. I’ve come to accept it, but that doesn’t make every funeral any easier. It’s hard to let go.”
A pregnant pause floated in between them. Fate was about to say something but Celestia spoke first.
“But the elements have that same curse. They are two centuries old, and when everypony else dies they will still be here too.”
“And you don’t want to be alone.” Fate said.
“If I can’t save my sister...then I will be. As much as I truly love all the ponies in Equestria, I’ve never had friends who can live with me forever, just Luna.” She looked at Greed with a look of longing.
“And I don’t want the elements to be alone like me. I want to give them lives they can love for the rest of time.” Celestia looked up at Fate, who was leaning his chin on the back of the seat staring off into the distance.
Fate looked at Greed and Celestia could see a glint of relection in his gaze. “I get whatcha mean... Fine, we’ll take him. But..I was kinda hoping that it would be, ya know, just us doing this. Back near Ponyville, seeing you again made me feel I was home for the first time in ages.”
Celestia could hear pained undertones running in his voice. “Again?” She asked.
Silence was her answer. Fate shifted his eyes to something off to his left. Celestia could tell he had something buried deep in his mind; he had the look of someone who knew what misery felt like.
“Fate.” Celestia said. “Who are you, really?”
He almost looked like he was about to say something when he suddenly turned around and looked at Celestia’s leg, which was lightly brushing the taller blades of grass they traveled over.
“You need a wrap on those.” Fate said plainly, ignoring her question entirely. “Here, this grass should work.” He sat up and leapt from his seat down onto the crates and into the back of the wagon next to Celestia.
He leaned his head down as far as he could stretch it and chomped his mouth down on a chunk of passing grass. Without making eye contact with Celestia he spat out the grass into the cart and grabbed another mouthful.
Using his hooves he started separating the longest blades out to use for wrapping around Celestia’s leg. The grass was twisted together with teeth and hooves, slowly forming a braid.
“You never actually told me why you wanted to help me. I understand that you do, but why?” Celestia asked him, trying to approach the topic from a different angle.
Fate wrapped the grass around her leg and looked away for a second. “Because there’s still so much more in store for you, and whatever it may be I know you can take it. You just need a little help. ”
Fate carefully wrapped the bandage around her leg and tightly pulled it into a knot using his teeth. Celestia grunted as pain shot out of her wound but died down slowly.
“Because...well...I want to. You remind me of something I had a long time ago, and I don’t really have anything else.”
Celestia froze for a moment and saw a hint of reflection in Fate’s eye as he focused on braiding a second, slightly smaller braid. After tying it he spun his hoof in a circle gesture. Celestia twisted her back in the cramped space to expose her left wing.
“What was it if I may ask?” She asked as Fate wrapped the braid around the base of her wing.
“I’d rather not talk about it.” He said and grabbed the braid in his teeth, yanking it tight with a little more force then necessary to emphasis his sentence.
“But you should.” Celestia said in between a grunt. “If you have something that’s bothering you, we should talk about it.”
“Why are we talking about me? You’re the poor wounded pony here. In fact, here you should take the seat up front.” Fate motioned to the driver’s seat, barely making eye contact with her. “There’s more room up there, and you’re big.”
Celestia didn’t move, letting silence seep into his brain.
“Oh, I don’t mean like...I’m not saying... you’re not...never mind...” He stuttered and rubbed the back of his head with his hoof.
Celestia stood up and inspected her new improvised outfit, which felt about as comfortable as anything so hastily made could feel. As much as she wanted to press him further, she was too tired right now and he seemed adamant about avoiding the subject.
Before she left she leaned her head down and gave Fate a small nuzzle on the side of his head. “Thank you very much.” She said earnestly.
Fate smiled and gave a tiny nod. Stepping onto the boxes Celestia was careful not to step on Greed or use her injured leg. She stepped up into the wide seat and softly sat down on her side with her leg laid out and her wing resting against the back of the seat.
A warmness went through Fate and then passed. He leaned his back on the wooden support and half-smiled to himself. He looked off into some random direction and drifted off into his own little world.
Another silence swept over the cart. Whether Trixie was asleep or just not interesting in contributing to the previous conversation was anyponies guess.If she was sleeping it was probably the first sleep she had outside of a cell in weeks.
As much as Fate thought bringing her and Greed along was a mistake, maybe, just maybe, he would be wrong.
While Celestia rested in the front seat, Fate untied The Penthus again and placed it nonchalantly on Greed’s chest. He sat in front of Greed and opened the thick old book, using Greed’s body as a podium, ignoring the crate next to him that could have served just as well.
As he went through some of the pages of his plunder he quizzically tried making sense of what he saw. Every page was filled with names, none of which he recognized. Every one of the names was crossed off with a red ink.
He flipped backwards through the crusty pages until he got to the first page. It was blank except for a few faded lines in the center:
This tome is dedicated to those who will bear the suffering of my selection. For those whose lives are chosen to be filled with misery until their chosen time.
Those miserable few who will live sufferable lives as nothing, and live on in death as nothing.
May their suffering surpass mine tenfold.
Fate read the lines and raised his eyebrows. “Yeesh, this is some fantastic bedtime reading material.” he thought to himself.
Fate turned to the second page and saw it was also filled with names, all inked out with red. But the two names at the top of the page were unmarked.
The words were clearly very old, possibly the first words written in the book. Fate looked over at Celestia to mention it to her, but decided it could wait.
“Perhaps another time.” He thought, closing the book. “One more secret for now won’t hurt.”
Leaning it against the crate, Fate sat on the edge of the wagon and let his hind legs hang off the back. He sighed and looked over his shoulder at Celestia. Greed was lying just below her on the cart’s floor.
“Just too good for your own good my little princess...” He thought, shaking his head. “But I suppose that’s ok. After all, everything will be alright for us in the end. I know it will.”
Grass passed under Fate’s hooves and he looked up at the sky, preparing to wait out another long journey to wherever they would end up.
Celestia sat and listened to the rumbling of their portable bastion that carried them through the planes like a boat floating through an ocean. As much as Fate would deny it, she knew he was holding something in him and it was something he didn’t want to face.
There were many questions she had for him, but it would be better to wait until another time to ask them. Perhaps if they got to Trottingham he would grow more receptive.
Celestia closed her eyes and thought about her sister for what felt like the hundredth time that day. The Elements of Dissonance could defeat Luminaria and bring Luna back, she just knew it. That hope was all she had left.
She knew permanent decisions would have to be made, but she was not going to let them be made for her anymore. She would not fight to kill her foes as her sister chose to do, but to help them.
As the wagon trundled forth the grass grew shorter and a faded dirt trail was up ahead. Celestia turned the wagon onto the trail. Odds were good that it led to Trottingham.
To those four ponies it would mean real shelter and real food, something Celestia had not known for a month now. Perhaps the ponies in Trottingham would know her name, or at least come to remember it in time.
But to the alicorn it was a beacon of light, a chance to make some things right.
Far up ahead on that lonely trail, her questions would become answered one by one, although the answers she received would do little to put her mind at ease.
And so the band of outcasts trundled on towards their uncertain futures.