"Praising what is lost, makes the remembrance dear."
A powerful bang rent the frozen air as two ponies, one brightly furred and one greyed with age, were dropped unceremoniously from the air and into a deep bank of snow. Immediately the younger one righted herself, horn still glowing slightly from the residue of her magic, and cast her eyes around to find her bearings.
The sun hung just barely above the horizon here, falling ever closer to sleep, and the air was bitingly cold. It was obvious that this place was much farther to the northeast than City Seven, which had still glared brightly with the harsh light of noon. A slicing wind picked up and drove down upon Daylight, whipping her mane about her face and stinging her eyes. Squinting, she looked around, adjusting slowly to the dim light.
Tall buildings surrounded her, the likes of which she had never seen before. Spiraling towers of glistening white stone reached their fingers high into the sky, towering far taller than any building in City Seveneven the monolithic Department of Public Safety would be dwarfed in comparison. Gilded patterns stretched across their clean stone faces, and at their very tips Daylight saw metallic golden roofs sparkling in the last remnants of the day.
But what caught her attention most was the tangible power that hung heavy and thick in the air. The city almost seemed to pulse with a magical energy, sending vibrations down Daylight's horn. Every brick, every mortar seam, every door and window, decoration and fence, crevice and crack, felt as though they had been made by the combined magic of thousands upon thousands of unicorns. There seemed to be another presence as well; the feel of something indescribably ancient, a power that wasn't quite there anymore. Like the echo of an entity that Daylight couldn't quite comprehend.
The unicorn turned her head, looking in both directions down the narrow street upon which they had fallen. Although she doubted that word would have reached so far so quickly, she couldn't be too careful. Wherever she was, she was still under State jurisdiction, and that meant that they had to leave. As she turned to sit back down she noticed her companion face-down in the snow beside her, singed mane blowing in the wind. Her heart skipped a beat.
"Applejack!" In a panic she turned her aunt over, searching for signs of life. The elderly earth pony was breathing, and that was good, but she wasn't conscious. She nuzzled her aunt, trying to rouse her. They couldn't stay here, or somepony would surely find them
especially if somepony saw two strangers, one badly singed and unconscious, in the street near curfew.
"Applejack, please wake up!" Daylight checked over her shoulder even as she tried to gently wake her aunt. The way was still clear.
Applejack stirred, and Daylight's heart shone with hope and relief. "Come on
" she nudged Applejack once more, and the earth pony's eyes opened a crack.
"D... Daylight? That
you?" she asked softly, craning her neck to look around. "What the hay happened... where are we?
Daylight helped her aunt to her hooves, steadying her concernedly as she wobbled. "I
I don't know. But we've got to get out of here. It's probably not safe. Are you alright?"
"Yeah, ah'll be fine. That spell of yours just knocked the wind from me, s'all." Applejack smiled weakly as they began to walk, Daylight keeping a close eye on her aunt's balance as they walked down the street. The marble corridor stretched out before them, long and winding, farther and farther, like the slithering coils of an ancient sea serpent. The darkened windows in the white stone glittered at them as they trudged past through the snow.
Dark glass, white stone, dark glass, white stone, shadowed stoop, white stone
the buildings and their void-like fenestrations seemed to stretch on forever, but at least the terrible wind seemed to be dying with the last rays of the sun. Magical street lamps flickered on as the orb's last traces vanished, and Daylight cursed inwardly. There would be few places to hide here, should anypony notice them. She picked up her pace, Applejack doing her best to keep close behind.
They had not long to go before Daylight found herself presented with a dreadfully similar situation
one she had faced not an hour before, back in City Seven. A broad center street lay before them, brightly lit and obviously well-travelled. The snow had been stomped flat by the beating of many hooves, and even lay frozen in some places where it had been melted by the ponies' combined body heat. But at least the Siren had not been tripped here; its eerie wail was conspicuously absent from the frigid city air.
Hopefully, nopony would be waiting on the street for her this time. With Applejack in tow, she doubted that she could easily trick any shopkeepers.
Peering about in the dark, Daylight spotted a small alcove in the face of a nearby building, completely cloaked by shadow. "Applejack," she whispered, catching the older pony's attention, "Wait in there while I check to see if the coast is clear." The old pony nodded reluctantly before complying; what else was there, really, that she could do?
Daylight took a deep breath to compose herself and once again straightened her sweater
which was unfortunately singed. Then slowly, ever so slowly, she peeked around the corner at the end of the road and into the main street. To the left, she saw nopony: just an empty, illuminated street. Cautiously she turned to the right too, and let out a sigh of relief as she saw the same. Before she could withdraw her head to call Applejack over, however, something caught her eye.
At the very end of the main road, not even a hundred meters off, was the entrance to a massive marble fortress. The façade of the construct was every bit as ornately carved as the elegant architecture of the rest of the city and stood barely illuminated, rising as a grand and terrible monolith into the night sky. Where it rose into the inky darkness it blotted out the stars, leaving only a dark void in their place. Smashed stained-glass windows bespeckled its visage like dark, unhealed wounds. The construct exuded despair and pain
much like a tomb.
She found herself drawn inexorably into the street, cautious steps plinking, muffled on the wet stone. Two colossal pillars held a roof above a reinforced door that could easily have been ten meters tall, and above them a massive, striking banner loomed. The Eye's piercing gaze looked down upon her, drilling into her with mesmerizing potency
she could almost feel it pulling at her senses, tugging her closer, blanking her mind.
Her eyes locked with its single enormous pupil, pitch black and unblinking, and suddenly a feeling of contentedness washed over her as the Eye seemed to suck everything negative right out of her life. She found herself unwittingly setting down her haunches as the waves of peace rolled over her, just staring up into the Eye, not caring about anything else in the world. A whisper began to slide into her mind. It crept up from the darkest recesses of her consciousness, unintelligible but fascinating, tugging at her memories and thoughts, plucking at them as a spider plucks at its web.
"Hey!" A high-pitched voice suddenly broke the spell of the Eye and Daylight started, turning quickly to see a pink earth pony smiling behind her. Suddenly everything rushed back into her mind: the danger, the fear, the sick guilt. Her heart beat like a drum in her chest, terror surely visible in her wide eyes. She did her best to hide her fear and act calm, to act as though she was supposed to be there, but she was sure that the minute tremors rumbling through her head and legs would give her away.
"Hello!" the pink pony sang, cocking her head at Daylight. "I don't know your name! I haven't seen you around here before, which means that you must be a new transfer, what's your name? Mine's Pinkie Pie."
Daylight looked the pony over as she struggled to form coherent speech. The pony was about her size, and appeared to be the same age. Her mane was a brilliant pink, filled with wild and bouncy curls that fell across her light fur in undulating waves. It was her eyes that Daylight noticed the most, however. Pinkie's pupils were unnaturally small, and her eyes flickered about, darting everywhere while all the while maintaining a focus on Daylight.
"I said, what's your name?" As the pony repeated herself all of her previous elation drained from her voice, turning cold and hard.
Daylight swallowed, throat dry. "Oh
The pink pony's eyebrows furrowed, a scowl crossing her face. Her teeth clenched. "Name!" The word was spouted angrily, gratingly.
" Daylight frantically searched for a believable name that wasn't already taken. "
Tourmaline. Tourmaline Treasure," she finally lied.
A frown snaked its way across Pinkie's face and she leaned forward, uncomfortably close to Daylight. Their eyes locked in a stare, Pinkie's no longer darting about but stone-still, and Daylight could feel the hot breath from the pony's nostrils across her own numb nose. Pinkie's eyes narrowed dangerously as she began to speak slowly.
" Pinkie stayed there for a moment, seemingly deep in thought, before suddenly all of the happiness returned to her voice. "Well!" A smile crossed her face, one that Daylight found deeply unsettling. "I've got somepony to find. See ya!" She skipped away, humming a gay tune.
Daylight stood in the street for a moment, utterly confused. What was that all about? While it was unbelievably good luck that the pink pony hadn't recognized herthat meant that they were probably safe on these streets, at least until a particularly keen Peacekeeper spotted themshe was entirely unnerved by the encounter. With shaking legs she slowly made her way back to the alley.
Something about that pony was nagging at her. She seemed oddly familiar, as though they had met some time long, long ago, and she couldn't quite place the feeling; trying to grasp at it was like trying to hold water in your hooves. No matter how hard you tried, it just wouldn't work. As she neared the alcove where Applejack was hiding, she shook it from her mind. They needed to get out of here.
Before she reached her destination, however, a horrible thought trickled into her mind. The buildings here were so ornate, so massive
such buildings weren't allowed in other cities. There was nowhere else that this could be.
This was City One.
Though she'd only heard little snippets of information on City One from various coworkers at the Department, she knew enough to recall that the only way out of the city would be through the immense front gate. The gate that was, without a doubt, the most heavily guarded and watched location in the entire State. And unless Daylight could manage another teleport, or they both somehow managed to sprout Pegasus wings, she and Applejack would have to pass through that very entrance.
They were going to need a miracle.
With haste, she trotted the last few yards to Applejack's hiding spot. "Okay, it's safe. Just cross the road quickly and don't look at the Eye
there's something funny about it."
Applejack nodded, but her mind seemed to be elsewhere and her expression was troubled. Had she heard the conversation between Daylight and Pinkie?
At any rate, she seemed quickly enough to shake it off. They darted across the street as quickly as they could without causing their hoof beats to echo in the cool night air before slipping into another darkened, twisting side street. The avenue was roughly parallel to the main street, and Daylight hoped that this meant that it led in the same direction
toward the City Gate. Her hopes were weighed down heavily by dread, and fear of what might be waiting for them should they be caught.
The alley wound around the curved buildings of City One, large-paneled windows reflecting the lamps' light on either side of them. Within, dusty shelves displayed the rotting remnants of forgotten trades: old stained plates that may have once displayed baked goods, bins that might have held vegetables, moth-eaten mannequins and trinkets of all sorts and sizes. Daylight's eyes drifted from side to side, her eyes wide and awed by the strange things surrounding her.
Her eye was suddenly caught by a dress-form sitting inside the frost-encrusted glass of a bay window display. A fancy dress was artfully arranged upon the rotting form, and the bluish hues of the fabric had lost their luster to time and sunlight, but the fifty or so silvery stars that had been masterfully sewn into the fabric still shone with the same brightness and clarity that they had no doubt possessed the very day that they were created.
An inexplicable sense compelled Daylight to stop in front of the dress so suddenly that Applejack, still cantering along behind her, ran directly into her rump and spilled the contents of one of her saddlebags in the process. Daylight gave no notice to Applejack's startled exclamation or her aunt's efforts to pick the items up. She simply stared at the dress, conflicting emotions bouncing around her mind. This dress was more than a piece of clothing. It meant something.
Such splendor. Whoever created this must truly have been a master of their trade. Whoever wore this
must have been a pony of importance. Applejack glanced up from replacing the contents of her bag and followed the path of Daylight's longing eyes.
" Applejack muttered upon seeing the garb. "C'mon Daylight, we gotta go." Her voice wavered as she pushed lightly on Daylight's flank to keep her moving. Very reluctantly, Daylight tore her eyes from the faded fabric.
As they resumed their previous course, Daylight turned one last curve and found herself looking at the end of the avenue. She slowed down, Applejack following suite. The intense beams of magical light that flooded both the end of the avenue and the area beyond glared in Daylight's eyes, but through them she could make out the enormous gate beyond. It was tremendous, built with such weight that one pony never could have opened it by themselves, and it was closed. The bronze-like metal was smooth, criss-crossed with frosty patterns. It stood still, perfectly unified with the marble curtain of the wall as if it were a seamless part of the stone.
And it was surrounded by guards. Daylight counted the Peacekeepers: seven, all unicorns, and all intently aware of their surroundings. A groan of frustration bubbled up through her lips. There was absolutely no way that she and Applejack would be able to make it past the Peacekeepers. And even if they could, the gate was firmly shut and locked.
Resigned, Daylight turned back to Applejack. "We're going to have to find another way out
" Worry pervaded her tone, and Applejack slowly nodded.
"Ah think yer right. Say, can't ya do that tele-thingy again? Ah can't say ah enjoyed it
but it sure as hay worked!" Applejack allowed a small amount of false cheer to enter her tone.
Daylight shuffled her hooves together nervously. "I don't know
I can give it a try."
Applejack sidled up beside her, pressing close, as Daylight began to draw upon her magic for the third time in the past two days. She concentrated, picturing the spell in her mind and forcing her magical essence to go to work. Every ounce of energy she had left in her body she focused, holding her breath as her horn began to warm and glow slightly before petering out. Daylight gasped for air and tried once more. It was no use.
"I just can't
" Daylight sighed, close to frustrated tears. She clenched her teeth.
"It's alright, Daylight," Applejack soothed. "We'll find another way."
don't you understand? There is no other way!" Applejack recoiled at Daylight's harsh tone.
"Now Daylight, ah know it may seem"
"NO! It's not about what it seems! It's about what it is!" Daylight cut Applejack off, stamping a hoof. "And it's my fault
it's all my fault. I got us into this and now it's going to kill us both!"
"It's alright, sugar cube." Applejack returned to sit down next to her, tentatively reaching out a hoof to touch Daylight's mane. The yellow unicorn shook it off.
"It's not alright. If I hadn't gone looking for Dinky then none of this would have happened. We wouldn't be here, we'd be at home
"Daylight, ah want you to listen here. Dinky was your friend. In mah lifetime I've learned a thing or two about friendship. Were ah in your place, ah would have done the same thing."
Daylight sniffed, disbelief evident in her tone. "Really?"
"Yes, really. It's even in our blood."
Daylight cocked her head. "what do you mean?"
Applejack sighed. "This may not be the best time, but ah have to tell ya eventually."
"Tell me what?" Daylight's voice had faded to little more than an exhausted whisper.
"About your mother, Daylight. And your father, too."
Daylight's eyes grew wide.
"Way, way back, there was no State. There was a land called Equestria, ruled by two kind princesses: Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. You weren't but a little filly then, so ah ain't surprised you don't remember. Our family owned a farmSweet Apple Acres is what we called it. We grew the best apples around." Applejack licked her lips wistfully before continuing. "Your father and ah worked the orchard. His name was Macintosh, but we all jus' called him Big Mac. And he was a big feller, that's fer sure.
"But one day a new pony came to our little townPonyville, that's what we called it. She came from the Royal city of Canterlot and took up residence in the local library. Her name was Twilight Sparkle."
"Library? As in books?" Daylight gasped, almost in horror.
"Yes, Daylight, books. Everypony read them in those days. Well, almost everypony. But your mother loved them especially. As ah recall, it was almost impossible to get her away from them. She knew a lot of things
more than any other pony ah knew."
what did she look like? My mother?"
"Well, a lot like you actually, but you get most of yer looks from yer father. She was a unicorn, purple coat with a deep purple mane. She had probably the prettiest dadgum cutie mark ah'd ever seen. A six-pointed star, surrounded by five smaller stars. Just like the night sky."
Daylight was utterly confused. "A
cutie mark? What's that?"
Applejack frowned, brow furrowing angrily. "Back then, everypony had a special talent all their own. And when they figured out exactly what it was, an image would appear on their flank, each one completely unique to the owner an' showing what they were good at. Ah had almost forgotten it wasn't there no more." She looked back at her own bare flank sadly. "From what ah understand, it was some of the most powerful magic in Equestria."
where'd it go?"
"Ah don't rightly know. They all seemed to vanish right after the State came into power."
There was a pause.
"What was she like? What did her mark mean?"
Applejack looked up at the stars. "Her cutie mark was all about magic. She was the personal student of Princess Celestia, you know. Nopony else in all of Equestria could match her one on one in terms of magical ability. She was one of the nicest ponies ah knew, too. Ah learned so much from her while she was, well
"Applejack stopped to swallow. "'fore you ask, ah don't know how it happened. Ah'd left Ponyville long before that."
Daylight was silent. This was a lot for her to take in. After a moment, she piped up. "Why did you leave?"
Applejack hesitated. "Macintosh
there was an accident," she said, obviously distressed by the memory. "Ah couldn't work the orchard without him. Mah friends all tried to help out, but ah couldn't take advantage of them forever. Mah younger sister, Applebloom, had run off someplace after what happened, so ah just had to let the farm go under
" she sniffed, looking away from Daylight. "So then ah went off to help mah cousin Braeburn with the orchards in Appleoosa. Apple growin's all I ever really knew
without Sweet Apple Acres, ah just had to find someplace else."
Daylight stayed silent, unsure of what to say.
"Right when the State took over, she sent you to live with me, back in Appleoosa. Er, City Seven ah guess, now
" Applejack trailed off, her gaze moving from the stars to Daylight who sat in front of her, eyes puffy with unshed tears. "She sent something to you
a little package, ah was supposed to give it to yabut ah never did. Ah'm sorry ah never gave it to you sooner
Ah jus' wanted to keep you safe
Applejack slid her saddlebags from her back, unlatching the faded green cloth of one of the pouches. From underneath the bags of Haylent she pulled a small package, wrapped in dirty brown paper and tied off with a length of aged twine. Daylight took the package in her hooves and looked up at Applejack, unsure of what to do.
Daylight drew upon her magic and, with the utmost care, slid off the twine. She didn't want to damage even the knot that her mother had tied all those years ago. Luckily the string slipped off with ease, and Daylight unwrapped the brown paper with the same care, folding it neatly to the side. Beneath the crumbling wrapping she found a small letter, sealed with crimson wax and ribbon and sitting atop an ornately bound tome.
She took up the letter, prying the delicate seal from the parchment with the utmost care. Afterwards she let her magic take hold and unfolded the letter before her. A thin gold band fell out and sang with metallic resonance on the cobblestones. Daylight almost couldn't bring herself to read the lettershe was afraid of what might be written on that page. She was afraid of the past
afraid of hearing her mother speak to her, for the first time within her memory.
But soon her desire to hear just that became overwhelming, and she began to read. The writing was lacy and fanciful, more so than any pen work Daylight had ever seen. Yet something seemed off about it; the words were tilted and uneven. It was almost as if the writer had been hurried, frantic, desperate.
I don't know when or even if you'll receive this, but you must listen carefully. Dark forces are at work in Equestria, and I fear that they will take from you what you haven't even yet had the chance to experience.
I send this with you in the hopes that it might help to reignite the spark, should it ever be extinguished in your heart. With this letter I have given you my copy of 'The Elements of Harmony: A Reference Guide' and the ring that your father gave me on the night of our wedding. With these I hope for you to learn and remember what true magic is.
I am sorry, Daylight, that we must part like this. Perhaps someday we will see each other again. But should we not, I want you to know that I will always love you, no matter what.
Daylight read the letter again, and then a third time. Though painfully short, it was all she had. She looked down at the thin golden ring that had been folded in with the letter, almost invisible among the clumps of snow and cobblestone. These were the last precious relics of a happy time long ago. Irreplaceable treasures, a link to the past that she had long forgotten. Daylight levitated the ring in front of herit was plain and unadorned save for a faint inscription that Daylight could just barely read along the outside:
"For my one and truest love."
Daylight quickly slipped the ring onto her own horn, wanting to keep it close. Her face screwed with grief as she felt the cold metal come to rest on her forehead and tears ran openly down her cheeks, quickly freezing in the ever-falling temperatures of the winter night. She held the book tightly against her chest. Memories were flooding back to her now, all of her fillyhood. She remembered the smell of the library, with all its books lining the walls. She remembered Spike, and the donuts that she loved so very much, and even the telescope that she had broken.
She remembered the night that they came.
But most of all, she remembered the warmth of her mother's embrace.
She could almost feel her.
The night was silent as Applejack waited for Daylight to speak, save for the soft drip of half-frozen tears on the stone walkway.
Why did you have to leave me?