The Silent Shore
Written by The Descendant
Chapter 3: "The Elder Lord"
The water washed over her, filled her mouth and her nose. At once Dash felt her breath escape her. She pedaled hard, felt her hooves strike against something.
At once there was a feeling that she was being pulled, dragged. Something, something was tugging at her!
As the last bit of her air burned in her lungs she threw her head wide, felt it contact whatever was pulling at her. At once there was a cold feeling, and the rush of water around her ended and she immediately drew a massive breath.
She spun around in place, fighting to her hooves, attempted to look upon whatever had been dragging her
and saw the old hat and dearly familiar face of Applejack before her.
"R.D.?" asked Applejack, her own face seemingly ashen, deeply set and worried.
Rainbow Dash wobbled to her feet. She was as cold, wet, and confused as a newborn foal, and her knees knocked together both from the cold and the remains of the visions she had seen while high above the faces that
She went weak again, falling forward into Applejack's offered hooves.
Together they sat there on the silent shore, the mist covered reaches beyond the sea. As Applejack's warmth flowed into her friend neither Dash or Applejack spoke. Each seemed to sense the other wobbling in uncertainty and deep confusion fear.
"Dash, you okay?" asked Applejack after a long while.
"You saved me," she said, turning to face Applejack, "A.J., A.J., I'm so grateful, I'm "
"You was only in about a foot ah' water," said Applejack, her face still emotionless, "I thought ya'd gone loco too cold fer' swimming this time of year."
Rainbow Dash shuddered again, another great tremble went through her, this one composed both of the shuddering cold and the realization of what it meant that she'd not been so far out to sea
"But, but I fell I fell so far," she said, "If I'd landed on the beach, I'd I'd be "
No, no she'd fallen into the water. Deep water. It was the last thing that she remembered remembered as the faces
She shuddered hard once more, realizing that somepony something must have brought her up out of the sea. Must have laid her in the shallows watched over her until Applejack drew near, kept her muzzle from the water
The vision of the fog, the faces, around her unconscious body filled her with a new dread even as she wondered at what it meant that that she'd been saved
Saved by the dead.
Applejack saw Dash still shaking, still trembling. It was only when Dash looked up to her that she saw the expression across her face an expression that she knew she must be mirroring.
"Dash?" asked Applejack, "There's no perytons to be found on this beach, and not a single stick of the wreck. But I'm tellin' you a fact, Dash. Dash, we ain't alone on this beach "
Dash's expression went white, and Applejack feared she was about to be ill. Still she continued, needing, begging to know if she'd been alone in her travails.
"Dash did, did you see anything, odd?"
Dash's shivering got worse, and Applejack moved closer, letting more of her body heat slip into the pegasus.
"A.J., I I saw," said Dash, wavering, "I saw something I never want to see again "
The two stared at one another, the wordless understanding flashing between them.
"Did did you see, hear, anything?" said Dash as Applejack lowered her head. After a long moment she took a deep breath. Slowly the earth pony lifted her head and looked to her friend.
"Dash, I didn't see nor hear a single livin' soul," said the Bearer of the Element of Honesty, the emphasis on the last two words, "Not a single livin' soul."
Dash and Applejack sat there, the meaning of their statements clear to both of them. There may come a time for exposition but this was not it. Now was just the time to sit and shiver, to watch the waves roll in beneath the grey blanket.
"I don't wanna be here anymore," said Applejack, nuzzling Dash to stand. Together the two ponies began moving from tier to tier, moving much slower than when they had first arrived.
As they went they were silent, noiseless as they crossed the spaces between tiers with little jumps and slides, Applejack nursing her still raw cuts from her earlier experience.
At once their heads tossed in unison, and then they looked at one another in alarm.
A noise they had heard a noise.
Together they stared not down towards the water, back out over the tossing sea, but instead up the beach. They looked towards the line of dunes beyond where the forest ended and the beach began.
The sound reached out to them once more.
Together they stood there, staring up the beach as the sound moved from ethereal to very, very, very real clarion and clear.
Bells, the sound of tiny bells and, hooffalls.
They gulped as the bells came nearer to them, as they saw nothing. Yet, the nothingness had it's own presence it was so very real. They heard the hooffalls, heard the tiny bells jangling in time with the rhythm of the unseen hooves that went across the slippery rocks.
They heard the hooves draw nearer, their bodies tensing as it became clear that they were angled towards them. There came the sound of a great large creature planting hooves into the pools of the water that sat among the stones, but no water moved in them. The sound of the breath of an immense creature was amid them, yet the mist did not part
not until his head moved.
To Dash it was though the fog had left a memory as it wrapped around the nothingness the immense figure of a peryton seemed to disappear through it. From the hole it left came a sound, words words she did not understand, spoken softly
"Tilgi meh "
Dash lifted her hoof to her cheek as a soft feeling went across her face, a small wet spot that almost seemed a kiss. Her mind raced it couldn't have just happened
"Tilgi meh "
Applejack too felt the little kiss, her heart racing as the nothingness moved between her and Dash. As the sound of bells began again they felt the presence move on on past them, past where the waves broke across the stones of the beach down into the sea, the vast rolling sea.
Great timbered halls and firelight. The snows across high mountain fields. The old song sung across deep woods. Loss.
With that, the fog began to lift, and the great presence disappeared from their senses.
Dash looked down, saw her own hoofprint in the small collection of sand below her. She let out a great gasp as she realized a large hoofprint of a peryton stood beside hers.
As the haze rolled away all that was revealed was the great stretch of the stony beach and the sky beyond in a deep shade of grey that fought with the blue.
There was a hiss behind them, one that made the jump in time, kicking like wild horses.
They turned to see the balloon touching down on the beach. Looking to one another sheepishly they slowly made their way to where the purple sat illuminated against the still-grey sky. As they did the first seabirds they had seen began to walk across the crevasses, darting their long thin bills into the spots between the rocks.
A seagull squawked overhead and more birds ran up and down the stones in advance and retreat in time with the waves. The earth pony and the pegasus looked over the lip of the basket and down into the still bleary, tear-filled eyes of the unicorn and the dragon.
"I don't want to talk about it," said all four in unison.
A short while later they had crossed over the outcropping, turning around the bend to make for the peninsula beyond. Three of the occupants of the balloon looked on in wonder as they crossed before a massive glyph, one bigger than the balloon itself.
They looked upon the great jade eyes that stared out over the sea. The figure of a massive peryton stag stood there proudly yet remorsefully. His vigil over the waters was as silent as the bells drawn upon his antlers.
The remembrance of the hooves upon the beach and the soft wet spot upon her cheek smashed through Dash, and at once she turned to Applejack.
"A.J., A.J., do do you think "
Yet, Dash could not continue. As she and the others looked down over Applejack all that they could see was how she had pulled down her hat, clenched her eyes, and covered her ears as she lay in the bottom of the gondola.
She knew, of course, that dragons eat meat. Spike would have to eat meat if he'd ever want to grow to his greatest potential, become the vast and terrible dragon that she knew he would someday become. He was already bigger than most dragons his age, and soon he'd be molting again. Whatever her own feelings about it, she knew that eating a lobster would do him no harm.
It had been the money she was worried about. Her stipend saw them through many things, but it was hardly a fortune. With winter coming they'd need things, firewood, scarves and so, she'd thought, maybe he'd be willing to forego?
But, as they had walked wordlessly into the restaurant in Nag's Head his eyes had lit up at the sign of the crustaceans in their bubbling tank. In that instant she'd gladly agreed to part with the bits if if they kept his mind off of
"Here we go, folks," said the waiter as he and his buscolt brought up the trays, "Here's a nice little dinner for ya'."
"Lunch, actually," said Twilight, looking upon the salad. It was too much she couldn't even imagine eating this much. Her stomach still turned, flipped thought of the cries in the darkened woods
She looked up to see the same expression across the faces of Dash and Applejack. Only Spike's face was alight as the waiter cut open the bag of mussels and cracked the shell of the lobster for the whelp.
The waiter smiled to them all, his own heavy Old Northeastern dialect becoming more obvious as he saw the crestfallen appearances of his customers.
"We all are most glad you folks stopped on up," he said, trying to make polite conversation, "'Tis most likely our last weekend up her for the tourists, what with the leaves about to come down in the Runnin'. No more leaf-peekers! No one will be comin' up to the beach anytime soon, neither "
"I can't imagine why," deadpanned Dash, her voice getting quieter as she looked down at her tiny piece of quiche, "We had such a great time "
"Oh!" said the waiter, laying the corn beside the lobster as Spike drooled across the table, "Was you up to the beach today? Go on up to see the Standing Stone? Kin' hardly think you saw that much with how foggy it were "
The four were silent.
"Standing Stone?" asked Twilight, noting how Applejack turned her head away as it was mentioned, "The great big peryton, in the stone, the glyph?"
"Tells the story right proper, don't it?" asked the waiter, laying the steaming crustacean before Spike. Spike however simply looked back up to him in surprise.
"The story?" he asked.
The waiter looked back and forth to them in confusion, then smiled. "You all didn't go see the Standing Stone without knowin' aboot' it, didja?"
They looked at the table, fought to understand his Old Northeast accent, tried to think of a reply.
"No, no we didn't I, we don't know why we stopped," added Dash, weakly.
"That's a right shame. National treasure that is, one of the reasons we get tourists here in Nag's Head. It's a right wonderful thin' too," he said, smiling over them.
"Yeah it's, interestin'," added Applejack.
He looked to them, saw them looking back at him in different shades of emotion. Worried that they're concern and confusion may lead them to forgo ordering desert he began to regale them with an old story. The few salty ponies at the bar turned around to hear the cherished foal's tale of their youth
"T'was long ago, you see," he said, laying his serving tray across the stand, resting easily on three hooves as he lifted the fourth over them, "Back when Equestria weren't so old back just after the War of the Witches "
"That's thousands of years," said Twilight, looking to the girls, going quiet as the waiter looked back over her, "Sorry "
"Not at all, miss," he continued, "This was when the last of the peryton tribes that had lived in the west came down into Equestria. They came to take their share of the promise made by the Sovereigns to the allied races that had stood before the Witches and their multitudes. Those that had stood with us in the war had fought back against the invading army and the consuming blackness it unleashed."
"Now, only one more tribe remained here in Equestria, a small band, lead by a great and powerful Elder Lord. One of the majestic peryton stags, one with great rainment and many bells, symbols of rank, tied in his antlers "
The four looked up to them as remembrances of bells sounding through the haze flit over them.
"These perytons, as all do, lived in the woods and fields in their lodges and got along quite well with the local ponies, as all do, good friends indeed. This was when Hofston and Manehattan and all that were still just villages, and just little homes beside the sea here and there made up the entirety of the Old Northeast which weren't so old then, as I'd said "
"Now, down across the border came a race one that had served in the ranks of the Witches, a brutal people, or so the story goes history they say is written by the winners but anywho, we know that somehow they got past the Regular Army. You have to hope somebody lost their job over that one "
"What, what did they look like?" asked Spike, his lobster yet untouched, "What race was it?"
"Who can say?" replied the waiter, adjusting his tray, "T'was so long ago we know that they were long things, with great long legs and arms that were clawed "
Memories of shadows of nothing in the haze sent Spike scotching closer to Twilight.
" and that they were Bloodspillers."
"Bloodspillers?" said Spike, his arms crossing in front of him.
"Aye, the most fiercely devoted adherents of the Witches ones who believed that they could use the blood of their enemies to pull the Witches out of the deathly sleep into which the Sisters had placed them."
Twilight, in reply, moved closer to Spike, the memory of dark magic hovering over the long low table reaching back into her mind.
"So, it was said," continued the waiter, motioning the buscolt to see to a distant table, "that when this race came over the mountains and through the Everfree they captured ponies that lived in the little homesteads along the border, began to...gather them up, the poor unfortunates, like lobsters for the boilin' "
The scene of a family of ponies, a big stallion fighting, the mother uselessly trying to help her colt and filly escape down the road, filled Twilight's mind.
"Now, this last peryton lord, he was waitin' to go to Cervia, the land set aside for the whole of the peryton race and his last ships sat here in the harbor and beyond the toe of the peninsula. The news came down in runners that there was a fell people aboot', the lantern bearers racing through the woods with the news some killed, the last one running far, far, far out into the sea to drown in his attempt to signal the ships "
Applejack's cup came crashing down to the table, her eyes wide.
As the waiter cleared it away he continued, "The bearer's sacrifice was worth it, though, for the Elder Lord of the perytons sensed the meaning. He asked for volunteers to go with him, and he sped out into the woods to try to save as many of the ponies as he could, save those who had helped his people."
"Yet, he was fighting an army, and as they battled towards the great stone circle "
Twilight felt her heart go into her throat.
" all of his lieutenants were killed, and he saw he was too late to save one family."
Spike reached for Twilight's foreleg. As he did she looked down to him. She saw his mouth move and his lips tremble. At once Spike spoke, Twilight gasping as she saw him lift his arms as he had when he stood inside the fog beside the table.
Spike's face was distant, and his words silent, almost a whisper.
"E'er his noble blood spilt, ah'n his court cast down to death, Lukas Magnus lifted up his head. There amidst tah' foe did the Elder Lord invoke the word, and it became as light "
"Very good lad!" said the waiter as some applause came from the bar, "You do know the legend! Ya' even spoke it nice an' properly!"
"Yeah", said Spike, wavering, "Yeah "
"But," asked Dash, not noticing Spike's discomfort, "What does it mean?"
"It means, lass," added the waiter, replacing Applejack's cup, "that he called for help, called out to those who had promised to help the peoples who had saved Equestria called for the Sister Sovereigns the Princesses "
Silence hung about the restaurant, only on the far side was there conversation and the tinkling of cups and plates.
"And let me tell you they did indeed answer," continued the waiter, "If the story is correct. An', when the Sister's saw what the Bloodspillers had done they were a tad miffed "
Twilight's mind raced back to the stone circle.
She saw light cascading through it, saw Celestia's eyes alight, a most perfect and holy rage racing through the elder sister as she scythed her light across those who had harmed her little ponies. She saw the very rocks being scoured by the light, ripping at their surfaces. She heard the reverberations of the words of the Firstborn Alicorn as her judgment upon them became death.
She saw Luna's dark and terrible countenance fall over them, saw the very life being strangled out of them on waves of darkness. The Nightbringer's powers smothered the black magic already at work in the place killed it, punished it, had been punishing it over and over and over for millennia.
So great was the wrath of the Sisters upon this fallen race, Twilight realized in that moment, that the very souls of the Bloodspillers had been driven deep into the earth of Equestria. They had been unable to lift from it, go to their true judgement, until their victims were themselves free to splash in the waters of the Well of Souls.
"Oh," she breathed, the realization of these facts growing behind her eyes.
"So the myth says," added the waiter with a shrug, "Only Celestia and Luna know 'tis true or not "
Twilight's mind flashed to the quills and parchment on her little desk back at the library. A look down to Spike made her realize he was thinking the same thing.
"Anywho, as this was happenin'," he continued, "The ship that was waitin' for the Elder Lord and his retinue caught fire "
The eyes of all those in the booth stared back at him.
"Nopony knows why it happened. Some say it 'twas one last arrow, alight with fire, that that a dying Bloodspiller sent flyin' through the air. Some say it were a magic spell that came creeping out of the woods in want of vengeance...could be any of these, or none, but in the end there was a great explosion, you see they heard it all the way Downwest in Hoftson, so great was it."
He looked over them, very glad that they seemed so enthralled with his storytelling, almost as thought they were living through it had been there and seen it.
"It was so horrible that the perytons were all killed, and not just the ones on the poor boat, but also those perytons and ponies on the shore who were waitin' for a chance to escape they were all killed too."
"What, what did the ship, have a name?" asked Dash.
"Nopony knows after all these years, but we do have an idea of what it looked like, " he said motioning to a counter far beyond. There, under a dim light, stood a model ship
one almost exactly like the ship that had parted the fog before them.
The group sat quietly as he continued.
"Now, down to the shore came the Sisters, the ponies, and this one last Elder Lord. Now, you see they all saw the carnage, the wreckage, and the silent shore gave them no replies when they asked if any creature needed help. So, the peryton stag, the lord who had sacrificed so much to save the ponies, had to suffer the death of his people "
He stopped, went quiet. The ponies at the bar hung their heads as well.
"We've always been good friends wit' the perytons, you know, especially here in the Old Northeast," he added softly as the ponies at the bar and in the booth nodded in respectful agreement.
"So, this wounded Elder Lord," he continued after drawing a deep breath, "His grief became great, and though he fought to contain it he could not. He wished to be with his people and, even though the Sisters and the ponies there begged him not to he simply gave them each a kiss and said one wish to each in his native tongue "
"Tilgi meh," said Dash and Applejack in unison, their hooves going to their cheeks.
"I thought you folks didn't know the story!" he said, smirking at how they had interrupted the best part of the myth.
"We we've got a working knowledge of it," said Twilight, guessing at what had happened to her friends.
"Yes," the waiter said, lifting the tray once more, "'Tilgi meh' 'forgive me', he had said. With that his proud hooves fell across the sand, the stone, and through the pools as his bells rang out across the shore
as he went down into the sea, drowning himself with his kind. Thus ended the last Elder Lord of the Perytons to come over the mountains."
The booth was quiet, and the ponies at the bar turned back to face their drinks and make small talk with the barkeeper.
The waiter looked over the group of ponies and the young dragon in front of him, saw that they seemed to be lost in thought.
"Soon after the bodies were all recovered, and placed in a cairn. Today the ancient remains of that cairn sit beneath the Standing Stone, the image of the peryton lord upon it. The names of the perytons and ponies alike that were lost that day are written there. We get a few perytons who come to pay their respects, and not as many ponies as we'd like shame that, it's a national treasure, really "
"It's somethin' else," added Applejack, trying to lift her cup as she trembled.
"Oh yes we get ghost hunters, too," he added, watching as the group suddenly all looked up to him. Ah, here's what they wanted to hear.
"They say that on foggy days you can still see them all that the perytons who were killed don't know that they are dead, seeing as they died so fast. It's said that they still try to draw ponies down to the sea to the safety of the ship. But, they don't know that the boats not there so the ghosts draw them down to their deaths!" he said, attempting a haunting flourish.
"That's a damn lie!" called Dash, pounding her hoof on the table. He startled, nearly tipping the tray, and looked at her as the other patrons of the restaurant spun as well to look at the pegasus.
Dash quieted, returned to her seat.
"They'd still be saving ponies lifting them out of the sea, if they were weak " she said, seeming to hide behind her quiche.
"Maybe true, maybe not, miss," he said, forcing a smile, "'Tis all a bunch a whooey anyhow made up for the tourists, I suppose, if you don't mind me sayin'."
He looked once more to the quiet group, realized that they hadn't eaten any of their dinner. With some small worry he looked upon the little dragon, saw that the whelp hadn't touched the lobster.
"Kin' I fetch ya' some more hot butter, lad?"
Spike put his arms across his belly and spoke in a fragile tone.
"I'm not hungry anymore "
The balloon lifted from where it had sat in Nag's Head, the ponies and dragon now loaded up with little travel trays of the food they had barely eaten.
As soon as they were clear of any of the eyes of the village they tossed it all over the side of the basket. Each sat in a corner, unspeaking.
Dash stood, gave a low moan of displeasure, one that brought the others to attention. As she cursed they too looked out beneath the basket. When they saw what had brought her so much distress they too made unhappy noises.
The trees of the Whitetail Woods were now bare the leaves having already been wiped from the branches by the magic of the ponies. The Running of the Leaves, and the Hofston Mare-athon that they had hoped to judge, announce, and participate in had already been run it was over.
Beneath them the colors of autumn had failed, been removed and laid to the forest floor.
"How long were we on that beach?" asked Applejack, her words solemn and grave, "Twi Twi, how long were we on that beach?"
"The waiter," she said, making a sudden realization, "He asked us how our dinner was "
Dash turned her head to where the sun should be to where Celestia's deep magic should have it if the time was still the early afternoon.
It was not there it was lower, much lower, and far to the west.
"Twi " continued Applejack, soon stopping as she saw the expression of worry that flew across the faces of the other occupants of the basket.
The balloon shifted course, now to the south, their purpose for coming now firmly ended. As the magic shifted around them the heat of the day seemed to fade, and as they came closer to the lesser mountains that ran like a spine down Eastern Equestria they seemed to pass into a shadow of doubt and confusion.
"Are are you gonna write to the princess about all of this?" asked Applejack after a long while, after the sun had begun to dip across the western horizon.
"Twi, you gonna ask if any of this was real?"
"No," replied Twilight, moving to where Spike had laid himself, wrapping herself around him to share their heat.
"Because I'm afraid she might tell me."
Applejack looked out across the mountains, then to the forest below. It was stark, barren lifeless. It was as lifeless and without sound as the shore had been, almost entirely devoid of any motion and life.
Thus, as she looked down at the expanse of black limbs below Applejack could not get the worry that something might be looking back at her out of her mind.
She moved to the center of the basket, nuzzled the two who already lay there, and joined them in their comforting embrace.
Rainbow Dash continued looking out over the edge of the basket for a long while, watching the blue of the sea beyond recede until the black of the forest consumed it.
As she watched she listened, listened very hard and with much intent.
No voices came back to her, and when she closed her eyes the faces were not there as though it hadn't happened.
Yet, it had happened. She knew it had, and that fact alone made a shiver go through her.
She turned, looked at the mound of her friends nearby. They were not sleeping, simply huddling together against the cold that seemed to be reaching up into the balloon the cold and doubt of their uncertainty driving them to one another.
With that she walked to them, and they parted for her, making a space.
With that the group joined together in wordless mutual support, the understanding that they had been witnesses to something beyond understanding. In that time and that place all they could do was offer each other their warmth, something denied to the dead who, they hoped, had now been freed from their cold walks upon the silent shore.
As the small group hovered above the Whitetail Woods the hiss of the burner sounded out at intervals, breaking the silence of the forest below.
Small breezes whispered through the dark, leafless branches, catching in hollows and sending up the dead leaves in little flips and tosses. Here and there a crow sounded out.
One crow listened as his caws echoed far down the rows of trees, as the sound bounced off the black, stark limbs.
He tossed his head, listening for a reply, staring off with his small black eyes.
Hearing none he raised his great black wings and lifted though the outstretched branches to the sky above. Here he moved to avoid coming near the purple balloon, banking away as the hiss of its burner illuminated the sphere in the skies that were drawing down into darkness.
Inside the basket beneath the four little figures huddled together silently and tried not to think about the vast expanse of the forest below, the great stark trees that seemed to be reaching up to them with pleas of mourning as they drifted on the cold air.