[Warning: This chapter contains mild depictions of gore and themes which may not be suitable for younger readers (and one mild curse). Reader discrection is STRONGLY advised!]
Cracks and snaps sounded quietly in defiance of the thick tension that permeated the air. The familiar dance of tongues of flame flashed against stone and wood alike, the thin extensions twisting and twirling before detaching from the body of fire and evaporating from existence. She could very well have sat there and eyed the tiny expression of both destruction and creation for hours and never get bored. However, a particularly loud snap brought her to her senses.
Soft, sad music accompanied the crackle of the flames; the brass sedated, yet powerful as a pony sang a haunting melody of tragedy and loss. She sympathised with the long-dead stallion. Soon after, the strings, led by a piano, took the lead from the brass and pounding rhythm section. Modern music just did not have this kind of depth.
A dull, orange glow radiated from the marble fireplace which blanketed every surface and brought some light to the office. The large, arched windows behind her were opened, the yellow and purple curtains fluttering in the cool summer evening breeze. Taking a short breath, she finally broke eye contact from the marble fireplace and took a passing glance at her office. It was a sight she had long become accustomed to: the darkness and emptiness of the room filled with crushing silence and loneliness. An anguished sigh droned out of her throat before she let her head collapse onto the desk.
Queen Eos took a long, deep breath to savour the sweet smell of pine-scented polish, tinted with what she imagined the wood smelled like when it was new: something similar to maple. However, stacks of neglected paperwork added an unwelcome reminder of all that needed to be done. Growling in frustration, she swiped her hoof across the glossy surface, spilling the papers onto the floor with contempt.
At the top of the wretched stack was an application for worker's compensation from a guard in charge of the dungeons as well as a request for a brand new surveillance system. It was all bits she could not afford to spend, and that, plus a plethora of other plop was quickly draining the royal coffers AND her patience! Eos slammed her hoof against her desk in frustration and borderline rage. Everything was going swimmingly until that STUPID Twilight Sparkle reared her ugly face! She was sure that had it not been for HER, she would have defeated Nightmare effortlessly!
"Buck you, Twilight Sparkle!" she cried out in frustration. "And if you bring up the irony again, I'll jab you with an ear swab, you miserable cu-" Okay! Okay! No need to get VULGAR, the phantom spoke to silence the din.
The queen shut her eyes and pondered the questions that had kept her up the last couple of nights once again. How was it that a younger, more naive version of what was essentially her managed to break out of the dungeons, injure a guard, destroy a magical marvel with reckless disregard AND bust out that irritating, whiny dressmaker, all under her muzzle until the very last second? Aside from that, how could she herself have lost her temper enough to almost burn down the archives?
She groaned and pressed her face into the table once again, as if putting pressure on her snout would magically make the pain and stress go away. It was a foalish hope, but one she clung onto desperately for fear of the alternative. After all, what kind of leader would she be if she could not command respect, like Celes- Like her forebearer had before? While normally she could say, or at least think her name, she just could not bring herself to do it anymore. Something had changed.
"How can the presence of ONE mare cause so much to happen? Is she some sort of magical catalyst that makes things in deadlock suddenly spring into action? Maybe there is some bearing to the STUPID bucking song after all?" She gasped when realization crested upon her mind. "What if they're right!? What if her return really does mean my end!? She's probably come to kill me! Oh, Sweet Ce- Sun! W-what am I going to do!?"
Panic began to manifest as she imagined herself, her other self, clothed in pure white with a sword of vengeance clenched in her teeth, ready to strike and take her life. She might not know what would happen if either of them died, but it was plausible that the other DID! How could she defeat herself? Sure, she had the power of two gods wrapped into one, so it was not an issue of strength. In addition, she looked at least six years younger, so she also had experience on her side. The only thing she had that frightened her, however, was her FRIENDS and the quiet support of the ponies.
Particularly, she feared the Elements of Harmony, knowing full well what they could do to a rogue goddess. Would she be sent to the moon for a thousand years like Luna had, or would they strip her of all divinity and put her at the 'mercy' of the crowd? Granted, when Rainbow died, they lost the Element of Loyalty, but given the current social climate, it would be very easy to befriend a fiercely loyal pony and complete them.
She needed an edge, and desperately if she wanted to stand a chance of survival against the elements. Unfortunately, her grab for power had angered many of the wise ponies and other creatures in the world, so they would be more likely to help Twilight over her. Unless... there was always THAT option, but she really disliked going down there unless she could help it. But, she did not have the luxury of choice at this stage.
"I guess I'll just have to go see him," she sighed and stood in resignation. With a wave of her magic, the fire in the hearth was extinguished, plunging the office into the confines of darkness. The music from the record player was silenced as the doors opened to let light from the hall spill in. She had lost track of time during her musings, but it had to be at least midnight, if not later.
Trotting down the hall at a light canter, keeping the weight off of her bad leg the whole way, she saw neither hair nor feather of a guard. Obviously, they did not care enough about her, or else the castle would be swarming in the wake of Twilight Sparkle's escape. She would just have to remind them that she was the boss around here and that her word was law within the castle walls! With a shake of her head, the alicorn refocused on her destination, down deep into the basements of Canterlot.
Ugh! What an egotistical, disgusting blowhard! Lord Blackfeather thought to himself as he put on a cheap smile and a friendly disposition to the dragon before him. It was hard enough being an ambassador to Draconia for his king, but another matter entirely to be the de facto leader of the Griffon Legion! This problem became compounded exponentially by a king who quite openly had little regard for the safety of his allies over his own personal glory.
The tall, vaulted ceiling of the throne room in Wyvenis Castle echoed the draconian monarch's words like a large trumpet. Dark stone was accented by unyielding tapestries made of jewel-encrusted iron and steel, and the carpet, for lack of a better word, followed the scheme: plates of titanium embedded with countless rubies. The throne that the massive dragon sat on sparkled in a high-gloss steel and many rare, coloured diamonds. It was almost like the material definition of 'ego.'
Indeed, the two species were only working together to take the power over sun and moon. Naturally, the dragon king would not let such power fall into griffon claws. It was almost an unspoken fact that Bluefire was only interested in the power that Queen Eos wielded so that he might have it and assert that dragons were the dominant race. He had stated many times before that he wanted to 'restore the power and authority of our illustrious ancestors' no matter the cost.
It was no secret that those with the power to move the sun or the moon could live up to the ripe age of twelve thousand and be unable to die no matter what until then. Even when they reached such an age, they could only die on their own terms! What was secret, and hence kept most from trying to usurp the thrones, was the spell needed to rip the divinity out of them.
Sad to say, Bluefire knew the spell, while the griffons did not.
Hence, Blackfeather humoured the overgrown lizard as much as possible, smiling and agreeing like he continued to do. Of course, there were some issues where he refused to let the jerk have any ground. "My lord," he replied when the blue blowhard finished. "While it is unfortunate, the task force in Appleloosa was simple a search party for the power source and NOT an actual fighting squadron. Had they been, I would be just as upset as you, for the performance was a VERY poor showing. However, the fact remains that they were not trained nor equipped to fight the surprise garrison in that hick pony town."
The dragon king snorted a plume of smoke from his nostrils as he regarded the griffon in front of him. While grating and irritating, he had proven himself on several occasions, especially on the fields of battle. It only made this greivous display of weakness tolerable, which was as close to a full pardon as any creature would dream of from him. "Your point is conceded, Lord Blackfeather. However, I would STRONGLY suggest that you do not let something like this occur again. Am I in any way unclear?"
"Not at all, nor would I want such a humiliating 'defeat' to occur again, my lord," he replied in earnest.
"Good. Now then, how are the plans for our next endeavour developing?"
"Unfortunately, without Project Jormungand in operation, we had to go over the battle plans and basically work it over from the ground up. In short, it is less of a blitz and more of a siege. Still, Manehattan has a terrible permanent garrison for a city of its size, although intelligence points out the city's police force has the ferocity of a military unit. As well, since the city is surrounded by water, the Equestrian Navy can fend off most attacks with relative ease.
"Thankfully, a few of our high fliers have volunteered to carry boulders and incendiary devices to cripple or sink those ships, potentially damage critical land targets, and cut off escape by severing bridges. After that is done, the rest of the troops will flank from the north and north-east and surround the city to cut off supply lines. After that, the city should fall in a week or so. Of course, with the weapon, we'd have it in a day, but this is the best we can do."
"So tell me," Bluefire spoke after hearing the basic plan, "What makes these 'pole-lease' so difficult if they are only local law enforcement?"
"As Equestria's largest and most populous city," the aging griffon explained, "it naturally has the biggest budget in terms of civil defence, and since it is situated in a strategically important area, it has access to amples resources that make it simple to maintain order and hold of its territory. Of course, until recently, it was more of a tradition then a necessity. However, due to the war, it has increased defences significantly."
"Very well then," the large dragon spoke with a lazy wave of his claw, "I approve of your revised plan. You are dismissed, Blackfeather." The griffon bowed as shallowly as he could without being accused of insubordination or showing disrespect and backed out of the throne room with his two assistants in tow. It was not until they were safely out of earshot of the guard that he spoke again.
"Jackal. Greybeak," he addressed his own personal guard.
"Aye, sir?" They replied with their claws pressed firmly against their foreheads in salute.
"Find General Talon and tell him the siege has been green-lighted. Dragons are to go in first in order to soak up the most damage and deal the important strikes first." With a nod and second salute, the pair of griffon guards rocketed into the air like a pair of screaming missiles. It is unfortunate that the dragons will likely suffer heavy casualties in this. A shame I neglected to mention the anti-air defence Manehattan boasts, Blackfeather thought with a smile as he walked towards his suite.
Soon, the time to strike against the dragons would arise. Although they were powerful and huge, very few of them decided to unite in order to crush the ponies of Equestria. Conservatively, the griffons probably outnumbered them ten to one at the very least. They were good odds, but not the best ones that he could get. Hopefully, the siege would be very costly to the dragons to improve those odds. Blackfeather had his doubts, but this was the king's plan, and he was but a humble servant.
Torches upon the wall sprung to life as they detected movement from the shadows beyond, giving light to what was once dark. The rhythmic click of hooves upon stone filled the normally silent tunnel deep within the mountain face. Occasionally, a drip of ground water could be heard echoing as it impacted upon the floor, the rare drop falling upon the deity that traversed down the deserted passage.
Below the sub basement, or even the deepest dungeon she possessed, there was a passage connected to a room that no pony dared travel down. Making it off-limits was simply a formality, as the staff had avoided it for as long as she could remember. Still, she found the slight downward sloping hall eerie even when they became lit.
Strangely, there was no chill despite the darkness and the dampness of the passage, which probably added to the strange feeling that crept upon her mind. Cracks were strewn about almost every stone like spider webs, hinting at the enormous pressure on it from the castle and mountain top above. It was almost enough to make her reconsider her destination and come up with a second plan instead.
Queen Eos flicked her ear in instinct as a droplet of water landed on it, snapping her to attention as her mind wandered again. Given the cracks on the wall, only the radiant magic from the castle above was keeping the stone from caving into dust, sealing off the room she wanted to enter forever. It was something else to know thousands of tons of rock were suspended over her. Few things could kill a goddess, but Eos had a suspicion that a mountain falling on her head could be one of them.
Shaking images of being transformed into a pancake princess from her imagination, she soon found herself upon the threshold of the door she sought. It was not as intimidating as the vault door in the Stained Hall, but it served the same purpose and had the same key. Unlike the other, however, it was done in plain stone with only carvings of sun and moon in their eternal dance upon the gray slate.
There's still time to turn back and conceive another plan, Eos, the voice started. "No, it has to be this way!" Eos replied to herself, words echoing loudly in her ears as she spoke with more volume than intended. "I'm not doing that more than once," she added much more softly. The voice winced slightly at her pain, which only made her more determined to go through the door.
Lowering her head, she moved forward and slowly inserted her long horn into a hole in the door before her. Charging it with magic, she cast a very particular spell she only learned about from some of that tyrant mare's journal entries. She obviously never intended to leave power if she left such information out in the open for any pony that succeeded her to find and use.
A couple of short seconds later, she could feel the door grind and slide away from her horn, stirring up settled dust on the other side of the threshold. It sounded like a small, angered dragon as both halves of the door finally slid into place. The magical lights beyond came to life like the ones out in the hall had, illuminating the room in a faint, flickering glow.
Cages of gold sparkled in the light, rising from floor to ceiling of the deep vaulted room. Even the torches could not illuminate the ceiling fully, leaving the question of what dwelled up there, if anything, hanging in the air. Within the cages sat what a pony would dismiss as junk or something worthy of a royal yard sale. Pieces of desk here, scrolls there, and even the odd preserved creature filled out the dozens of gilded cages.
On her first trip down, she had made the foalish mistake of touching one of the artifacts. She nearly set the entire castle on fire before she could correct her mistake. Trotting along the halls, gilded cages of potentially dangerous artifacts on either side, she came upon the deepest wall of the room, where she housed what she considered to be the most dangerous thing in the world. Even she had to admit she was getting butterflies in her stomach as she approached the door to it, properly separated from the rest by a wall of solid granite.
There was no guarantee it had anything meaningful to say or wisdom to impart, but those green, glowing eyes and the cackling laugh that echoed in her skull drove her to open the door. With a push of her magic, the portal opened and the lights beyond clicked into existence. It was a circular room at the bottom of a shallow set of stairs, lit above by magical lights of the queen's own design. Stone statues sat on pedestals sealed in glass around the edge of the room, but they were all very random to an outsider; an assortment of random body parts that could not possibly match up.
In the centre sat the most macabre item Eos ever had the displeasure of seeing in her lifetime. Behind a thick layer of magically-resistant glass sat a head on a pedestal, but it was not any normal head. Two horns rose out of its skull; one a goat while the other was blue and jagged like a lightning bolt. Its eyes were yellow with red pupils, one comically smaller than the other.
The room was filled with the sound of crackling as one body part would glow black, spiderweb faultlines crisscrossing over the stoney carapace. However, they would soon be filled in by the magic of the glass so meaningful cracks could not develop. The head was a different story, though. No sooner than Eos had opened the door, those bulging yellow eyes and that stupid, toothy sneer made itself known.
"Discord," Queen Eos spoke with blatant contempt. As the spirit of chaos and disharmony, the draconequus stood for everything that she opposed. In fact, according to the history books, he had ruled Equestria for a short couple of centuries while the formerly royal sisters were abroad. His rule made the former monarch's tyranny look like a comedy by comparison.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk," he shook his head as much as he could in condescending glee. "Late again, I see. Nothing EVER happens on schedule these days, does it?" As much as the queen hated to admit it, the villainous twerp could be right on the money from time to time.
"Everything happens for a reason, Discord. The same applies for the timing in which it happens. If you knew anything about the way that the universe works, you would know at least that much." However, her reply was met with deep, mirthful chortles from the disembodied head, causing blood to rush to the royal alicorn's cheeks in embarrassment. Thankfully, her lavender coat provided some shelter from any obvious heckling on the spirit's part.
"Everything happens for a reason, hmm? Hahahahaha! Oh, you slay me! I really needed that laugh. I'm sure that you can imagine that I'm not exactly A HEAD on all the new jokes you ponies come up with!"
"If you make another pun like that, so help me Sun, I will make you suffer, you deluded, tyrannical freak," the queen replied scathingly, narrowing her eyes in contempt.
"YOU, calling ME the deluded tyrant?" Another round of boisterous laughter echoed from his mouth. "I might have been a so-called 'tyrant' during MY reign over Equestria, but I was FAR from deluded! Why, you're so blind that you can't even see the most basic of truths! Even my dear Celestia, of all ponies, could see what she was and even EMBRACED it for a little while."
Eos took a deep breath and changed her stance to calm herself down. He was beginning to get under her skin already, and she was sure he took great pride in knowing so. Every time she visited him to seek advice, it was the same story. That, plus the struggle on her part to separate the genuine advice from the poison he tried to inject into her mind, it was hardly surprising she only came down to see him when she really needed it.
"Celestia got what she deserved in the end though, as will you if you keep this up, Discord. So far, I have taken down two gods. Do not make it three," she replied with a murderous look in her eyes and ice in her words. A lesser pony would shiver at their conviction, but the draconequus just sneered at her instead. However, she refused to yield an angered expression, keeping her face stony and stoic despite the embers burning in her eyes.
Eventually, the severed head sighed to break the silence and ease the tension, if only very slightly. "Just spit it out. What did you come down here to ask me this time? Have you finally grown a SPINE and want to kill that meddlesome Pinkamena or that unnerving Applejack? Or are you just going to waste my time? I AM a very busy lord of chaos, after all!"
"I am here to seek answers to a query. What is the difference between a goddess and a force of nature? I am not in the mood for any riddles, so just give me a straight answer, or I can seal your head in stone too."
Discord sighed and rolled his eyes in contempt. "Looks like you're just here to waste my time." He paused and seemed to mull on her question for a few seconds before he spoke again. "A goddess can die; a force of nature can never be stopped. Forces of nature exist as close to the Deep Magics as they can while still retaining an identity and consciousness. YOU just move a ball of gas and a hunk of rock around. That is why Nightmare tossed you around like a rag doll. Oooh! I wish I could have seen it in person," he finished with distinct glee and longing.
"In fact," the spirit of disharmony continued, "it also explains why you cannot do much more to me then separate my body parts in order to keep them sealed. I might not be a full force of nature, but I am STILL higher than you in the divine food chain, Sparkles."
Eos winced at the moniker he had just spoken. The only pony to ever call her that was her father... well, the male pony that raised her, anyway, and not a pony since had used it in front of her. It was enough to make her grit her teeth in anger, as it only served to remind her how life had screwed her over. She wanted nothing more than to lash out at him, maybe destroy one of his body parts. In fact, she picked up his tail and removed it from the pedestal.
"This is a mighty nice body you have, Discord," she spoke softly and coldly. "It would be a shame if anything were to happen to it, like... oh, I don't know... being incinerated on the SUN? I have told you before, and I will NOT say it again: Twilight Sparkle is dead. She only exists in that goody-four-shoes doppelganger running about, stirring up mischief."
Discord let out the longest, loudest laughing spasm she had ever seen out of the wicked draconequus, bringing him to tears in ten second flat. His voice echoed menacingly off of the walls and ceiling of his prison in defiance of his position and relative helplessness. "Oh," he sighed happily as his mirth dispelled. "For being as much of a BORE as old Celestia, you sure say the FUNNIEST things! Lie to the kingdom all you want. Heck, you can even lie to YOURSELF and I wouldn't even care. But you can NOT lie to Discord, Sparky!"
A soft growl came from the queen's mouth, her teeth bared and eyebrows furrowed in suppressed rage. It was always amusing to abuse her, as she usually did to her friend turned servant. Discord was just giving her a taste of her own medicine, but it had YET to sink in! Not that he wanted it to, of course. He was content antagonizing her and driving her deeper into the deep end of the pool. Just THINK of all the chaos that would cause! He had to suppress a grin at the mere idea of it.
"Just get to the point and tell me how to drive that FREAK Nightmare back into the Sorrel Hells where he belongs!" The queen shouted in borderline rage, the ancient being testing her patience near to breaking.
"Oh, that's simple! Nightmare feeds off all the emotions you ponies call 'dark': hatred, greed, fear, lust and many others I do not have the time to list. If he is trotting around in the living world, then things have reached a tipping point where, unless the source of it all is destroyed, he will come to reign over this world as well!"
"The war!" Eos exclaimed almost immediately. "If I can end the war, he'll no longer have the power to stay here!"
"No..." he smiled wickedly. "The war is just another by-product of the source. It's actually Twilight Sparkle!" He laughed again, wickedly and gleefully.
However, the queen was not amused. So her doppelganger was the source causing all the hatred and negative emotions to flow forth and bring about Nightmare? Well, dangerous or not, this time she would want her captured and immediately put to death! Without another word, she turned her back on the draconequus and headed towards the door, already beginning to form plans in her mind to destroy her clone.
"Surely, you've wondered where she came from?" Discord asked her backside. "If I know you, I would say you have; and more than just once. Do you not want to know what you are up against? Well, I shall tell you, if only because I LOVE to see you suffer, Eos. She came from a world where she was stopped in her rampage... and made up with mommy dearest."
She stopped with a hoof hovering over the final step before the door. How did he know what Celestia said!? Was he not sealed in stone when it happened!? She could not detect a trace of a mind-reading spell either, so he could not have received the information from her! He was either taking a gamble by bluffing, or he could actually see into other worlds and timelines as he claimed. "That was nothing more than a desperate, last-ditch effort to save her sorry, tyrannical hide, Discord."
"I'm not finished yet. She also went on to help her friend Derpy. You remember Derpy, right? The wall-eyed blonde Pegasus you KILLED when she figured out the TRUTH? Anyway, she helped her legally adopt her daughter, Dinky and reconciled with her sister, Trixie. She still writes to Celestia too: a new report every single week, on the dot."
Eos could take no more of the baseless lies spewing forth from his mouth, turning on the spot to face the insipid spirit. "That is a very fascinating story. It is such a shame that it is nothing more than an impressive string of lies, down to the very last letter."
"Say what you like, YOSEY," he smiled with the one fang sticking out, as usual. "But in a world like this, sometimes the truth is infinitely more devastating than any lie I could ever HOPE to conjure! Besides, I haven't lied to you in YEARS. Why should I start now, especially given my... disadvantaged position?"
"Knowing you, I could not think of a BETTER time to start." Suddenly, a grey mist appeared before her, forming into a looking glass-like surface between herself and the incarnation of chaos. She could only see herself staring back at her form. The presence of mind came to look away, but she could not break her compulsion to look, fueled by her damnable curiosity.
"Oh no! I've been caught red-taloned!" he feigned surprise and woe as images began to form in the mirror. "It WOULD be in character for me to lie. But, it would also make sense for me to tell you the truth you continue to DENY!" Images of Twilight Sparkle appeared on the mirror, spending nights in the library with their... her friends as they laughed and traded stories around a magical fire. "Heh! I just realized I made a rhyme! Which is it, SPARKY? Am I lying, or telling the truth?"
Twilight reflected in the mirror, hugging Spike as the evening sky hung in the background. He looked unnerved until her muzzle made contact with his purple, scaly cheek, putting him at ease. Before she could drink it in, another image flashed into existence. It was an image of her... of Twilight, running up to the throne where Celestia sat. They shared a brief, but warmer hug then she remembered the two of them ever sharing before. She could feel tears begin to well up in her eyes, but she could not give in. "NO! YOU ARE LYING, DISCORD!!"
"Then explain to me; why did she trust Spike? Why did she cry when she saw her friends fighting, begging for each other's blood to be spilled over a petty argument?" Images of a darkened room filled with magical images of her friends filled the mirror's surface, each yelling and calling each other names. One disturbingly stroked a sack of flour under the lip of the table, although it was obvious to her who it was.
The image changed again, showing her chambers filled up by a mass of white encircling a smaller lump of lavender. She could tell it was the sorry flank of that tyrannical horse in an instant, but as it zoomed in, she could see tears in her eyes as she tightly cuddled with the unicorn. "I love you, Twilight," she spoke into the mare's ear with sincerity she could only dream of.
"No!" Eos cried out in anger and pain. "Celestia was NOT my mother! She only LIED to try and save herself! She NEVER cared about me! I was just a tool for her to use and DISCARD when I had run my usefulness! And that other Twilight means absolutely NOTHING to me! I'd kill her right now if I had the chance!!" More images filled the mirror, the lavender unicorn wading through a river and looking into a sack only to shriek like a banshee before turning to see her lamenting in a dark room, wishing her friends were still friends.
"Why would Celestia lie about something like that?" Discord grinned behind the mirror, knowing victory would be soon at hand. "Ponies are loving creatures by nature, unlike golems," he added with a downturn to his tone, mimicking sorrow. "It tore her up inside to lie to you for all those years, you know. But, you were not the first. She cried when she banished Luna to the moon. She cried when she turned ME into stone. She cried... when you MURDERED HER!!!" Insane laughter filled the room after speaking those last couple of words, making them echo sickly in the queen's ears.
"No... NO! She... she was putting on an ACT!" Eos shouted to the rafters to drown out his laughter, lying flat upon the cold stone. The torrents refused to be held back any longer, flowing freely from her eyes as those words wounded her deeply. It was in that moment that she lost all composure as a ruler of Equestria and let the crying filly she really was shine through once more. She curled up into a tight ball, hoping to rob Discord of the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
She could remember seeing the fear and sorrow in her eyes before she landed the fatal blow; remember a voice in her mind crying out to tell her to stop, but being too enraged to care. She could remember the desperation on Luna's face before she too became a stain of red upon the floor. "Celestia... Princess... Why did you lie to me for all those years?" she sobbed into her flank.
"...Because I knew that you would murder me like the MONSTER that you are! And now my kingdom is ruled by monsters. Maybe it would be best if you just died," the voice of the princess sounded in her head.
Eos growled in anger and sat up, facing Discord despite her puffy, red eyes. "Don't you EVER do that again, you rotten little TWERP! I am NOT a monster! I have feelings! I CRIED when I found out Spike had betrayed... that OTHER TWILIGHT," she added, the last words spoken in extreme disgust.
"You don't have to know what a golem is to know what a MONSTER is, Twitty," he smiled. "No pony else seems to think you have feelings." The mirror appeared again, showing a couple of servants in her castle, discussing the queen's recent change in attitude.
"Can you believe the queen?" spoke one of the maids. "I heard that heartless bitch just tortured a poor pony that refused to go into the military!"
"Careful what you say!" The second added quickly. "She might hear and do the same to YOU! But yeah, she's like a MONSTER, she is."
Eos covered her ears with her hooves, unable to hear any more of her servants' candid thoughts as the tears continued to stream out of her eyes. "Chaos and disharmony already rules the HEARTS of the ponies of Equestria!" Discord jeered. "Confusion fills them and compels them to do evil deeds in your name, or for the sake of destroying you. Why not let me out and let reality follow suit? No matter what you do, you cannot reverse what has been done. Why delay the inevitable?"
"I... suppose you have a point," she spoke solemnly as her rational mind began to shut down from the overwhelming pain and anxiety. With a spark of her magic, the glass tube surrounding the various body parts of the spirit of disharmony and chaos lifted. "Why bother playing nice with ponies when none of them respect me anyway? Why play by the rules when I MAKE THE RULES! Equestria is MINE!!! I should do with it as I see FIT!!"
Discord cackled and grinned as his body shattered free of the stone, eagerly rejoining his head in a flourish of magic and electricity. At long last, he was free to do as he wished, starting with that troublesome and foolish little Twilight Spar- He gasped as he saw magical binds form on his wrists and ankles, freezing him in place. "What is the meaning of this, Sparkles!? I thought you were setting me free!"
"I asked you nicely not to become my third. I even told you outright, but you still would not listen." Her horn charged with white magic as she spoke, sparkling menacingly in the light before firing at him, splitting between his two horns. Warm light quickly encased the two of them, the draconequus struggling with every last breath he possessed in a desperate bid to break the spell. "The Divinity Drain does not work exclusively on ponies, Discord!" Eos spat when the spell was complete, a pair of lavender, magical swords appearing at her sides.
"N-no!" Discord cried, fear and pleading in his mismatched eyes. "Please! D-don't kill me! I... I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings, Twilight. Eos! I mean Eos! Please, forgive me, your majesty!" He prostrated himself before the alicorn, still suspended in air.
"Disgusting," she spoke in contempt. She lunged at him, a sword impaling him in the chest. Discord heaved and spat out indigo blood as the blade twisted in his gut, groans and cries of sincere pain filling the room. "It's funny, the lessons we learn from our enemies," the queen grinned with her teeth bared. Without a second thought, she swung her second sword towards his neck, decapitating the former spirit of chaos and disharmony. Blood squirted everywhere before she teleported the body away to her sun, to be incinerated.
She refused to be pushed around anymore!
Five little planets sat in a perfect row, all perfectly the same size and shape. All completely unaware about what was going to happen next. Slowly, very slowly, one of the planets at the end of the line was pulled away from the others by an invisible force. The inhabitants cried out in fear and panic, thinking that the end of days had come. Well, they were partially right, anyway.
Just when it seemed the poor, innocent ball of space rock had been pulled far enough away, another force took over, sending it hurtling towards its nearest neighbour at break-neck speed! If the ponies on it did not know it was the apocalypse before, they sure did now! The two planets collided with a resounding smash! Chunks of debris floated off the cracked surfaces and into space. However, things were not over yet! The force of the first strike caused the second planet to smash into the third and so forth until the planet on the other end was devastated by the chain reaction!
Like the first one before it, the fifth planet was thrust out into the emptiness of space before the force of gravity from the system's sun brought it back, smashing into the fourth planet to start the chain reaction in the other direction! Hundreds of thousands of ponies died, just in the first cruel strike. But this? It was enough to make any handsome, battle-hardened stallion cry.
"Commander?" spoke a voice suddenly. The stallion behind the desk, staring at his Newton's Cradle screamed and jumped into the air, literally hitting the ceiling before coming back down. The female Pegasus winced as the stallion quickly regained his composure, although holding his head in throbbing agony.
"Wh-what is it, Private Cornstarch?" the formerly daydreaming pony asked woozily.
"It's about Miss Buckingham, sir. She simply refuses to cooperate with our questioning and no matter what we try, she refuses to divulge any information. What are we going to do, Shackles? You know if you don't get results, the queen will throw us in there too."
The chocolate-coloured Pegasus sighed and applied a hoof to his head. He was still suffering flak from her highness over the escape of Twilight Sparkle. Not getting anything out of Buckingham could easily make her snap and have him suffer the consequences too! Normally, she was pretty easy-going, but recently, she had become a lot more temperamental. It had to be stress from the war, he thought.
Commander Shackles served under Princess Celestia, as many of the castle staff did, where he was a complacent member of her honour guard. However, when Eos took power, she did not want anypony close to the old monarch guarding her, and for good reason. So, he was shafted into easily the most boring position in the castle: babysitting the dungeons and making sure they did not deteriorate.
"I know, I know," he replied, looking at a stack of papers on his desk. "Are you sure you've done... everything? Used every... device and tactic at our disposal?"
"Yes, sir," the private answered. "We even had to invent a few things on the fly, but she is unyielding. We'd go for more extreme measures, but they would likely kill her and we'd get in trouble for THAT too." There was simply no way they could win. Crusader spies were notoriously difficult to break, and this one was probably the best they had if she infiltrated the War Council and went unnoticed for so long.
"Well... her majesty wants to know where the Ponyville Crusader base is, does she not?"
"Yes, Commander, that is the goal," she nodded in affirmation.
"Well... I have some reports here from the Governor of Ponyville that might prove helpful to us. If Ms. Buckingham refuses to crack, then we must help ourselves. I have read these reports over myself a couple of times. It's not like I have anything better to do. Anyway, while reading them, I have come to the conclusion that, the most likely place for the entrance to their base is inside Sugarcube Corner in Ponyville."
Silence hung in the air as the private digested the information. Eventually, the obvious question came to mind. "Nice bit of extrapolation, but... what if you get the queen all up in arms and we march there with a full battalion... only to find absolutely nothing there?"
"I would assume full responsibility," the older Pegasus nodded with a sigh. "I have no living family and outside of a couple of friends, you included, I would not be missed. Besides, this job is so boring that ANYTHING else would be better than this torment. I am not saying that I want to die, but if it is to be my fate, so be it. Do you understand, Cornstarch?"
"Yes, sir. I do understand."
"Okay, then. Let's say we just get this over with. It might break up the monotony a little bit and give us something to do rather than sitting on our flanks!"
"No time like the present, just pretend she just gave the information to us and we were in a rush to tell her to hide your anxiety." Without another word, the brown stallion took to the corridors outside of his small office. The north-east wing of the castle served as the administrative nerve centre of Canterlot. Many luxurious offices for generals and department heads filled the marble corridors. Even her majesty's office called the wing home, as well as the Prime Minister's auxiliary office.
Naturally, the lower in the ranks a pony was, the lower their office would be in the floor plan. If only by chance, Commander Shackles managed to get an office on the first floor, as opposed to the basement with the security and the maintenance personnel. Meanwhile, her majesty had an office on the fifth floor, so it would be quite the hike up the marble staircase.
Of course, the trained soldiers had little difficulty making the trek up and in full armour to boot. The same could not be said, however, of the pudgier politicians who had to make the ascent. Shackles silently applauded the architects of the castle who had decided to put her majesty's office at the top to weed out the fattest and probably most corrupt all those years ago. Finally coming across her office, the two soldiers nodded to her guards and were let inside.
Trees and small ponds blurred under hoof as the squadron of Pegasus ponies flew out of Canterlot Castle, towards the small town of Ponyville. Shackles could not help but be slightly awed by the group he was a part of, as nearly every single member of the Royal Guard had emptied out of the caste upon the queen's order. Over one hundred Pegasi filled the skies in formation around her majesty's gilded chariot.
Queen Eos had become excited by the news of the 'extraction' of the information from the traitor and ordered a full-out assault upon the Crusaders. All around Equestria, regional governors would soon be mobilizing their own guards to evict the rebels and restore relative peace to the nation. Of course, the head of the hydra needed to be severed first, as the chaos and confusion caused by it would throw the subordinates into disarray.
At least, that was how her majesty explained it to him as they trotted down the halls at a brisk pace while the troops mobilized within the castle. They only stopped to send a message to the captain of the royal garrison so that he could prepare his reserves for their arrival. What was the old coot's name again? Starscrew? Lightning Bolt? Either way, he used to be a member of the Wonderbolts before they turned treacherous and attacked the guards during the Cloudsdale Assault.
Regardless, he had nothing but contempt for the old hotshot who only ascended the ranks because of turning in a couple of his former allies to the authorities. Had it not been for his demotion, Shackles would easily be a captain instead of a lowly commander. Sure, he was still an officer, if only barely, but it was still a significant fall from grace. Of course, they were his grievances and he would not let them show on the fields of battle. He was better than that.
Still, he could not deny the air of excitement as the group of ponies flew in perfect formation towards the town. If he was not so nervous about being wrong in his assumptions, he would have found the whole thing quite thrilling; better than being stuck behind that boring desk in that tiny closet of an office, at any rate. "So, Shackles!" cried out a member of the squad behind him. He was never good with names of ponies outside of his command. "How'd you guys finally get it out of that snake?"
"Uh..." he trailed, feigning to recall the nonexistent circumstances. "I wasn't really involved, so I wouldn't know too much about the details. Although, they really had to pull out all the stops, so it is hard to say what exactly caused her to finally break." Hopefully, the answer would satisfy him.
"Oh, okay!" the stallion called back before slowing his flight to rejoin his group. The commander breathed a quiet sigh of relief as the potential crisis was averted; at least for the moment. In the time he had to turn his head back to watch the sky in front of him, he stole a glance towards the queen. She sat in her chariot pulled by two guard ponies with a stoic look upon her face. Before, he could see the shadow of a smile upon her muzzle. Either she was getting herself ready for combat, as she stated she would be on the front lines, or she had caught a whiff of something foul about the situation.
He bit his lips as the worst-case scenario immediately entered his head, but he quickly resumed the stony look made famous by the guard. Being nervous would be a dead giveaway since Queen Eos had a talent for spotting awkward social reactions. The day after Jade was incarcerated a few ponies he noticed who shivered in the audience were interrogated and laid off on suspicion of malcontent.
Thankfully, the flight to Ponyville was very short; only somewhere on the order of five minutes. It was almost not worth flying to unless a pony wanted to make a big entrance and flaunt their clout to the citizens. In this case, it was only because a train would be expensive to charter and the logistics would be a nightmare, especially on such short notice. Before he even knew it, they were entering their approach pattern for the town square.
Down below, a technicolor sea of ponies congregated as they saw the impressive task force descend and round the outer edges of the town. Half of the group flew up into the air as the first group, along with the queen's chariot, came to the ground with a shuddering halt. Flanking the chariot, where it came to a stop, were two lines of the royal guard garrisoned in the town, at the head of which stood the regional governor: Lord Irontrot? Ironhoof? Again, Shackles was not very good with names.
"Your majesty," the golem replied with a deep bow as Queen Eos descended her chariot. "Your presence here is quite the surprise. Imagine the look on my face when I heard from Starbolt that you were underway immediately, without allowing me time to get a welcome committee in order either." Shackles thought it was ironically comical for him to say as such, considering golems could not feel emotion.
"Alas, my faithful servant," the queen replied in a slightly warmer tone, "I am here on business. Such pleasantries will have to wait for another day. Captain?"
"Yes, your highness!" the graying former Wonderbolt saluted.
"Cordon off the area around Sugarcube Corner. We have received intelligence that the Crusader's Ponyville base has its entrance on, or around the premises. As such, we are here to investigate and arrest any and all ponies found inside that do not belong!"
"Yes, ma'am!" He shouted before turning his head to his troops. After a quick bark of orders, they bowed to the monarch and took to the skies to get innocent civilians out of the area in case things got sticky.
"I take it you got around to my reports then, your majesty?" The golem asked as they thundered down the streets in a tight congregation.
"What reports would those be, Ironhead?" she asked sincerely. "We are here based on intelligence extracted from one Jade Buckingham; former secretary to the War Council, traitor and spy for the Crusaders rebellion."
"Oh," he replied flatly. "They are of no importance, my queen." He marched on in silence behind and to the side of his liege, keeping in line with the march effortlessly. Shackles kept to the middle of the group, since he wanted to stay as far below the queen's radar as possible in case he was wrong, hoping the uniform appearance of the guard would help him get lost in the crowd.
Eventually, the platoon came to the barricade set up by the advance team of guards, passing through effortlessly while citizens were not allowed to enter the normally busy section of town. "Commander Shackles?" Eos called forth as they finished filing into the square, "Commander, please step forth." He did so, but only reluctantly. "I want you to be the first inside, as it was your department who was responsible for breaking the stubborn mule. You should get the privilege of knocking the door in."
"Yes, your majesty," he spoke evenly while trying to hide his discomfort. With a nod of her head, he advanced to the door of the bakery along with a few other volunteers and entered the store. Like the outside, decorated like a gingerbread house, the inside boasted the occasional candy figure buried into the walls or ceiling of the bakery. A powdery blue mare with a swirling red mane stood behind the counter, smiling at the group of five as they entered her building.
"How can I help you, dearies?" she smiled and spoke with a chipper tone.
"By order of Her Grand Royal Highness, Queen Eos of Equestria, Ruler of Sun and Moon, we are here to search your establishment," Shackles spoke with authority. "Please cease all activity and vacate the building immediately or face charges of impeding justice, which can lead to imprisonment. Is there anypony else in the building?"
The mare was understandably shaken by the news, mouth hanging agape. "Just my husband and I. Our foals are at school right now."
"Very well then," the commander spoke as one of the guards hopped over the counter and into the back room. The two civilians were quickly led out of the store and into the waiting crowd of other guards and government officials. "Split up and use all of your senses to pick up a possible entrance." With a nod of understanding, the five soldiers broke up, two heading upstairs while Shackles, a mare and a unicorn town guard remained on the ground floor. They would all give the rooms their personal once-overs to account for varying levels in diligence and ability.
"I think I have something, sir!" the unicorn called to the commander, who was rummaging through a cabinet of baking supplies at the time. He came trotting towards him at a brisk pace; heart racing as his wild theory suddenly became plausible. The young stallion tapped his hoof against the floor in two places, one sounded hard and solid while the other sounded... exactly the same.
"How is this something?" Commander Shackles inquired.
"It's too perfect, sir. Usually, variances in distance from solid objects and differences in humidity cause the wood to warp in different ways that give different spots in the floor different sounds and pitches," the young stallion explained.
"How did you learn all of this?" the officer asked.
"My parents own a hardwood flooring store in Los Pegasus, sir." After calling back the other troops, the unicorn got to work ripping up the floorboards. Eventually, a large hole, big enough to easily fit a grown pony, was revealed underneath. The commander's heart leapt into his throat at the sight of the manufactured anomaly. Even if the base was abandoned, he would be completely off the hook! His flank was saved by sheer luck!
"We've found it!" he called out the front door, followed by the chorus of hooves against cobbles as they streamed into the store. The owners of the shop had a look of crippling shock on their faces as the guards flanking them tightened their grip, remaining where they were to keep the couple under arrest. Eos herself was the first of the outsiders in the door, examining the opening with intense scrutiny.
"I expect traps, therefore, I shall enter first," the queen spoke as she strode towards the hole. "Unfortunately, it is too narrow for any formation, so, single file, after me." With that, she descended into the hole, using her magic to light the way ahead of herself. Slowly, the rest of the guard followed suit, in case the base was still active in order to seal off any escape. Others still remained above to watch for any secret emergency exits they might employ.
The trek down the long, sloping spiral was nerve-wracking to the stallion as they pressed deep underground. At times, the convoy would halt as the queen came upon a magical obstacle that she had to dispel. Otherwise, the pace was quick as they readied themselves for a fight, drawing swords and charging horns with magical attacks. Eventually, the slope decreased, becoming horizontal as the passage widened to accommodate two ponies side-by-side.
That was when all the Sorrel Hells broke loose.
With a cry of 'charge' from the front of the pack in the queen's voice, a wall of roaring stallions filled the closed-in tunnels as they rushed forward. Obviously, the base was occupied, since the clash of swords soon rang out over the shouts. Shackles burst forward from the pack, desperate to get in some action to replace the humdrum of the office from his mind, running down a corridor not packed with fighting ponies.
That would turn out to be a mistake, as a trio of unicorns stood at the end of the hall with their horns charged, each one having a cutie mark related to fire. "Aw crap," he cursed just before their spells hit. A torrent of flame rocketed forth from their horns at breakneck speed. He slammed his body into a door along the side of the hall, but before the door could give, he was engulfed by the flames, crying out as he was incinerated where he stood. Commander Shackles was dead.
However, this was just another sound in the din to Queen Eos as she tore through the pony ranks, two magical swords of lavender ripping through unprepared ponies in a glorious blur of red and purple. Occasionally, a competent challenger would appear and stall her in her advance, but they would not last long as a guard would emerge from the WONDERFUL chaos to aid her. Not that she needed their help anyway.
A grin spread across her face as she gingerly trotted down a long hall with a set of double doors in advance of her troops. The lack of a handle, from intelligence gathered from the raid on Coltsberg, told her the base commanders would be inside. Obviously, she had caught the ponies by surprise, so there would not be much resistance. She placed her hoof on the door in preparation to knock it down.
However, to her great surprise, the door beeped and clicked, gently opening from a nudge with her hoof. With a blast of magic from her horn, she ripped the door off its hinges, exposing the room to her divine sight. Stepping beyond the threshold she fired off a spell at two rebels in the corner, paralyzing them to stop them aiding their leaders.
Standing on the other side of the room were four mares: a yellow earth pony, a grey unicorn, an orange Pegasus and a white unicorn. She smiled as she flipped the table separating them to the wall, splintering it into a thousand pieces. "At last, the meddlesome leaders of the Crusaders; caught in the act." They growled, the Pegasus flaring her wings while the two unicorns charged their horns.
"Tut, tut. Such ill-mannered foals. However, if you surrender to me now, I'll let you walk away with your lives. If not, well... I'll just have to kill you."
"That's it!?" cried the earth pony. "Surrender or die? Yew've already taken eveythin' that we care about an' smashed them into a bajillion pieces, ya no-good tyrannical HORSE!" She spoke before spitting into Eos' royal face when she came near. She wiped the fluid out of her eye while she continued to talk. "Ah'd NEVER go with ya, not so long as ah've still got mah sister and mah brother ta carry on! We might be on the outs, but we still love each other an' 'tain't nothin' ya can do ta change th-!"
Her last words were cut short by a flash of purple coming from the queen. The next thing they knew, a sword was embedded into the wall with their friend's head wedged between it and the hilt of the blade, mouth wide open as if she were swallowing it. Blood flowed freely from her mouth as her eyes rolled up into her head. "Oh dear, I did not sever her spine," the queen cooed. "I guess she'll just have to bleed out. OR..." she added and she pulled the sword out of the wall. "How about THIS!?"
With all the force she could muster, the queen wrenched the sword to the side while the poor mare's head was still attached, tearing it from her shoulders with a sick, wet ripping sound and a light shower of blood. The mares screamed at the sight as she stopped, the centripetal force making the head fly off the blade and onto the floor. It rolled until it hit the wall, coming to a stop with her face towards her friends, frozen in shock and pain.
After that tour-de-force, the remaining three ponies wordlessly followed as they were cuffed by the guards and escorted out, still in shock. "Search the base, kill any who resist arrest. Burn it all when you're done. Leave the dead," the queen ordered coldly as she helped escort the leaders out of their captured base. Flexing her magic again, she prepared a little surprise for everypony once they got topside.
By the time they exited the building, a large crowd had been allowed to amass in the square where they stood stunned at the sight as the queen and her entourage exited the bakery. Standing in the square was a set of gallows with two nooses at the ready. The surviving Crusader leaders gulped as they were led to them. "Your highness," called out the clay pony as he trotted towards her and the fillies. "What is the meaning of this?" he spoke as he pointed to the gallows.
"It is a lesson in respect, Ironhead. Please, excuse me," she spoke kindly before charging her horn again, teleporting onto the stage along with Mr and Mrs Cake, who gasped in shock and confusion before struggling in the tight nooses. "Citizens of Ponyville!" she cried out using the Royal Canterlot Voice. "For too long, we have tolerated such foalish disobedience in our subjects. We had hoped gentle guidance would be the answer, however, all too late have we realized you will only learn with the ROD! So, let it be known far and wide that if anypony goes against us, or aids those who do, you shall reap this!"
Suddenly, the floors under the two ponies gave way, filling the square with a resounding snap. Their bodies flailed as they choked on the ropes, having not been given the parting grace of having their necks break. Ponies watched on in silent horror, as they suddenly became limp after a minute of gurgled cries.
"You have been warned," Eos spoke before retreating to her chariot with her prisoners in tow.