Darkest Hour, Part 1
Twilight Sparkle move with urgency through the Everfree Forest – not quite at a gallop, but not leisurely trotting, either. The storm overhead was giving her more than enough reason to hurry.
Just above the dark, mysterious canopy of the forest, the wind was raging in feverish blasts. The resulting groans from the trunks made it sound like the forest itself was alive with pain.
But that was only a part of the reason for the purple unicorn’s hurry.
“So,” asked the baby dragon that was perched backwards on her back, looking behind them thoughtfully, “what do you suppose it is?”
Yet again, Twilight glanced over her shoulder, exactly like she’d been doing every time he asked that exact same question. She didn’t really have to – besides being hyper aware of the brass object floating after her, she was, after all, the one levitating it with a spell. The purple haze of magic was enough of a giveaway in that regard.
Yet again her eyes glanced over the plate, eyes automatically registering shapes and images that, quite frankly, had been all-but worn down with time.
“I wish I knew.” Yes, that was the same answer she’d been giving for the past hour, every five minutes it seemed. Needless to say, her patience was wearing thin.
But she was also losing patience with something else. She could feel it coming on again – another sense like a responsibility she’d almost forgotten about. She knew what she had to do, and yet once more, not why.
She gritted her teeth, squeezing her jaws together as hard as she could out of pure frustration.
“Talk to me, Twi,” Spike interrupted. He’d felt the way she’d started quivering.
“Why am I doing this,” she murmured. If she spoke too loud, she was afraid that her voice would start shaking, too. “This makes no sense. If I wasn’t actually getting results, I’d think I’d finally joined the crazy committee or something.”
Spike cocked an eyebrow. “The what?”
“Never mind,” she said quickly. “It’s not important.”
She didn’t feel like explaining that, when she first came to Ponyville, she’d invented the ‘crazy committee’ as a tongue-in-cheek joke about how totally… well, crazy everypony had seemed.
There were several minutes of silence between the two, punctuated only by the tumultuous storm overhead. Thunder bellowed across the land, echoing far and wide with each peel. Wind beat against the canopy overhead, desperately trying to bash its way towards the two creatures scurrying through the undergrowth.
After a while, though, Spike broke the silence between them.
“You really should talk to Princess Celestia about this,” he said. “Or at least your friends. You obviously can’t handle this on your own.”
Yeah, she thought bitterly, I’m sure a farmer, a weather pony, a vet, a clothes designer and… whatever it is Pinkie does will have a firm grip on psychology.
She started to voice her gripe when Spike cut across her.
“Twilight, the last time you tried to deal with a problem on your own, you had all of Ponyville fighting to the death over a ragdoll.”
Okay, he may have been exaggerating that just a teensy bit, but even Twilight had to concede the point to him.
Spike knew he’d gotten through to his friend when he spotted the sheepish blush on her face.
“All I’m saying is that this could be something major,” Spike pointed out. “Maybe you’re not crazy. What if it’s something else?”
That was… oddly insightful for him, Twilight had to admit. But still, she wasn’t above giving him pointed look.
“Maybe?” she repeated.
This time it was the baby dragon’s turn to look embarrassed, soliciting a chuckle from the unicorn.
“Alright, alright, you win,” she said amusedly. “I guess somepony can… can…”
Spike looked back around, just in time to see the glaze in her eyes pass by. Before he could mention anything, Twilight started off again, quicker this time.
“And you’re in luck, Spike,” she said, suddenly cheerful.
“How’s that?” he asked warily.
Twilight just giggled knowingly and pointed with a hoof.
And just from the sight of Carousel Boutique in the distance was enough for Spike to conclude that today was going to be alright after all. After all, maybe he’d just imagined the sudden lapse in Twilight’s concentration; he didn’t really care. At that moment, there was a different unicorn occupying his thoughts.
At that moment, however, said unicorn was having a crisis of untold precedence.
“BUCKET! WE NEED ANOTHER BUCKET!” Rarity screamed at the top of her lungs. She was running back and forth at full speed, and coupled with the look on her face, it was like her tail was on fire.
Trailing in her wake was about five empty pails, all bumping and clattering together like a swarm of angry birds in her wake.
In a thrice, she slammed another bucket down in the middle of her design room, just in time to catch the thing that’d sparked off this entire fiasco; a drop of water.
The roof was leaking. No, it wasn’t just leaking; it was leaking everywhere. On her designs, on her fabrics, on her precious mane…
“Um,” muttered Sweetie Belle from the corner, eying her deranged sister with worry.
When Rarity slowly turned her head to gaze at the tiny pink-maned unicorn with a look that could’ve peeled paint, Sweetie Belle quailed.
“Nothing,” she squeaked. “Staying here… out of the way… like you told me.”
Rarity turned back away with an ominous creaking sound – a creaking sound that was punctuated by a pop from overhead, and a faucet of rain water dribbled right onto a new dress right before her.
And with that, Rarity well and truly snapped.
Even from outside, Twilight heard the insane shriek coming from the Boutique.
The whole building shook as if Sweetie Belle had just finished cooking – which was a pretty big shake.
“Oh boy,” Twilight groaned.
Spike’s reaction was a little more responsive. “Rarity!” he shouted fearfully.
He must’ve set a new baby dragon land speed record as he hopped off Twilight’s back and was inside the building half a second later, leaving nothing but a trail of dust.
Twilight sighed and started in after him.
The showroom floor looked to be fine, at least. There were a couple mannequins wearing Rarity’s latest designs sitting all around the room. Were it not for the thunderous sounds that could’ve matched the ferocity in the clouds outside, Twilight might’ve assumed that everything was alright.
Everything was not, however, alright.
As Twilight surveyed the room carefully, she heard Spike’s voice from the second floor cry out in alarm.
That might’ve been enough to make her worry, but that honor belonged to the loud series of bangs and cries of alarm from upstairs.
Twilight rushed up the flight of stairs. She’d already drawn the conclusion that the sounds were coming from Rarity’s design room, and that was enough to make her equal parts scared and worried – the only difference between the two being that one commanded her to investigate, while the other demanded quite the opposite.
“Rarity!” Twilight cried out just a moment before she flung open the door… and beheld a scene of total chaos.
The room was a mess, simply put. Buckets were everywhere, some filled almost to the brim with intrusive rain water. Uncut fabrics were lying everywhere, some spooled out across the floor like a stretch of carpet. Rarity’s design room floor was covered in gold, silver, red blue – every conceivable color, along with patterned fabrics to boot.
The whole room generally looked like a tornado had just blown by. Even Rarity’s cabinets were knocked over or hanging precariously from a few hinges.
Mannequin bits and pieces were everywhere, including an articulated flank at Twilight’s feet.
Rarity was standing dead center in the room, her purple mane a little wet but clearly disheveled. She was breathing hard, her legs splayed out and tense.
She was staring at Twilight with a look that instantly made her regret coming to check up on her friend.
The moment she made the decision to back out of the room slowly, however, the door slammed shut so hard the walls reverberated.
The purple unicorn in question could only cower as the fashionista surged towards her until they were practically eyeball to eyeball.
“YOU. ARE. GOING. TO. HELP. MEEEEE!!!”
“W-what do you need,” Twilight squeaked.
And without any warning, Rarity broke down. Wrapping her forelegs around Twilight’s hoof, she started wailing.
“Make it stop!”
Instead of articulating further, she just waved helplessly towards the leaky ceiling.
And that was when Twilight saw several key things; one being Sweetie Belle.
“Hi Twilight,” she said, putting on a brave smile, all things considered.
“Sweetie Belle! What are you doing up here?!”
She laughed nervously. She was hanging from the roof only by her horn, which had somehow been buried all the way to the base in some offending spot. He legs just hung underneath her, which helped with her incredibly blasé shrug.
“Oh, you know… helping.”
Twilight started to say something further when she noticed Spike – hanging upside down, his tail crammed unceremoniously into a different leaky spot.
Judging by the look on his face, he couldn’t care less.
Twilight turned back to her bawling friend, horrorstruck. “Rarity, did you use your sister as a cork?”
She just nodded while still crying like a baby.
“Why would you do that?!”
“My dresses,” she wailed. “They’re getting ruined!”
Twilight stared up again, looking for the leaks. The trouble was that most of them had been clogged already; with shears, dozens of needles, a couple pencils, a measuring tape or two, and – of course – one Sweetie Belle.
“If you ask me, it looks like you’ve got everything under –”
Twilight stared in disbelief as a board on the ceiling warped, and in came more rain water – straight into the middle of the floor.
“You were saying,” Rarity snapped, somehow managing to be angry and cry at the same time. “Please, all I need is one of those handy little bubble spells you have! Please-please-please; I’ll do anything!”
Twilight paused, putting on a show of considering her options. But in her head, that demand was reverberating like a base drum.
Even as upset as she was – mourning the loss of half her Boutique and probably her entire career at this point – Rarity still found it in her to give Twilight an affronted look.
“Anything within social standards,” she qualified.
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Of course.”
The lavender unicorn pinched her eyes shut for a moment and concentrated. Her horn lit up with vibrant purple light, and a moment later out pulsed a wave of energy powerful enough to shift the loose thimbles and spools on the ground.
Outside, the storm’s might became muted. Rain stopped beating against the windows, and the wind died almost entirely. The newly opened leak almost immediately ceased dripping only a few moments later.
Rarity stared around the decimated room like she’d weathered a typhoon.
While she stared around with huge, awestruck eyes, Twilight reached up with her magic and plucked both Sweetie Belle and Spike from the ceiling and set them back down on their feet.
“Are you two alright?” Twilight asked, concerned.
“Eh, that was nothing,” Spike scoffed, waving a dismissive claw.
“Thanks, Twilight,” Sweetie Belle said with a smile. “For helping Rarity, I mean.”
Meanwhile, a certain white unicorn was crying again.
“Oh… oh thank you, Twilight,” Rarity sobbed. “If it wasn’t for you, this would’ve turned into the. Worst. Possible –”
“It’s okay,” Twilight laughed, patting her friend on the head. “Really, what are friends for?”
Upon saying that, she saw Spike give her a meaningful look out of the corner of her eye. Talk to her, it said.
Twilight bit her lip, not sure how exactly to segway into this particular conversation. Glad to help you with your crisis, Rarity. Oh, and lookie what I found! Also, I might be insane.
There was no way that would go over well.
Luckily, she needn’t try.
“Darling, what is that thing behind you?”
Twilight look around, just as Rarity got up and turned an appraising eye to the huge plate hovering unobtrusively just within the doorway. She took in the worn state of it, but her practiced perfectionist eyes saw things Twilight hadn’t.
The plate was made from an exceptional chunk of brass – one without imperfection, despite some surface stains. More importantly, she noticed the distinctive shape of it; how it was bowed, the front sticking out farther than the edges.
Taking in its dimensions, she reasoned that it’d been molded to fit around something. Now, she was no metalworker, but she’d gone over the applications for a fashion line, having been inspired by Princess Celestia’s royal attire on more than one occasion. But if this object was intended for the same purpose, it was much too large for anypony to wear, furthering her confusion and curiosity.
“Oh, just something I found out in the woods,” Twilight hedged, looking around – anywhere but at Spike.
That got Rarity’s attention however. “You were in the woods? Oh! That reminds me – Rainbow Dash dropped by looking for you. She looked a bit… frazzled.”
Twilight blinked. “Really?”
It was at precisely that moment that she remembered that she’d neglected to leave a note when she left that morning.
Rarity gave Twilight a look – the sort she reserved for when she knew somepony was hiding something from her and she was slightly hurt about it.
“Um, can I explain later,” Twilight asked hopefully.
“Twilight!” Spike reprimanded impatiently.
That in itself caught Rarity’s attention. Had she honestly just heard Spike get after Twilight Sparkle? Will wonders ever cease?
The offending baby dragon stepped up, giving Twilight an angry look before shifting back to Rarity. Even as angry as he was at his friend, he still found it in him to give her a gooey look.
“Um… Twilight just found that inside some weird stone out in the Everfree Forest, one that she knew would be there even though she’d never been there before.”
Rarity’s eyes widened in shock. “Really?”
Twilight cleared her throat. “Yes, and that’s why I’d like to ask you for a favor.”
“I need to ask a favor of you, Luna.”
The Night Princess glanced up from her work, staring over towards her sister inquisitively.
“If it is within our – I mean… my abilities, I shall gladly –”
“I would like you to go to the Griffon Kingdom.”
Luna stared at Celestia, her mouth still partially open from her declaration.
“The… Griffon Kingdom,” she repeated, nonplussed.
Celestia nodded, still looking down at an open document at her hooves. It was old – so old that the parchment looked like it’d turned partially to stone. At least a dozen more flapped around in the air behind her, waiting for their turn to be scrutinized. Some were so ancient that they were trapped behind double panes of glass just to keep them from disintegrating on contact with the air.
“The other kingdoms must be warned about Erebus’ imminent return. While I have no doubt where he will head, the collateral damage along the way will be… severe.”
Luna frowned, an attempt to hide her uneasy heart. Though she only barely recalled the God of Destruction, it was enough to agree with Celestia’s words without a doubt.
“And you thought of… me,” Luna said, trying to hide her uncertainty as best she could. Out of all the ponies out there, Luna was pretty certain that she was the least suited for making a sudden, unannounced visit anywhere, least of all the suspicious, easily offended griffons. Even visiting amongst her own people had been… less than fruitful.
Once more, however, Celestia just nodded without looking away from her reading. This time, however, she frowned, a slight edge of irritation in her eyes.
“I must depart to set the sun soon,” Celestia stated. “Your strength will be at its peak then; you will be able to move faster through the night than I can.”
However, her words and the look on her face didn’t match up with Luna, and she was certain she knew why.
More than any other reason, Luna knew that it was the fact that Celestia would have to fight for control over the sun – which would take considerable time and energy – that prompted this request.
Once more, Luna felt a pang of unease in her chest, though this time it stemmed from sympathy, which once more ignited her desire to help her big sister.
“Have you any idea where he will appear,” She asked, though she had a good idea what the answer would be. Sure enough, Celestia shook her head morosely.
“I do not. But when he does… everyone will know it.”
Luna shuddered. She once more hid the reaction, however – this time by standing up. “Very well. I shall leave with the griffon delegates and make for Everpeak. Let me know if anything changes in my absence.”
“And sister.” Luna waited for Celestia to look up from her work, locking eyes with her. “Please, if Erebus should reach Equestria… do not confront him alone.”
Celestia blinked, then smiled. “Of course. And Luna… please be careful.”
Luna paused, but only nodded without voicing the ominous feeling in her heart; one that told her – her plea was a futile one.
Halfway around the world – across the ocean and high in the mountainous Griffon Territory, someone else was having something of a bad day – though, for rather different reasons.
Gilda sat at a table – well, more like draped limply at her place, beak down on the linen placemat and eyes despondent.
She soundly ignored the harsh looks the griffons at either side were giving her – she was used to doing that. Besides, she was just one griffon sitting amongst dozens, and her place was hardly the place of honor.
No, that honor belonged to someone two tables up.
Compared to his spot, Gilda’s place was hardly more than a picnic table dragged out of the gardens. The table at the head of the room was white and gilded with gold. It was draped with rose petals that magically cascaded from the ceiling, further accentuated by a beam of bright, glorious light striking the center-most, high-backed chair.
If there was anything to be said about griffons, it was that they were full of themselves. Even when Gilda had visited Cloudsdale – as awesome as a city made of clouds was – she’d thought it’d been particularly low-key.
Trumpets played a cacophonous salute, drowning out the entire gathering completely.
Another thing that can be said about griffons; they are loud. If one of those dang trumpets was played too close to someone, they could blow them clean out of the room. Gilda would know – she’d done it once or twice as a prank.
Once more, her stomach growled furtively. The griffons on either side of her gave her a mortified look, but once more she ignored them. She wanted to fly…
The trumpeting finally ceased, just as a large, muscular griffon stepped up into the center of attention. He was wearing a blue and ivory breastplate and similar guards on his haunches – all of which were marked with the winged insignia of the Griffon Kingdom.
Once more, Gilda rolled her eyes at the sight of him. Graven sure loves to show that stupid look off, doesn’t he?
The griffon in question just smiled and waved to the clapping onlookers. He absently swept back his crest feathers, trying to lay them back against his head.
Yeah, good luck with that, Gilda grumbled to herself, smirking. Let me know once you figure it out.
She blew out of the corner of her beak, blowing her own crest out of her eyes. At least I pull the look off.
Gilda once more glanced away from him, wanting to look anywhere else.
Her choices were limited however. Either she could inspect the snooty griffons around her, give her empty plate a morose look while trying to imagine the frou-frou meal she was destined to inhale in two gulps, or stare out into the misty sky longingly.
What she wouldn’t give to ride those amazing thermals, just to see how fast she could dive back to earth again.
But the moment she started pondering what kind of moves she could test, a cyan flash went through her mind.
Gilda’s frown deepened. She dropped her gaze and stared at the linen under her nose like it was trying to pick a fight with her.
Now she really wasn’t in the mood to sit through this horrible party. Heck, the fiasco that’d been thrown for her in Ponyville – the one thrown by that Kinky Pie, or Pinkie Guy or something like that – would’ve been a better alternative than this. At least then she could voice her opinion about how much it totally blew!
Graven was giving a speech now, talking about griffons he’d like to thank, experiences he simply had to recount… Total snoozeville…
Gilda toughed it out until Graven made some sort of dry joke or something. She didn’t catch it, but suddenly the griffons on either side of her were laughing riotously.
That was enough of an opening. Faster than anyone could catch, she zoomed backwards off her stool, and before her former neighbors could even wonder what’d just disheveled their immaculate preening, she was out the nearest open window and into the glorious predawn sky.
Gilda flew through the air, letting a few laughs escape her beak. Why she’d ever let herself be talked into attending that totally lame excuse for a party, she’d never know.
Why she’d let her father subject her to these things was a complete mystery, too. Maybe he hoped that he could turn her all preen-and-proper, like the rest of her family. But the thought of having to dress was just so not cool, almost as much as thinking about acting like those… those… featherbrains back there.
She considered it one heck of a blessing that she’d gone to that Junior Speedster Flight Camp when she had. That was so much better than anything else she’d had lined up for her.
But once more, a rainbow-colored blur blew through her mind’s eye.
C’mon Gilda! I thought you said you were fast!
Gilda grit her teeth and shook her head. Stupid Dash. Stupid ponies. Stupid –
It turns out that keeping your eyes open while traveling at flight speed is ideal.
With a groan, Gilda slid all the way back to solid ground on her chin, little stars twinkling in front of her eyes.
Gilda groaned, her vision swimming before her eyes. Someone was standing over her, looming in the twilight.
But she wasn’t properly roused until a strong talon patted her firmly on the cheek.
“Hello-o-o, earth to Gilda!” called the griffon standing over her, sounding bemused.
His voice clicked in her head, and Gilda groaned once more.
She heard a familiar, bemused chuckle. She didn’t need to focus her eyes to know that he was probably cocking an eyebrow at her.
“Really… is that any way to talk to your brother?”
A moment later, Gilda managed to concentrate once more, and she gave the armored griffon a stony glare.
Graven looked a lot like her -- same lightly speckled plumage, same chestnut brown fur on his haunches -- but most of all, they shared similar crests, both of which stuck out over their beaks. Graven's was much less noticeable, since he tended to slick it back whenever it got out of hand. of course, he didn't have the purple highlights she did -- his were more red, almost burgandy.
“What are you doing here, then?" Gilda snapped. "I thought this was your big day.”
Graven grinned. “Oh come on; you weren’t as stealthy as you pretended to be,” he chided. “Just be thankful it was me and not father.”
As much as she didn’t want to, she couldn’t help but agree with him in that regard. If it’d been Gilda’s dad looming over her and not Graven, likely the whole of Everpeak would’ve been in on the lecture she’d receive.
“Course, now you know pops will chew you out, too,” Gilda pointed out as she staggered upright. The world still wobbled worse than jello.
As she expected, Graven just shrugged indifferently. “I can take it,” he dismissed.
Yeah, she thought bitterly, because he likes you…
Gilda tried to pretend that she didn’t notice how Graven was watching her wobbled on her feet. Honestly, she’d had worse crashes; some of which he’d been present for. Give her a few minutes and she’d be up and flying again.
Then again, maybe that’s what Graven was sticking around for. Knowing his sister’s propensity to just soar off, odds are she’d need some coaxing to get back to the party – if not flat out manhandling.
“Gilda… can I ask you something?” asked Graven out of the blue.
The question took Gilda by surprise, for the simple fact that it was her brother that was presenting it. He never wanted her opinion on anything, probably because she’d just make a snarky comment without any serious consideration.
Gilda glanced up at her brother, and saw that something else was different. Usually when he asked her something, he intentionally remained light, even aloof – probably because he knew she wouldn’t take him seriously. Not this time.
He was gazing straight at her seriously, facing her properly for once.
“What about?” Gilda asked warily.
“Why did you come back?”
Gilda’s eyes widened in shock. “Whoa, bro, where’d that come from?”
Graven finally glanced away – towards the sweeping vistas of Everpeak. It was a grand sight – one fit to rival those of Canterlot, possibly even surpass it in scope.
Unlike the rival kingdom’s capitol, Everpeak dominated the peak of the highest mountain in the region, becoming a crown of ivory and gold high aloft in the clouds. Instead of expanding down the slopes, the metropolis had grown into an artificial canopy over the sheer cliffs of the mountain. If some people were being particularly insulting, it could’ve been compared to a mushroom cap, though such comparisons could only be composed out of spite for the sparkling, radiant city.
From where the two were, they were surrounded by towers and vestibules, just on the edge of the many rings that comprised the city itself. Over the edge of the roof they’d landed on was nothing but several hundred feet of free-fall to the forests below. No griffon would have to fear such a dizzying drop; even their chicks were natural born fliers.
Graven stared around at all of that, which in turn made his sister glance around subconsciously.
“You’ve hated it here since the first moment you came back from Equestria,” he stated plainly. “Honestly, I didn’t expect you to ever come back.”
Reflexively, Gilda glared at him. “Just butt out, Graven. It’s none of your business.”
As always, he barely even reacted besides to look away from her – his way of showing disappointment.
“Yeah, I thought that’d be your answer. Look, just for one minute, pretend that you think I care and listen.”
Before Gilda could shoot off her beak again, Graven turned back around and jabbed her in the chest with one talon. “You don’t deserve to subject yourself to whatever it is you’re putting yourself through. Father is just going to keep getting on your case until you either snap and do something we’ll all regret, or –”
Gilda slapped away Graven’s talon, glaring in earnest now. “I said butt out, Graven! It’s got nothing to do with you, so go be a guard captain or whatever and stop weighing yourself down with someone else's baggage!”
And again, Graven barely reacted besides to give his sister a disapproving look. “Let me say this in a way you’ll understand, then,” he said in a clipped tone.
Okay, maybe he did react a bit more than usual. For the second time that morning, Gilda found herself on the ground, blinking furiously. Graven hadn’t hit her hard – just an open handed slap across the face. But there was a reason why he was in military regalia.
“You’re being totally lame, Gilda,” he snapped, showing anger for the first time. “Get yourself together and go back to being that griffon I saw all those years ago.”
Gilda knew when he was referring to; the one time he and her father had come out to see her at the Junior Speedster Flight Camp. They’d sat and watched one race, then her father had berated her for getting second.
But instead of recalling the ranting of her father, all that passed through her mind was yet another blue bolt. Gilda shook her head, trying desperately to dispel the image before it could manifest.
“Look, bro, it’s not that sim—”
Gilda never got a chance to finish her excuse, because at that moment a thunderclap ripped through the placid mist overhead.
Both siblings stared up in surprise as the fog banks were replaced by a vortex of dark clouds and lightning. They watched as something as black as night fell from the rend in the sky – something that seemed to surge straight from the setting moon.
“That’s… not good,” mumbled Graven, his anger easily forgotten.
Instantly Gilda leapt at the opportunity. “Man, that looks important,” she said quickly. “I better go see what that’s all about.”
And without waiting for her brother, she sped off at full throttle, leaving only a streak across her brother’s eyes.
The main thoroughfare through Everpeak was dead quiet for once in living memory. Griffons were about, oh yes, but every single one had been struck dumb by what they saw cantering away from the main gates.
Most had never seen a pony of Equestria before. Even for those that had the fortune to make the thousand mile trip across the ocean, nothing compared to the sheer terror that made her way through the city.
Everyone stared with open fear at the dark alicorn, her mane of ethereal night blowing like a reaper’s cloak in the non-existent wind.
No one – not even the city guards – felt the courage to try to waylay the intimidating mare. All simply stayed frozen in whatever pose they’d been in prior to her arrival, though all heads and eyes were turned her way.
More perplexing, in the alicorn’s wake traveled a handful of other griffons – all wearing the distinct outfits of dignitaries. Their presence – even if they looked more than a little afraid for their lives given what they’d just been through – was the only thing that kept the common folk from switching straight into sheer panic mode. They just stared on in morbid curiosity, eyes huge.
For Luna, this was hardly exceptional behavior. If anything, this was something of a lukewarm reception, considering the riot she’d instilled on her first visit to Ponyville.
Because the reactions she was receiving were so familiar, she was able to completely disregard them and continue on her way without conflict. Only her pair of guards stared around warily, their draconic eyes and wings striking still more fear into the hearts of those who met their imperious gazes.
Still, Luna felt a familiar curl of displeasure at the sight of fear in their eyes. She could’ve easily forgone this whole approach and simply made straight for the palace, though that would have definitely caused an uproar. Given how short notice her arrival was, respecting the city boundaries seemed like the least she could do.
Luna still wondered privately what she’d done to upset Celestia enough to cause her to punish her so.
She was distracted by the sight of approaching griffons. There were a pair of them – one plain and unadorned while the other bore very official plate armor. She knew enough of griffon society to know that this person was a captain of some sort – either of the city guard or the griffon air force.
Much to Graven and Gilda’s alarm, Luna changed her course to aim straight for them. She was giving them her most composed regal look, so needless to say that it was downright terrifying.
“Someone you know?” Graven asked in a private aside.
Gilda thought fast. Sure she’d been in Equestria for several years, but she’d never seen a pony quite like the one walking towards her. She was so much taller and more slender than anypony she’d ever seen, but more strikingly there was the fact that she had wings and a horn! Never mind the otherworldly mane and tail – her body configuration just didn’t seem possible.
Now that she was here, Gilda seriously regretted using this as an escape from her conversation with Graven. Heck, she’d rather deal with that than –
“Citizen of Everpeak! We, Princess Luna, seek an audience with your king!”
Gilda didn’t catch a single word of that. It all sounded like an incomprehensibly strong gale that threatened to launch her clean off her talons and into the store front behind her.
Graven faired only slightly better, though his head was starting to bend too far back to be healthy. He somehow managed to keep upright – probably a benefit of having griffon drill sergeants literally shout him into the ground.
The stall behind the two didn’t fare so well. The moment Luna paused for a response, the wooden vegetable stand promptly collapsed under the literal verbal assault.
As the dust clear, Luna had to struggle to keep from looking sheepish.
“I… I mean… I wish to meet with your king on a matter of great importance. I realize that the hour is quite… early I suppose, but this simply cannot be delayed.”
Graven recovered first. Still looking more than a little dazed, he absently slicked back his crest again, blinking furiously.
“M-may I ask the nature of this matter?”
Luna gave Graven a rather haughty look. “I must speak with the king as soon as possible. There is a warning I must deliver of an impending disaster.”
Gilda felt the feathers on the back of her neck stand up. Even with her ears ringing worse than after a lecture from her father, she couldn’t have missed what the dark princess had said.
Beside her, Graven managed a nod. “Very well. I’ll escort you and your… entourage to the palace. Gilda.”
The griffon in question was already turning to leave, anticipating her brother’s next words. She was not ready for when he stepped on her tail to keep her grounded.
Stepping on a griffon’s tail was not something someone did, no matter who they were. For that reason, Gilda whirled around on her brother, fully intending to beat his smug rump into a fine paste, were it not for the sight of the terrifying princess meeting her gaze.
“Come with me,” Graven finished, unperturbed. “We still have our own business to conclude.”
Just the way he said it sent a cold chill down into Gilda’s stomach. Today has got to be the worst day ever…
Everpeak’s palace was quite the sight, to be sure. Positioned at the utmost center of the teeming metropolis, the palace stood as the central point for the whole kingdom – a metaphorical description of the royal family in griffon society.
Coincidentally, the palace was also the tallest structure in Everpeak; its towers and halls visible from nearly every vista in the city – again characterizing the griffon rulers’ rather impressive egos.
Luna, her guards, Gilda, Graven and the assembled diplomats took nearly fifteen minutes to cross from the edge of the city, through the main thoroughfare and across the bridges that linked the city rings to their inner companions.
By the time they reached the front gates of the palace, the sun was fully separated from the horizon and shining softly over the cold land.
Luna spared it only a few choice glances, her thoughts once more traveling to her struggling sister and the pains it must’ve taken to get the sun where it was now.
She was distracted by the flurry of guards that moved to bar her way. They carried spears and halberds that glinted in the rising sun. Nowhere in their eyes was there fear.
“Halt,” the guard captain snapped – an impressive griffon wearing red and gold armor. “State your business here, princess of Equestria.”
Luna’s eyes narrowed ominously at the contingent.
Gilda automatically braced herself, fully anticipating what was to come.
She never heard the dark alicorn inhale.
“We, Princess Luna, come bearing a warning for King Talos! We seek his audience immediately!”
As Gilda had expected, the sound wave emanating from the princess was terrific. Not even the guards stood against it. Most were bowled clean over onto their rumps. A few had their faces stretched like they were staring into a hurricane-force gale. The guard captain – who’d made the mistake of standing within only a few feet of Luna – was blasted clean off his talons and into the contingent behind him.
“Art thou giving us permission to enter?” Luna boomed, once more producing a shockwave of force from her lips.
No guards could even manage to get to their feet after that one. A couple looked concussed.
“You have our thanks, guard captain!”
And with that, Luna closed her mouth and continued on into the palace without batting an eyelash.
Only Luna’s guards looked particularly unfazed, though that might be due to repeated exposure to the Royal Canterlot Voice. They automatically fell into step slightly behind either side of her flank, stony-faced and eyes forward, and followed their charge into the immense palace.
Gilda, on the other hand, was certain that she’d have a princess-sounding ring in her ear for the next decade. At least this time she hadn’t been on the receiving end, though even an indirect blast was harrowing.
She only regained control of her motor functions when someone patted her shoulder, snapping her out of her daze.
“Come on,” Graven pressed, trying to instill a sense of urgency in his sister through a look alone.
“Yeah right, bro,” Gilda countered, shrugging him off. “I’m not allowed in the palace, remember?”
There was no particular reason for that. She was just a citizen, thus she wasn’t allowed in without written invitation. It was as simple as that, though she figured her brother of all griffons would know that.
Yet, he didn’t back down, much to her frustration. “You’re with me today,” he said coolly, “and if you stay that way, father may not shout you off the mountain.”
Gilda ground her teeth, but conceded and followed her brother into the last place she ever thought she’d find herself.
By the time the duo caught up, Princess Luna was already in the main court. Judging by the lack of heaps of concussed griffons, she hadn’t had to raise her voice to get this far, but now she was meeting resistance.
“I am terribly sorry,” sniffed some snooty griffon with a handlebar comb, “but you cannot make demands of this court on a whim, Princess Luna. There are procedures that must be taken into account.”
“All of which we are well aware of,” Luna snapped, her patience dangerously thin. “Do you think we would simply forgo tradition were the circumstances not important?”
“That remains to be seen,” the chamberlain replied. “Were the situation so important, I am fairly certain my king would be well aware of it already.”
“Uh, shouldn’t you try to stop that,” Gilda asked Graven nervously. “You know, before she blows us up?”
Judging by the look on Luna’s face, that outcome wasn’t far off.
But Graven looked uncertain. “I’m a soldier captain. Even if I was with the palace guard, I don’t outrank his highness’s chamberlain.”
Gilda snarled. This, right here, was why she hated griffon society – they were so flapping concerned with status and procedure! Obviously the princess hadn’t made this whole trip just to cause a scene, and the fact that she was willing to resort to it only made the importance of her news that much more… well, important. And this flapping featherbrain was going to turn up his nose because the princess didn’t have an appointment?!
For the first time in a long time, Gilda snapped.
Not even the grasping talons of her brother could keep her from soaring up into the air and bearing down on the chamberlain, hovering directly above his immaculately manicured beak.
“Now you listen here, bub! This princess didn’t just fly all the way here for you to spout some lame excuse!”
For the first time, the chamberlain quailed, actually shrinking down towards the ground out of fright of the young griffon glaring down at him.
“If you have a reason for saying ‘no’, it better be a pretty darn good one! And if you say ‘she doesn’t have an appointment’ ONE-MORE-TIME…!”
Those last three words came out a little louder than she’d meant, but it had the desired effect.
“S-she will have to wait her turn!” the chamberlain screeched. “There are plenty of others who have waited months for this chance to appear before his royal highness! It is not up to me whether she goes or not!”
“Yeah? Well you better fix that before I…,” Gilda started to threaten. Before she could finish, however, she was nabbed out of the air by a strong pair of talons.
“What are you doing,” hissed Graven furiously. “You can’t just –”
“Interesting,” Luna spoke up suddenly.
And just like that, everyone in the room fell silent as they took in the ominous glint in Luna’s eyes.
By now, quite a crowd had gathered on the edges of the court – griffons with status and influence, all filing in to the court for their long-awaited appointments with their king.
They’d all witnessed the outrageousbehavior of Gilda, and were about to voice their indignation when Luna had spoken, and the moment she had, everyone dropped into a dead silence.
This time, at least, Gilda saw a warning sign from Luna when she reared up and leaned her head back. That was all the cue she needed to clamp her talons over her ears as hard as she could.
“Dear fellows! We, Princess Luna, wishes to speak to the king on a matter most dire!”
She then turned a harrowing eye towards the assembled, horrified griffons.
“Dost anyone wish to refute our claim?!”
The vote was unanimous.
“Of course not!”
“Please don’t eat me!”
Luna nodded and fell back onto all fours. She summarily turned back to the chamberlain, who looked very ruffled.
“There you have it, kind sir,” Luna said with a diplomatic smile. “It seems the matter has been settled.”
“But,” the griffon quarreled weakly, “procedure…”
Luna gave him a look of pure damnation. “The matter is settled,” she stated bluntly.
“S-so it would seem,” squeaked the chamberlain in a tiny, hatchling-ish voice. “I shall just… go inform the king… of your… eep!”
And without wasting any more time, he bolted off to the grand staircase behind the throne so fast that he left a visible trail of molted feathers in his wake.
“That went well, I think,” Luna stated brightly, stunning everyone on hand.
It was nearly half an hour later before the king himself made an appearance.
King Talos was an old griffon – old enough that most people often spoke of who his successor would be in the same breath as his name.
His feathers were old and brittle, some having lost most of their color. His beak was cracked, created a sort of serrated edge along one side – an old scar from his youthful days at war.
Only his haunches showed his advanced age, and that was because the golden fur on his lion half was marred with shocks of grey and snowy white.
He wore a cape with a significant collar, making him look like he had the mane of a lion to boot.
The old monarch strode into the court room with only a little stiffness. He was straight-backed, imposing, and right now, very irritated.
And all of that irritation was aimed directly at a certain midnight blue princess.
“You have considerable gall making demands of my court, Princess of Equestria,” he growled dangerously. His voice was raspy and course, worn down by countless years of bellowing orders and decrees.
Princess Luna bowed respectfully towards King Talos as he descended the stairs. “Forgive me, your highness. If the matter were not so serious, I would not have dreamed of resorting to such measures.”
“Hmph,” grunted Talos as he approached the throne. “A likely story.”
King Talos – like his father before him and his father before him – despised the rulers of Equestria, simply for their arrogance. In his eyes, at least, it was up to the rulers of a kingdom to lead by example, and the most fundamental aspect of that rule was obeying their own laws and the laws of others to the letter. This princess and her sister never thought twice about casting aside that very rule whenever they pleased, and the fact that Luna had dared do such a thing in his very house was not something he took lightly.
“You come here and disrupt my court, and force through those that have obeyed procedure, without warning or notice. For your sake, princess, your message had best be revolutionary, to say the least.”
By the time he was done iterating his threat, Talos had managed to work his creaky bones onto the throne. He sat there, his elevation forcing Luna to look up at him and him to look down on her.
Luna nodded contritely, still averting her gaze out of respect.
From the sidelines, Gilda watched on with a mixture of awe and sheer terror.
She’d never seen the king himself in person before, and now here she was, doing the same thing that Luna was – breaking procedure. Considering he was throwing threats at a veritable god, she shuddered to think what he’d do once he rounded on her.
And don’t forget the fact that you shouted down his chamberlain, chimed in the most unhelpful voice ever in her head.
When Gilda groaned quietly to herself, Graven only gave her a heavy look. He had no words to get her out of this predicament. He just didn’t know what would be worst – the king’s reaction… or their father’s. All he could do was say a prayer.
“I do, your highness,” Luna said, still very respectful. In Talos’ eyes, that respect was only born because she’d gotten her way.
For that reason alone, he almost tossed her out on her flank. He must’ve been an incredibly good mood to allow this… this joke to continue.
“Then let’s have it,” Talos snapped, waving a gnarled talon.
Luna nodded and straightened up. “Your highness, my sister, Celestia, and I have considerable reason to believe that a being known as Erebus has reawakened, and his return is imminent.”
Talos cocked one ragged-feathered brow at her. He was resting his head on one talon, exuding the sense of contempt.
“And what, pray tell, is this Erebus?”
“He is the personification of destruction,” Luna said solemnly. “In the same way that my sister and I are linked to the sun and moon, Erebus is connected to the destructive forces deep beneath the surface of this world.”
Talos’ eyes narrowed. “Do you have proof to this claim besides mystic divinations?”
Luna hesitated. “That I do not,” she admitted.
“Of course you don’t,” Talos sighed irritably. “And I suppose you have no reason to suspect this… Erebus… has any reason to come here?”
“Whether he comes here or not is not the issue,” Luna stated, trying to keep her voice even.
Luna nodded. “As I have already stated, Erebus is connected to the very earth. When he appears, the aftershocks will be felt far and wide. There will be quakes of considerable strength. Preparations must be made before –”
“Enough,” snapped Talos in a tired voice as he raised one talon. He gazed pointedly at Luna. “You think me so incapable of handling disasters that you and your sister should interject? We griffons are not the helpless ponies of your kingdom; we have lived through tragedy and difficulties that would make your kind molt themselves naked. You think a few tremors in the ground can affect us?”
Luna had to fight to keep from glaring at the old monarch. “Erebus is no tremor, your highness. I do not pretend to question the integrity of your kingdom – I question your ability to do battle with a god!”
Talos stomped the ground so hard that everyone besides Luna jumped.
“That is enough, princess! I will not have you berate me like some neighing foal!”
He got up, falling down onto all fours, and whirled away from Luna, looking disgusted. “Your ‘warning’ has been received, Princess Luna. I ask that you now politely show yourself out.”
Finally, Luna’s temper flared out of her control. “Do not turn thine back on us!” she bellowed and stomped one of her powerful hooves so hard that it cracked the floor.
The whole hall shook, rattling the stained glass windows on the walls and shaking dust from the ceiling.
Luna’s eyes flashed pure white with rage, her horn flaring with dark light. Even without the power of the night at her back, she was a considerable force to be reckoned with.
Even King Talos froze and stared back at her, his golden eyes widening.
“Dost thou not see-ist my power, Talos? Can thou imagine facing us in battle? CAN THOU?!”
Luna took an ominous step forward, magical lightning crackling off her horn. “This is what thou shalt face in Erebus! This is…”
Luna trailed off, suddenly looking down.
Something had caught her attention, and as her power faded back into obscurity, everyone felt way.
The hall was vibrating still. And it was getting worse. In a fraction of a second, the gentle vibration ramped up to a teeth-rattling level, rocking the very stone of the court room.
In other rooms, cabinets upended their contents on the floor, bidden by tremor after tremor. Plates and glasses shattered. Loadbearing struts started to shift, causing the very walls all across the city to split under stress. And through it all, the world seemed to groan in one endless, deadly tone, as if straining against an immense force within.
Luna stared up and around, her heart starting to hammer in her chest. Everyone in the room was looking around fearfully as the palace groaned and complained under the seismic torture.
And then she felt it – like a tense membrane inside her breaking. There was no warning – not way to brace. All she felt was a burning, suffocating pressure on her head, like a fiery boulder crushing her down into the ground.
“No,” she choked, and before anyone could stop her, Luna teleported in a flash of umbral light.
In the next instant, Luna reformed again – this time astride the roof of the tallest tower on the palace.
The moment she rematerialized, the whole of Everpeak was rocked by a shockwave so powerful that it kicked up dust from the ground.
Luna’s eyes automatically swiveled towards the source of that shockwave, even as griffons started screaming far below.
She barely even registered the sounds.
Compared to the pillar of flames off in the distance, the sounds of panic were hardly noticeable.
Far off in the distance – barely even within eyesight even for the alicorn, a mountain had just exploded from within, its top exploding with unparalleled force. Luna could see bits of superheated rock sailing through the immense plume of ash and smoke; a cloud that was quickly growing to swallow the sky.
Lava coursed from the molten wound like blood, scorching the earth and igniting a forest fire as it reached the woods at the base of the mountain.
But Luna could feel things that eyes alone could not convey. She felt the intense, violent magical energy that beat against her like a high wind. It made her feel like she was physically burning up – like at any moment she would burst into flames.
This aura was unlike anything she’d ever felt. Not even Celestia’s most powerful spell could convey such raw destructive potential. Nothing – not Discord, not Queen Chrysalis, not even the Elements of Harmony – could compare in terms of scope and power.
And as she watched, she saw the source of that ungodly aura emerge onto the world once more, a burning claw smashing into the caldera of the newly awakened volcano. The result was a wave of lava that oblitered still more of the woodland below.
Erebus pulled his flaming head and neck from the burning interior of the world amid the chaos of yet another cataclysmic eruption. He opened his maw and let out a roar that blasted Everpeak at full volume, regardless of the miles in between them.
Luna just looked on, her blood running cold, as the living disaster lowered its head and stared directly towards his first victims.
“Sister… help us,” Luna muttered to herself as Erebus declared his genocidal intentions one more time to the populace at large.
TO BE CONTINUED...
A/N: and then they hugged it out.
Nah, just kidding. They're going to murder each other's faces.