The sun was fading over the horizon, not that the alicorn could see that it was. He sat in silence in front of a window, a stained glass window depicting an alicorn in front of a glowing moon. At least that is how it should have looked, however no light fell through the window. The window sat atop a monument, layers of smooth dark stone.
A silver plaque, tarnishing at the edges despite the fact that it had received almost constant reparative attention for the last 500 years. The plaque had few words on it comparatively, mostly there were symbols and dates. Words like "Distinction", "Honour", "Role" and "Rest" were written ornately in various places.
The alicorn began the small ritual he had done every night for about a century. He lit the candles around the window and light spilled through it. The moon illuminated, causing white and blue light to be cast over his face.
He sat back and gazed. Gazed with old eyes that looked perpetually young.
Time passed, hours in fact. The sound of a door opening echoed. A voice filtered through, the voice of a young unicorn.
"Operator, she has left the party, what do you advise?"
The alicorn turned around slowly, his reply was quiet, "We must talk with her, her lot has been drawn, you know what it means."
The party had been the most exciting event in the mare's whole month, it wasn't often the mare got chance to get away from everything and relax. The music had been fantastic and she had danced for the first time in half a year. She had even met with friends she hadn't seen since the previous Sun Celebration. She had only one complaint about the party, why choose a venue so low down in the city?
It was far too late to get a chariot, she'd have to walk up. Luckily, she had had the foresight not to drink too much cider. She made her way to the stair, moonlight was streaming down from the sky, the night was clear and the stars were visible. The mare paused for a moment to admire a constellation she thought she had never seen before, perhaps it was new; it seemed possible that Princess Luna could have added more stars.
A street lamp stood up ahead, below it the outline of a pony. Probably just a city guard, the royal guard was still being rather vigilant after the foiled invasion of what ponies were calling "Changelings".
She turned left along a path and continued to walk along, she stopped suddenly when she heard a rustling. She calmed herself, it was just an owl on a nearby perch. The mare giggled to herself.
She rounded the corner, up ahead was the stair that she could use to get home easiest. The night air was unusually warm and the jewellery decorating her hoofs was feeling somewhat constraining, she decided to take it off, she would just put them in her bag...
"Oh dash it!" she exclaimed, followed by excusing herself for yelling so late at night, in case anypony had heard her. She had left her bag at the venue. Was it too late to turn back for it? Probably not, some ponies would be still dancing away.
The mare doubled her speed back to the venue, turning right she noticed that there was no guard at the lamppost anymore. She disregarded the fact and continued back to the venue.
When she emerged from the venue an hour later (She had been persuaded to dance for 'a little while' again and to have a drink or two) there was less light falling on the ground, she looked up to see cloud cover. She didn't envy the pegesi on the night shift.
As she made her way back down the paths she saw something moving in the darkness. This time it was too big to be an owl, it had been larger, pony sized.
"Hello?" she murmured.
"Perhaps there is good reason for guards to be out on the streets," she thought. "I best head home quickly," she whispered to herself.
She quickened her pace, hurrying towards the stair. She reached the bottom of the stair and quickly began to run up. Half way up the flight she slipped on something.
She squeaked as she fell forward. She turned over violently.
In front of her stood a shadow. For some reason, why she wasn't particularly sure, she felt the urge to pass out. Not that it was at all a voluntary action but she indulged it as if it was.
The mare awoke with a start. She got up and stood blinking in the gloom, slowly but surely the veneer softened and the edges of her view became tangible once again.
Deep blue velvet adorned the walls, ahead of her was what almost appeared to be a shrine, in front of it stood a shadow, perhaps holding a vigil.
The silence was piercing, near unbearable. The urge to break it should have presented itself, but the mare remained silent.
The shape turned. Out of the recesses of the shrine came an alicorn.
A voice came like thunder, calm but domineering, "No need to be alarmed, it won't help your situation. I am Eizenhorn, General Eizenhorn if you want to be particular. Though most here call me Operator."
The mare looked about timidly, still a little in shock, she could see nopony else.
"Step forward," the alicorn said. The mare felt compelled to move, the voice was demanding, but around her other shadows moved closer, the alicorn had not been addressing her.
Around her stood a host of ponies. Each was unique, unicorns, earth ponies and pegesi; but all maintained their silence, they had moved as one.
The alicorn was grey maned and his coat was dark. His eyes looked to be a deep blue.
"You probably wondering where you are. For nearly as long as Canterlot has stood, there has been a place like this. Before Canterlot's towers were even half the height they are now there have been chambers, invisible to nearly all and yet so close that one can hear every hoof-beat from the surface."
The alicorn spoke with an accent that had been long forgotten, an accent of high nobility, and yet when putting emphasis on words his voice became gruff and controlling.
The mare wanted to open her mouth to speak but she was frozen, vexed by the majesty of the words coming from the alicorn.
"But perhaps more importantly you are thinking who we are? We are the wing-beat on the breeze, the sparkle in the distance and the hoof-print where one has no right to be. We are shadows and the blinding light. You have well and truly stepped through the looking glass, but this is no filly's tale."
The mare felt petrified. Was the alicorn deliberately trying to make her afraid? What had she stumbled into? Why was this Eizenhorn going on about wing-beats?
"Will this drama amount to anything, or is it a tool to lead you further in the dark? That is for you to decide. I'll give you only facts," the alicorn said dryly.
It was clear to the mare that escape wasn't an option, but though she seemed to be surrounded by ponies that apparently could blend in with the shadows at a moment's notice and that should have terrified her, she felt more afraid of Eizenhorn.
"For more than a thousand years we have existed. On a clear night, I can still remember the night of our founding. We were gathered by a pony greater than the sum of all our grace, she gave us purpose and a chance at redemption. The founder asked much of us, some would say she stole our lives from us, but those more enlightened would not see it as such."
Surely not all of these ponies have been here for a thousand years. That would be simply impossible, but the room looked old, and the alicorn was like nopony she had ever encountered. What was significant about the night being clear?
A thousand years! This alicorn is like Celestia, living for so long, why had she never heard of him? The mare thought that she must be cracking up, it couldn't be real, she was dreaming or she must have drunk too much. This all had no relevance to her surely. Fortune had flung her into the gaze of madcolts. Who in Equestria could this Founder have been?
"She spoke to us at length, defined our worth and made her requests. We obeyed without question, and still do today. From her words comes our doctrine. We are bound to the three duties."
The mare could bare it no longer, words slipped out of her mouth...
"Three duties?" she stuttered.
The alicorn looked her in the eye for a moment, a gaze that made the mare's blood freeze, as if he was scrutinising every detail of her, judging her and her thoughts.
"We are bound to three duties. We are bound to protect three aspects. Bound to protect those the Founder loves, bound to protect Equestria and those who call it home, and finally bound to protect ourselves."
The eyes of the alicorn were hollow as he recited his doctrine, as if it had passed his lips a hundred times. Unbeknown to the mare, it had.
"Many have passed their lives in service of these duties. Lifetimes have passed and whole areas of Equestria have reformed but we have remained. We have seen so much, but we have remained. We must remain. Always."
The alicorn looked around the room. None of the ponies made eye contact, their eyes remained on the mare, who was routed to the spot.
"The names of those who have given themselves to the cause are enshrined upon our minds forever and the monument you see before you, we will not forget them. You will know some of them yourself, those who had the strength to live in two worlds. There was Starscroll, a brilliant unicorn, by day a magical inventor, by night the greatest researcher we have ever had. There was Amelia Cloudheart, to most of Equestria one of the greatest show flyers to live, to us a reconnaissance agent whose skills are unrivalled to this day. There were those who were truly unique like Mane, an often drunk, mareniser who was at times reckless to say the least, he passed with honour as we all should. I have merely scratched the surface; the list goes on, the ponies who gave everything."
The mare stood aghast. She had grown up with tales of Cloudheart from her grandmare, she thought she had heard every story, experienced every dive third hand, and here came possibly the most important part of Cloudheart's life, passed over as if it had lasted just a split second. She breathed a quiet astonishment.
"Our reliquary holds artefacts and scriptures long forgotten, lost in the ebb and flow of time; each with their own history, and not that you would know by looking at them intertwined with ours. Our past is intertwined with nearly every bit of history"
The alicorn had stopped talking, the mare noted his eyes seemed blurred, singular tears residing in them. He regained his composure as quickly as he lost it, launching again into speech.
"We have failed only once in our duty. A failure we can never repent for, an event that changed Equestria's destiny forever."
The mare wanted to collapse, she was being presented with an alternative history, a world of secrets that had never see the light of day, the things that no pony could hear without changing their view of everything. Yet the feeling to keep listening wouldn't let her go, she was imprisoned by her own thirst for truth, the ponies encircling her weren't needed.
"We should have saw it coming, it was inevitable, it was our fault. She meant nothing by it at first, it was merely a longing for company, a natural feeling; but when the very group she had created, the only ones she felt connected to, were too busy with duty; it proved too much. When she was exiled we knew we could never redeem ourselves, not truly. We swore we would never falter in our duties again, and that we would remember the Founder we had known."
They couldn't be talking about... it wasn't possible... was it? The looking glass to truth was open and the mare could do nothing to stop herself stepping through. The mare wanted to stop listening, to cover her ears until she was sure silence had fallen but she knew in the back of her mind she had to hear this.
"For a thousand years we waited for her return, the Founder's very existence was myth to all but a few and us." The alicorn sighed. "We prepared ourselves for her return, for we knew she would come, we decided on a course of action, if we could not redeem the founder, we would have to do something unforgivable. To do as the founder asked, we would have to sacrifice something."
The mare was entranced by this revelation. They would have done it, they would have...
It dawned on the Mare, the Founder's words were doctrine to them, and they put them before everything; even her.
"Fate smiled upon us, unlikely allies rose and the Founder was saved. We were blessed, we shall never forget it. When it was over. We did as we should, we celebrated by continuing our work, united in service."
The mare wondered if Princess Luna even knew that there were still those following her requests, perhaps it didn't even matter, maybe it was better that she didn't know.
There must have been a reason why this group had stayed secret, it occurred to the mare that some ponies weren't meant to know about these sorts of things. The last minutes of her life assured he she wasn't one of those ponies.
"In the past months we have weathered threats greater than we have ever faced, again we were protected by those bestowed with great power. However we ready ourselves for the day when the luck of Equestria comes out, when Harmony abandons us and we must defend all that is dear to us, when Equestria and its populace need us most, when our allies have given their last, we will look our end in the face. We will give everything. We will remain, or we will fade with honour."
She had most definitely been meant to know these things.
The mare felt something inside her, roaring her bones, crackling and sparking through her like a forest ablaze. Courage.
She spoke only a few words. "Who are you?"
"We are Shadowrun." The reply came from all around her. "We are bound to our duties and we serve united. Now you shall too."
The mare mustered a reply.