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Nightmare moon paced back and forth in her temporary bedroom. The room itself had a large bed, though rather small to her, placed against the center of it's back wall with a picture of a sunrise hanging over it. On each side of the bed were small nightstands, and on the wall to it's left was a dresser with a mirror attached. Nightmare had raised the night long ago. In fact, it was nearing dawn by now, and yet the empress was still awake. This was not uncommon. The black alicorn was often awake longer than her sister. She preferred her night to the day, but since most ponies were awake during the day she did them the courtesy of being up through much of it whenever she could.
This was different though. The empress of the night needed to be awake through practically all of tomorrow, so she should have gone to bed by now. Yet she couldn't. Her mind was too preoccupied with the thief. The truth of the matter was that Duke Gravel Pie had been correct when he had said the appropriate punishment for imperial theft was death. There was little else that stacked up to that in terms of severity, and while the point of not killing the mare was to be more lenient Nightmare still felt she needed to be punished. The unicorn had stolen from her, and the reasoning, though odd enough to give the empress pause, was ultimately selfish.
The alicorn sighed, not for the first time that night. She could banish the mare. The unicorn certainly seemed to have some survival skills, but was it enough to ensure that Nightmare wasn't just sending her to a slower death sentence? She had no idea. She couldn't give her a life of imprisonment. Equestria had no real prisons since most criminals who would warrant a long imprisonment were killed or banished anyway, so supplies weren't wasted on keeping them alive. Jails were meant only to temporarily hold criminals, and dungeons, while built to last, were preserved for their owners' to deal out personal punishment or interrogations.
This left the only option as indentured servitude or outright slavery, but again there were problems. Most slaves were put to physical work, and the unicorn appeared rather scrawny. She had been caught by her guards fairly quick as well. Obviously, she wasn't cut out for hard labor. Then again, why should Nightmare Moon care? The alicorn stopped, and stared up at the roof in thought. Why did she care? She should've let the duke execute the thief, but she didn't. "Why not?" She questioned herself mentally,
The more she tried to find the answer the easier it seemed to elude her. Growling to herself, Nightmare shook her head violently. Her gaze shifted to the floor as she thought, "Why couldn't she just be more fit? Then I'd have already figured this out and could move on..."
That's when a thought struck the empress. The unicorn was not physically fit, but she clearly had some talent for magic if she could teleport. Then the thief's reasoning stuck out in Nightmare's head. "Of course. If she was willing to go through all that trouble just to read a book she's likely an eager learner. Which means she might be intelligent." She reasoned.
While most slaves, indeed, were used for physical labor personal ones were used for a large variety of things, and while Nightmare did not need one she could think of ways a powerful intelligent unicorn might be useful to her. What guarantee did she have that the thief was intelligent, though? She had said that the book she attempted to steal was the first one she'd seen, and how much magic could she have learnt on her own?
The black alicorn groaned as more problems presented themselves. She had no intention of holding the unicorn's hoof if she was made her personal slave. Nightmare Moon glanced out the solitary window on the wall to the bed's right. Her moon was growing close to the horizon. Heading to the bed, she made a plan. In the morning, she would interview her little thief, and learn what she could. Hopefully, the unicorn would prove to be acceptable to Nightmare's standards. If not, then she would have to become good at hard labor fast. Decision made, the empress removed the covers to the slightly cramped bed with her magic before laying down, and covering herself up.
Twilight Sparkle awoke with a start. She'd been having a nightmare where the empress had only kept her alive to torture her consistently. Needless to say, the unicorn was scared witless. She began to shiver in fear as she laid on the hay on the floor.
The cell she was in was located in the basement of the duke's home. Though she hadn't had much of a chance to look around before she was placed in the cell, which sat directly across from the stairs leading to house above, she'd seen enough to know the walls were all constructed of large stones, and that there was no flooring. The only difference of the cell Twilight was in from the rest of the basement was that it had a patch of, suspiciously wet and putrid, hay for a pony to lay on. There were no windows of any sort, and no candles that might be elsewhere in the basement were lit. This left the young unicorn alone in the darkness, and without anyway to tell what time it was.
All in all, it wasn't that different from her own home. The only things that really made it uncomfortable were the cast-iron bars keeping her locked up, and the growing sense of foreboding within her. "Oh Celestia, you've really done it now Twilight." The mare mentally rebuked herself, "Why'd you have to go and steal that book? Idiot!"
She clenched her eyes shut, and covered her head with her hooves in frustration. She could've just gone back into her tunnel, and ate her other apple. She could've continued living peacefully, but she just had to see the book. Didn't she? A loud creaking alerted her to somepony entering the basement. Releasing her head, Twilight stared into the shadows as a silhouette that she couldn’t make out thumped down the stairs. When the figure reached the bottom a quick navy flash illuminated a horn on it’s head, and a candle on a desk near the stairs lit up. The sudden light revealed the shadow to be Nightmare Moon. The empress’ slitted pupils seemed to bore into Twilight, and made the mare shiver once more. The unicorn tried to stop staring at the ruler of the night, but couldn’t tear her gaze from the alicorn. “Twilight Sparkle, correct?” She asked.
The mare in question nodded her head numbly. “I am going to ask you some questions, and you will answer them truthfully. Understood?” The empress continued.
Twilight once again nodded her head. “Where do you live?” Nightmare asked.
“I-in the poor side of town. Near the edge.” Twilight answered shakily.
Nightmare Moon’s face remained impassive as she stated, “Judging from the state of the area, I assume you do not have a home then. Ho-”
“Um…” Twilight interrupted, and flinched at the glare she received for it. “I-I d-do have a home. I live in a tunnel I made under a collapsed building. It kept the weather out so I-”
“Do not interrupt me.” Nightmare Moon ordered, narrowing her eyes.
Twilight trembled at the invisible menace in the empress’ tone, and hid her head under her hooves squeaking, “I’m sorry!”
When the alicorn’s voice returned it showed no sign of anger, “How is it that you keep such shelter? I’d imagine any thug would think nothing of taking it from you.”
Twilight cautiously rose to her hooves, and reached back to the skirt of her dress to move it, showing off her decorated thigh. “It’s my cutie mark.” She explained. “Most ponies are afraid of me because they think I’m connected to the stars.”
Nightmare Moon raised a brow, but the unicorn didn’t notice, busy looking at her own flank. “It appeared after I saved myself from some other ponies. They were trying to…I don‘t know. I…I was afraid, and I just acted. I don’t remember what happened too well, just seeing a few plants around afterward, but my magic’s always been stronger since than it was before. So, I think it has to do with magic. Not the stars.”
“That would be more likely. While I can manipulate their light to shine in anyplace I wish, even I can not control the stars. They are simply too far away.” Nightmare replied, bringing the unicorn’s attention back to her. “How did you learn to teleport?”
Twilight was flustered by the sudden change in subject, but recovered quickly. “I was running from guards at the time, and I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I just wished with everything I had that I could be home, and then I was there.” She explained.
“So you learnt it by instinct?” Nightmare asked.
“I guess.” Twilight answered. “I was never taught any spells. I just learnt what I know naturally.”
“How much do you know?” The alicorn queried.
Twilight laid down, rubbing her right foreleg in embarrassment, as she replied sheepishly, “Just telekinesis and creating light. Aside from teleporting that is.”
Nightmare Moon snorted, and changed subjects once again. “Teleporting while in motion is difficult for even those who can use the spell in the first place. If you could manage it before, why did you not use it escape my guards?”
The young unicorn looked to the ground, and replied, “I’d already teleported to make it into your chariot unnoticed, and that used a lot of my energy as it was. I doubt I would’ve had the strength to do it even if I’d thought about it.” Her tone turned somber as she added quietly, “Why didn’t I think of it though?”
Nightmare Moon maintained a cold distant mask all through out the conversation. However, inside, her mind was processing multiple thoughts all at once. The unicorn was indeed powerful. She had a talent for magic, but she was also unlearnt. She was intelligent though. Her words and speech were well articulated, and she likely knew how to read. Also, “Is that disappointment in her voice?”
It was. The unicorn was disappointed for not thinking about teleporting away from her pursuers. She was probably analytical. Further proof of her intelligence despite her environment. One more question. “Do you have any family?” Nightmare asked.
“No.” Twilight Sparkle answered.
She had no attachments. Perfect. Nightmare Moon allowed the tiniest smirk to cross her lips. She turned back to the stairs, and extinguished the candle with her magic as she spoke, “That is all I need. Your cooperativeness shall be taken into account.”
As the empress proceeded back into the duke's house proper she was hopeful. The unicorn would still require teaching, but, really, Nightmare had been expecting this. The chances that the unicorn wouldn't were unrealistic. So, the empress would teach her what she felt necessary. If the thief-no. If Twilight Sparkle learnt quickly, as Nightmare believed she would, she would continue to serve the black alicorn. If she didn't learn fast enough, she would be given to slave merchants to do with as they pleased.
Arriving in the den at the top of the stairs Nightmare was joined by a single royal guard. The rest were out in the city, gathering ponies for the empress' speech. The guard fell in step behind her as she made for the outside. "Did the prisoner give you any trouble, your grace?" He asked.
"No." Nightmare Moon shook her head, "She answered truthfully."
"Are you certain, your majesty?"
Nightmare narrowed her eyes slightly as she glanced briefly behind her, and responded in a cold tone, "Do you doubt my word?"
The guard appeared frightened and stuttered in reply, "N-no, my empress. I merely mean to say that the prisoner can not be trusted."
Nightmare stopped at the door to the outside, and turned to the guard. She could hear ponies chattering beyond it, but it wasn't quite time for her speech yet. She frowned. The guard seemed to have perceived the threat in her tone, but he had still persisted. "I may not hold court with nobility as often as my sister, but I have done it enough to perceive when a pony is lying to me. Legate Artillerus is not an honest pony himself. Twilight Sparkle has not lied to me yet, and I don't expect she shall." The empress explained.
"Twilight Sparkle, ma'am?" The guard questioned.
"The unicorn's name." Nightmare answered. "Did you think me above knowing the names of important ponies?"
"Important?" The guard's tone grew incredulous. "Your majesty, she is nothing but a lowborn rotten thief!"
Nightmare's eyes shot open as she realized just which guard she was speaking with. "You will watch your tone when speaking to me." She ordered with true ire in her voice. "Lowborn or not she is important, especially to you now. I have decided to make her my personal slave, and I expect you treat her with the same care you would any of my other possessions. Now go, and tell your companions my decision."
"But, you gr-"
"ENOUGH!" The empress ordered, unconsciously deepening her voice with magic. "I will not change my mind simply to heal your wounded pride! Now leave me before I decide to make an example you!"
"Yes, ma'am!" The guard barely squeaked out before rushing out the door behind his master.
Nightmare eyed the door angrily for a moment before sighing and closing her eyes. "I guess it's official now." She thought.
That brought to mind the issue of loyalty. She needed to be able to trust Twilight Sparkle if she was going put her to use. The mare was clearly afraid of her, but fear was not the best way to ensure obedience. Not to mention it was bound to wear off eventually, given that the unicorn would be spending a lot of time with her. She could hope for the mare to develop a sense of duty, but captivity rarely caused positive feelings to grow. In truth there was nothing guaranteeing that Twilight wouldn't try to escape when she was strong enough. Teleportation was nearly impossible to track. Come to think of it, there would be no way to prevent her from using that spell without impeding the rest of her magic. Wards could only be placed on objects. To stop Twilight from teleporting a seal would need to be placed on her magic, but part of the reason Nightmare had use for her was her magic. Well...There was one solution. Not commonly practiced, and with good reason. "It's a bit archaic, but it should work perfectly..." She thought.
The door to the outside creaked open, and duke Gravel Pie walked through. "The ponies are gathered, your majesty. As many as could be retrieved." He said.
Nightmare Moon opened her eyes, and stepped past the duke wordlessly. In front of the cabin's porch were over a hundred ponies. A little over half the town's population. The street was crowded as ponies struggled against one another to gain a view of the upcoming speech. It would be enough to intimidate any normal pony, but the empress of the night was no normal pony. She had given rallies and public declarations before. Perhaps not as much as Celestia, but more than enough to know what to do. As she stepped onto the porch the ponies quieted, all staring at her. Her very presence demanded respect, and it was given.
Nightmare Moon's eyes gazed over the crowd, taking in as many faces as she could. Most ponies stood in awe of her, but, as the day before, there were some who glared at her in anger. The black alicorn's thoughts returned to her own upset at the town's state, and the growing unrest in her empire as she began her speech, amplifying her voice with magic, "My subjects, you have gathered here because there is a message that needs to be delivered. For decades now, you have struggled. Your forefathers fought hard to tame this land, and today you still live with their pains. Your hunters search for animals that are disappearing. What money you make goes towards food. You sleep in structures barely fit to be called homes, and, in many cases, you lack homes. Yet there is always a light within my night. Just as there will always be one in your lives."
The ponies appeared unmoved by her words, and the angry ones appeared to be growing restless. The empress continued undaunted, "I know it is not easy to see. There are days you go without so that your foals may have, but change comes to all things. Countless years ago ponies were little better than the beasts of the field that many of you hunt. Yet now we are a civilized kind. If this change, something beyond our ancestors' imagination, could occur then how is it possible that your own lives will not improve with time?"
As the words left Nightmare Moon's mouth she could feel a disgust for them rising within her. Change does not come without an instigator. As their rulers it was her and Celestia's responsibility to be that instigation, but all they were doing was giving a pretty speech. "We'll be lucky if this doesn't aggravate the problem." She thought.
As the words crossed her mind an angry voice called out from the crowd, "But when is it going to change? You just sit there in your castle locked off from the rest of us by that damn cursed forest and live a life luxury while the rest of us suffer!"
Nightmare's inner disgust at her own words turned to rage at the personal insult, and she scanned the crowd for the voice. She found no source, and as a guard to her side prepared to surge into the crowd she blocked him with a foreleg. No sense in starting a zebra hunt. If the speech didn't incite more unrest arresting random ponies in the crowd would. The empress lowered her leg when the guard backed down, and responded in a calm unreadable voice, "I would not be here if I did not care about the state of your lives, and there is a guarded path through the Everfree that is safe to travel. We are not as unapproachable as you presume. This very town was founded by those who came to us for permission, and we have continued to help it as needed."
"Then what of the ponies sent to ask for more help?" Another voice shouted.
Again, Nightmare could not discern the speaker. "I am unaware of any such party." She answered.
In truth, she was, but claiming no knowledge was simpler than explaining they'd been imprisoned for disrespecting her sister. The crowd seemed to be growing distressed at the scene unfolding before them. Their faces were not contorted in anger, but it was clear the unexpected questioning was having the opposite effect Nightmare wished to create. "Any more disruptions will be met with appropriate punishment!" Gravel Pie suddenly shouted from her side.
The black alicorn's eyes narrowed ever so slightly at the duke. He had spoken out of turn. As if in response to her anger a rock flew out of the crowd, and hammered into Gravel's forehead. He paused as his mind processed what had happened. A warm red liquid pooled from the spot the rock had struck, and fell across his face in a single red line. The duke's face twisted, and he angrily shouted, "Guards! Find the son of a horse responsible for this, and arrest him! I want his head on a pike!"
Before Nightmare Moon could do anything the crowd panicked, and began to surge out of the street as the town guards that had stood watch in the alleyways and on the porch began to brutally apprehend ponies to be sorted out later. As the situation spiraled out of control the empress hurried back inside, breathing heavily. Once out of sight she let go of her composure with a wretched scream of fury. She had no doubt the ponies outside had still heard her, but she didn't care. This was unacceptable. Unacceptable! "I manage to reel in my own emotions for the sake of these ponies, and that bastard of a duke has to ruin everything!" She thought.
Oh, it was undeniable that the rock was a grievous insult, but what did the overzealous duke think he would accomplish by sicking the guards into a crowd of ponies that numerous. Did he really think he would catch the perpetrator? Was he that foolish? Nightmare suddenly came to the conclusion that poverty wasn't the only problem Stalliongrad had. Snorting in aggravation the alicorn proceeded further into the house. She wished to be free of this town as quickly as possible, but there was still one thing she needed to do.
Twilight Sparkle couldn't hear the commotion going on above, nor did she have any clue what was to become of her. She still had that nagging fear in the back of her head that the empress only spared her to torture her. However, she could only lay in her cell and twiddle her hooves. The door to the basement was slammed open, startling the mare. The faint light that spilled into the staircase from above did little to reveal the large figure that descended them. Though, Twilight swallowed hard, already suspecting who it was. Three deep blue auras seemed to support her suspicions, and, when the center light glowed brighter briefly, the candle on the desk across from her cell lit to confirm them. Before her was Nightmare Moon once more, and she held two objects within her magic. To her right was a small knife, and to her left was cup. Twilight had little time to wonder about the objects as the empress immediately began in what seemed like a hurried tone, "As punishment for attempting to steal from me you are to become my personal slave."
Twilight wanted to flinch and breathe out a sigh of relief at the same time. She was, at least, a little more confident that she would not be tortured if she was the empress' slave, but, on the other hoof, she had no idea what she would be made to do. The young mare's thoughts were once again pushed to side as Nightmare continued, "You will do whatever I ask whenever I ask. Understood?"
Twilight nodded mutely, mouth falling slightly askew. The alicorn didn't notice or didn't care as she proceeded again, slowing down slightly, "Good, but before I let you out of that cage there is one thing I must have you do. Your word, as a thief, is untrustworthy, and I have no use for a slave that is not loyal. Therefore, I require an oath."
"I promis-" Twilight began only to be interrupted.
"Not that kind of oath. A blood oath."
The unicorn tilted her head in confusion. She had never heard of such a thing before. "I...don't know how to do that." She stated.
"Simply follow my orders." The alicorn instructed.
Inquisitive nature getting the best of her, Twilight was about to ask another question. However, before she could, the knife in Nightmare moon's magic was lowered halfway down the alicorn's foreleg, and cut deep. Several drops of blood began to pour out, but the empress did not flinch. Instead, she lowered the cup, and collected her blood within. Satisfied, she moved the objects through the bars of Twilight's cell. As the knife came for the unicorn she began backing away. "Stay still." Nightmare Moon ordered, authority ringing in her voice.
Twilight stopped, more afraid of the empress than the knife. Clenching her eyes shut, the unicorn offered her shaking foreleg. The knife cut quick, barely leaving time for pain. Twilight reopened her eyes as the cup collected some of her own blood. When Nightmare felt it was enough she pulled the cup away, and began stirring with the knife. Twilight lowered her leg, and stared at the surprisingly small cut. For as much blood as had come out one would assume the wound had been bigger. The unicorn's attention was brought back to reality when the cup was set on the ground in front of her. "Drink." Nightmare ordered.
Twilight looked up at the empress, startled. "She expects me to what!?"
"I said drink." The alicorn's stern tone brooked no argument.
Hesitating, Twilight looked down at the red liquid inside the cup. Her lip trembled as she bit onto the cup's side. The idea was disgusting, but she wasn't really in any position to refuse. Quickly, the young mare tilted her head, and chugged the lifewater down in one gulp. She dropped the cup immediately, and began gagging. The very idea of what she'd just done mortified her. She could feel bile rising in her throat. "If you vomit you'll only have to do it once more." Nightmare stated matter-of-factly, preempting the action.
Twilight clamped her mouth shut, and forced the warm liquid back down. After the moment of sickness passed she shuddered, and looked up to the empress pitifully, hoping she was done. "Come to the bars." The alicorn ordered.
Apparently not. The unicorn forced herself to her hooves, and walked slowly to bars. Nightmare Moon came forward, and bent down, placing her long horn just over Twilight's heart. The empress' horn began to glow once more, and she instructed, "Repeat after me. I, Twilight Sparkle..."
"I, Twilight Sparkle..." The unicorn began.
"Do hereby pledge my life in service of Nightmare Moon."
"Do hereby pledge my life in service of..." Twilight hesitated to use the empress' name, "...Nightmare Moon."
"Whatever she commands, I will do."
"Whatever she commands, I will do."
"Unless she should choose to release me..."
"Unless she should choose to release me..."
"I shall serve her to my dying breath."
"I shall serve her to my dying breath."
As Twilight finished the oath Nightmare Moon's horn flared brilliantly for a brief moment. In the wake of the powerful magic the unicorn's heart skipped several beats before picking back up. The empress stood up once more, and she warned, "Breaking that oath will kill you. Your life belongs to me now."
Author's Note: And that is the second chapter. Once again, I lack an editor, and must edit this myself. Therefore, I apologize for any mistakes. I do the best I can.
On another note, sorry this chapter doesn't have that much of Twilight in it, but the next two chapters are going to focus on her more than Nightmare. So that should make up for it. Also, I am happy to say to anyone who read my blog post that my computer is back, and functioning perfectly. At any rate tell me what you all think.