24th of March
Twilight Sparkle arose with dusk once more. Yawning the mare sat up in her bed and looked around the room. She smiled as she spotted several books laying on the desk next to her bed. She had no time to study them now, though. Her master was most likely already up, and would be expecting her. Not wanting to disappoint Nightmare Moon, Twilight slid out of her bed, and headed for the door, unconsciously making up the bed with her magic.
As Twilight exited her room, and started the climb up the tower she began to ponder the recent events. Three weeks. It had been three weeks since the young unicorn had been taken to the castle. The most difficult thing at first had been growing used to the night-empress’ odd waking hours, which were subject to change every so often. For the most part, though, Twilight typically managed to arise around the same time as the black alicorn, and when she wasn’t awake on time her master often sent a servant to wake her. The lavender mare preferred waking up at the right time herself, however. Simply because it satisfied her master more.
Briefly, Twilight wondered at how she had become so used that word. Master. Her master. It made her feel strangely happy. Why? Because, as the unicorn had quickly learned, when she served Nightmare Moon well enough the alicorn rewarded her, and in the best way possible. She gave Twilight books to read, and not just any books. Books about magic.
In the past few weeks the unicorn had learnt more on magic than she had ever dreamed. She now knew of “The rule of faith” as it was called, and that magic always required a source of energy to draw upon. That was part of why she knew so few spells. While all magic had it’s origins in imagination few spells were capable of drawing from faith as their energy source. All the spells she knew before coming to the castle, minus teleportation, drew from belief, but there were many other energy sources.
For example, fire-related spells often drew from one’s emotions more than anything else. A passionate emotion specifically. Like anger or love, and what did Twilight love more than anything else? Learning! It had been so simple to cast a fireball. All she had to do was focus on how learning made her feel. Well, she had to direct the magic too by imagining a fireball in front of her horn, but that was a simple task to a unicorn whose only spells, until recently, were more heavily influenced by belief than most.
Unfortunately, she had cast the spell in her room, and had neglected to learn a water spell. By a stroke of luck Nightmare Moon had walked in shortly after the fire had consumed the lavender mare’s rug, and, seeing the situation, had doused the fire. This was followed by a very loud berating that Twilight still cringed at, and she had been forbidden to learn offensive magic without supervision from that point on, not to mention she went without food that day. Twilight hadn’t learnt one since. Fortunately, she was still allowed to study other forms of magic.
The unicorn sighed at the memory. Missing out on any knowledge was a disappointment to her, but at least she could still study illusions. She knew. She had asked right after the empress had finished yelling, since she had been confused as to whether they counted as offensive or not. The bewildered look on her master’s face faded as Twilight came to the double door at the top of the stairs. It wasn’t quite as grand as one who had seen the rest of the castle might have thought. The only notable things about it were that it was made of ebony, and had many different spherical carving circling it’s center, each one representing a different phase of the moon. The unicorn raised a hoof and knocked on the door, knowing better than to just waltz in. “Come in, Twilight Sparkle.” Came the slightly muffled voice of Nightmare Moon.
Twilight did not question how the alicorn knew it was her, she was used to it by now, and simply used her magic to open the door before proceeding in. The night-empress’ circular room was regal but not ostentatious. The entire floor was covered in a massive royal blue rug, and the furniture was all polished ebony. Yet there weren’t many furnishings. On the back wall was a truly massive, by Twilight’s standards, bed with thick black drapes hanging from the roof surrounding it. To it’s left was a wardrobe, and nearer the door was a dresser with a vanity mirror on top. To the bed’s right was a giant bookshelf that covered the entire wall, and was filled to the brim with tomes of knowledge. “Not all about magic.” Twilight giddily noted in her mind.
Lastly, in between the bed and the bookshelf was a balcony that looked out onto the forest, and on it was Nightmare Moon. The alicorn had her eyes closed in concentration, though Twilight could not see it, and her horn glowed a deep blue as she raised the moon. The scene was beautiful. The lunar surface of the far out object painting Nightmare as a silhouette. The lavender unicorn gaped, not for the first time. She would never become used to this sight. It was so unequisly, though in a good way.
Cautiously, Twilight approached the balcony. The moon was on it’s way through the sky, and Nightmare could focus on other things now. Yet the unicorn did not like to bother her as she continued about her second task. The night-empress’ horn still glowed as she wove the images of the night sky. Twilight sat down beside her master, and watched as stars disappeared, their light reappearing elsewhere. Nightmare had mentioned to the unicorn that she could not control the stars. She could only control their light, and manipulate their light she did. A few stars were left alone for navigational purposes, like the north star, but the rest were all altered nightly. Every time she raised the moon Nightmare would make new images in the sky, constellations she called them, for those who cared to enjoy. Twilight had only just begun to be able to pick out constellations, and their constant changes did not make it easy for her. She could see nothing new tonight, so she turned her attention to the alicorn beside her, whose eye were darting across the sky as she changed it. It was clear to anyone that Nightmare truly enjoyed her art. Yes. Art. That was the right word. To the alicorn, her night wasn’t simply a duty. It was her art, her passion. She relished it as much as Twilight did in learning, if less excitedly. Furthermore, at night she always felt, “Is something the matter, Twilight Sparkle?” Nightmare interrupted the unicorn’s thoughts.
The lavender mare started at the question, having not paid attention. She realized she had been staring. Cautiously, Twilight looked up into her master’s cool turquoise gaze and answered hurriedly, “N-no, my empress. I was just enjoying your night.”
Nightmare’s calm stare continued, unabated. Twilight lowered her head, and flattened her ears to her skull. “W-well, actually, if it’s not forward of me to ask-that is I-”
"Speak." Nightmare interrupted the unicorn.
Gulping, the mare spoke up as she felt her heart tighten, “You seem different at night. Like there’s more of you here.”
“Is that all?” Nightmare asked, and turned back to her room.
Twilight followed as the alicorn began, “It is simple. My sister is of the day and I am of the night. We are not ‘weak’ during our opposing times, but we are diminished. As I am now, I am at my peak.”
Twilight’s eyes widened. If that was true, then was this invisible force she felt around Nightmare at night the alicorn’s power? She had so much that it was at constant work? “They really are goddesses.” Twilight thought.
“Come, I wish to have my breakfast with my sister.” Nightmare ordered, halting the unicorn’s thoughts.
Shaking herself back to reality, the young mare tailed her master out of the room. As they descended the stairs the night-empress spoke once more, “I hear you’re still practicing in your room.”
Twilight cringed at the sharp tone and hurriedly replied, “Yes, but I haven’t looked at any offensive spells once since you forbade me. Well, no, not exactly. I mean some are on the same page as other spells and theories, but-”
“Enough.” Nightmare interrupted harshly.
Twilight cringed again as the pair reached the ground floor, and turned in the direction of the royal dining room. “What things have you been learning?” Her master asked hastily, though the mare failed to notice the speed.
Twilight perked up at the question, and began her extensive answer, “Oh plenty of things! At first I was upset that I couldn’t learn anymore offensive magic, but then I realized that left me more study time for other subjects. Like magical theory, magic in history, enchantments, defensive spells, biology-”
“Biology?” Nightmare interrupted once more.
Pausing, Twilight elaborated, “Well, yes. I don’t want to learn JUST magic. Though the book was about magic, so it talked about how certain spells effect a pony’s body, white magic especially.”
“So you’ve learnt curative spells?” Nightmare asked.
“Not exactly.” Twilight answered. “Without somepony to practice on I can’t know whether I’ve understood the text or not. I just know the theory behind a few.”
“The same could be said of your other spells.” Nightmare argued.
The young unicorn found it curious how the empress was interested in her learning, but chalked it up to just wanting something to talk about. “Well, yes, but most other spells that need a target I can use on myself.”
“Practicing on yourself is not wise.” Nightmare stated.
“But I learn the counter-spells first.” Twilight attempted justify herself. “It’s not like I’m going to set my room on fire again.”
The empress maintained a cool attitude, considering she had just been objected to, and replied, “Counter-spells also need practice before you use them. You do not know what could happen should you fail to cast them properly, nor what would happen is you failed the initial spell.”
Twilight looked at the floor in disappointment as she mumbled, “How else am I supposed to learn?”
Nightmare apparently heard this and answered, “I was not telling you to stop. Merely making you aware of exactly what you’re doing to yourself. One should be aware of the consequences of their actions.”
Their conversation ended as they arrive at the simple mahogany door that served as the main entrance to the royal dining room. Entering, Twilight stared about stared about the room. It was made entirely of heavily polished wood, and an empty fireplace sat at it’s back. Two large windows were framed in the right wall, and a grand piano was next to the door. In the very center of the room was a long wooden table, and seated at it’s head, in front of the fireplace, was Empress Celestia with a pair of the turquoise armored guards standing at attention beside her.
Twilight now knew what the guards were. They were Praetorians. The elite of the celestial military. While one might assume that was the Royal Guard they would be wrong. The Royal Guards were better than most of the individuals of the Grand Army, but the Praetorians were the exceptional few who were unparalleled. They were selected from among the Royal Guard, and given “special” training. Twilight had no idea what kind of training it was, just that it was special.
Their turquoise armor, itself, was also special. It was known mythril or, more popularly, lunar steel, so named because of how it glowed in moonlight. The metal was harder than actual steel and, surprisingly, lighter. It also had a unique effect that, at one point, had been thought to only be possessed by gemstones. When magic was focused into lunar steel it would bounce back and add on to itself continually to create a stronger spell or enchantment, similar to an echo. Twilight knew all this because a book she was studying mentioned the mineral, and went into detail about it’s use.
However, the metal was not without it’s drawbacks. The heat at which lunar steel melted often caused severe heatstrokes, plenty of which were fatal, and the mineral was extremely rare. In fact, Twilight couldn’t be certain just how much there was in all of Equestria. There were only four mines in the nation, and while those provided plenty of gold and silver there was little else in them. This lead to the Celestial Empire doing plenty of trade with the five gryphon kingdoms and The Pack, the gryphons more-so now-a-days. Though Twilight couldn’t be sure as to why. She had, however, heard rumors even before living in the palace that wolfkind were not exactly friendly with ponies, so it was little wonder that trade with The Pack was going down.
“Ah, Nightmare.” Celestia welcomed her sister with a smile.
The black alicorn smiled in response, and proceeded to sit at the hoof of the table. “How was court, dear sister?” She asked.
“Boring, as usual. Nopony showed except the royal financier and a pony bringing plans for the next month’s weather for approval.” Celestia answered.
“The financier? What did he say? Do we have enough money for my suggestion?” Nightmare asked intently.
Twilight could see Celestia’s jaw tighten, but the white alicorn replied easily, “If you wish to cut back on our soldiers’ supplies, then yes.”
“We are not at war Celestia.” Nightmare stated, narrowing her eyes.
Before the empress of the day could respond, the door behind them opened as a chef appeared with a tray, which carried two covered platters. “Ah, our food is here. I hope you don’t mind that I took the liberty of ordering for you.” Celestia explained.
Nightmare merely grunted in response, and eyed the tray sullenly as it was set on the table beside her. While the chef placed a platter before her, the black alicorn spoke, “Twilight Sparkle serve my sister her food.”
“Yes, your grace.” Twilight responded automatically.
The unicorn immediately levitated the other platter off the tray, and trotted over to Celestia. As she placed the dish down she caught Celestia staring at her out of the corner of her eye. That distant cold stare. It unnerved the young mare. So she hurriedly removed the platter’s lid, revealing some kind of steaming salad, and trotted back over to Nightmare’s side, trying not to gallop.
As her master levitated her utensils she ordered, “Very good. Now go to the mess hall, and fetch yourself some food.”
“Yes, master.” Twilight replied, and hurried out behind the chef.
Turning in the opposite direction as the servant, the lavender unicorn cantered down the hall. Truth be told, despite living in the castle for three weeks she largely felt uncomfortable anywhere outside her room, unless her master was by her side. The way the guards and the servants looked at her, and the difference between the castle and Stalliongrad. It was like she didn’t belong there. Like she wasn’t welcome. Yet with Nightmare Moon by her side Twilight usually wasn’t nervous. The empress’ presence made her feel safe. No. That wasn’t it. Not safe. More like, she was wanted. Like she DID belong here. Of course, the mare wasn’t so naïve to believe that Nightmare cared for her as more than a possession, but still…The did mean the alicorn cared for her to some extent, and that was more than Twilight had ever had before. “Good Nightmare!” She swore in her mind. “I’m probably the first pony to like being thought of as a possession!”
Her thoughts stopped as she heard bickering coming from down the hall. “Damn it, I’m tired.” Said one voice.
“I don’t care.” Replied another.
“Look, do you think I didn’t have any trouble out there? I did. Those beasts fight like monsters, and they outnumbered me! Now I’m back, and all I want to do is get some sleep!”
“Then hurry and deliver the report. After that you can sleep.”
Twilight Sparkle slowed down as two royal guards came into view. One was leaving, and the other appeared upset. The angry one noticed her, and shouted, “You! Come here!”
Nervously, Twilight gulped and trotted up to the pegasus. “Y-yes?” She asked.
“I want you to take this,” He said while grabbing a letter from his saddle-bag in his mouth. “And give it to the Legate.”
“But, I was going to the mess hall. I have to finish before Nightmare-”
“You!” The guard interrupted her, his eyes widening.
His face warped into a vicious snarl as she spat the letter at her. Twilight grabbed it with her magic on reflex as the guard began to rant, “I am a royal guard of the Celestial military! I am above lords in authority, and you are nothing but a worm who got lucky!” Twilight flinched at the wording as the stallion continued, “You will listen to my orders and obey me! Understand!?”
Twilight nodded vigorously, scared of the guard. “Yes sir.”
“Good.” The guard snorted, “Now go!”
Immediately, Twilight bolted away from the mad guard, letter wrapped in her magic. She had no idea why that stallion had been so angry at her. She hadn’t done anything to him. She could only hope that she did not encounter him again.
Finding the Legate’s office was simple. Twilight might not have been comfortable in the castle yet, but she knew her way around most of it by now. Approaching the plain door, the unicorn knocked. There was a pause, but then an unmistakable “Come in.”
Pushing the doors open with her magic, Twilight walked in. The tile floor was covered by a scarlet rug with gold designs on it, and the walls were nothing but bookshelves that put even Nightmare’s to shame. Twilight had nearly drooled the first time she saw them, but now they were no surprise. In a corner by the door there was a large globe of Equis featuring the continent of Eden, and in front of three large paneled windows on the back wall was a desk, upon which a mess of maps were spread. Behind the desk sat Legate Artillerus. The gelding looked up at Twilight and spoke, “Ah, Nightmare’s slave. Does the empress wish something of me?”
“N-no.” Twilight answered. “A guard told me to bring this to you.”
The unicorn levitated the letter over to Artillerus’ desk, and placed it down. “A guard?” He asked eying the note with his single eye.
“Yes.” Twilight answered again.
“I see, and where is your master?”
“Eating breakfast. She sent me off to fetch my own before the guard stopped me.” The unicorn explained.
The Legate’s eye turned up to her, and he asked, “Wouldn’t the food at the mess hall be running out by now?”
Twilight’s eyes widened, and, forgetting her manners, she screamed, “Oh shit!”
She’d gone without food before, but she hated missing it. The mare galloped out of the office barely remembering to shout, “Thank you,” over her shoulder.
3rd of April
Artillerus sighed as he stared at the map before him. Several red Xs marked the land near Equestria’s west border, it’s border with The Pack. If it wasn’t one thing it was something else. Dealing with civil unrest was difficult, but it could be done. Routing out invaders was less difficult and could be done. Together, they made for a headache. The wolves apparently smelt a weakness in Equestria, and were trying to pinpoint it. It was obvious the groups they sent in were not invasion parties, but they were likely scouts. Still, as aggressive as the wolves were, Artillerus doubted they would do anything. It was too risky when The Pack only had one real city, and as impressive as it might be it was hardly defensible against a siege, especially for a ground bound race. Of course, the fact that The Pack wouldn’t really attack is what truly bothered Artillerus. Why would they send scouts if they weren’t planning an invasion. “Perhaps they’re aiding the rebels.” The Legate pondered aloud.
Of course, they could hardly be called that. The ponies that opposed The Celestial Empire had grown in strength recently, and several ragtag bands had started attacking small military outposts with limited success. Just a month ago, however, the “rebels” were little more than ponies who simply spoke out against the empire in public. They had grown, however, and, with as many ponies as had been suppressed when they spoke out, Artillerus found it likely they would continue to grow. Still, they should’ve taken longer before they had been able to assault any part of the military and succeed. They were receiving aid, and the answer as to who was aiding them was obvious. “Humph. Pit us against one another, and then pick the bones clean. Clever Alpha, but that’s dirtier than I’d expect from you.” The Legate said.
“It is odd for a wolf, isn’t it? As prideful as they are.” A voice responded.
Artillerus looked up from the map to entrance of his office. There stood a white pegasus with a black tail and mane in turquoise armor. The pegasus’ red eyes held a more youthful look than Artillerus’ despite the fact that he wasn’t much younger. “Prefect.” Artillerus greeted the commander of the Praetorians.
“Artillerus.” The pegasus replied more warmly. “Obsessing as always, old friend?”
“You call it obsessing. I call it being focused.” The Legate answered. “How’s your nephew doing?”
The Prefect snorted at the question. “He’s been worse ever since Empress Moon’s trip to Stalliongrad. Some poor slave’s apparently getting the worst of his attitude.”
“Oh? In what way?” Artillerus asked.
“Does it matter? She’s a slave.” The Prefect responded.
“Maybe. But a member of the Royal Guard is expected to behave with dignity, and he’s had disciplinary problems before. If he goes too far it’s my job to rein him in.” Artillerus explained.
The Prefect chuckled and replied somberly, “Always so chivalrous.”
The Legate simply shook his head. He was anything but chivalrous. “Is there a reason you’ve come, Daunting Hooves?” He asked.
The Prefect straightened up and answered, “Under Empress Celestia’s orders I’m to send a pair of praetorians to Stalliongrad with a small squad of royal guards at their command. It’s a black operation.”
“Stealth? Why does her majesty wish this?” Artillerus asked.
“Undercover precisely. She would not disclose the reason to me. I came here because you know your ponies better than I. I would like your recommendation on who to send with my ponies.” Daunting explained.
The Legate narrowed his eye. This was odd, but it was her majesty’s will. “Very well. I’ll send you a list of our stealthiest soldiers shortly.” He complied.
“Thank you, sir.” Daunting said, bowing his head in salute.
As the pegasus turned to leave the room Artillerus could only wonder, “What has gone wrong in Stalliongrad?”
15th of April
Nightmare Moon’s eyes opened to the welcoming darkness of her cloaked bed. Though the drapes around it were designed to mimic her night, with small magical lights that drifted along their inside, she was well accustomed to the hours of the day, and knew it was only past noon. Briefly, the empress considered rising, but found herself unwilling to do so. It was something that simply didn’t fade with age or maturity. Nopony really wants to get out of bed. They would if they had things to do, but they didn’t want to. So, Nightmare stayed under her covers, and stared off into space.
As she laid there, her thoughts drifted to the past, what was it? Month-and-a-half? Nearly. It appeared she had been correct in her assumptions that Twilight Sparkle was both intelligent and magically talented. In fact, dare she say, she had UNDERestimated Twilight. The unicorn was already on par with any average unicorn, minus a few minor areas, and she had only been studying for a month-and-a-half. No. Nearly a month-and-a-half. While this could partially be because of the mare spending almost all her spare time studying, that was still a lot of information to take in considering the years of education she’d missed, and it wasn’t even considering the fact that she seemed to cast most spells right the first or second time. She was nothing short of a prodigy.
To be honest, Nightmare Moon was surprised. She had assumed it would be years before she could put Twilight Sparkle to work on anything more than menial labor, but it now looked like only a matter of months. The empress was pleased to say the least, but she could not let that be known to Twilight. At least, not yet. She gave Twilight books to study with as rewards for good service, some of them with helpful notes mysteriously written in them. Of course, after the unicorn’s mentioning of it a few weeks ago, Nightmare now gave her more than just magic books to study as well. The reason for the secrecy, though, was because Twilight was a slave as punishment. If she knew she was being taught on purpose she might make certain unsatisfactory assumptions, like that she was above hard labor. This charade could not have gone on long, though, were it not for Twilight’s consistently excellent performance at her regular duties. In fact, Nightmare was slightly unnerved at the lack of misery or animosity in the young mare. She could only chock it up to Twilight appreciating the gifts, but the night-empress suspected there was more to it than that. Still, the lavender unicorn served her well, and so, as with any useful possession, Nightmare took care of her.
A knock alerted her to someone’s presence outside of her room. It couldn’t be Twilight. The unicorn wouldn’t suspect that Nightmare would be awake right now. Maybe if she ignored them whoever it was would go away. Several seconds of silence filled the air, and Nightmare Moon closed her eyes. The knock came again. Sighing, the alicorn rose from her bed, and proceeded past the curtain surrounding it. As she levitated her crest and crown on she called, “Come in.”
The door opened creakily, and a black earth pony wearing an ostentatious shirt and vest entered. “I apologize if I awoke you, my empress.” He said with a bow. “But you requested my presence, and I’m afraid I could not make room for any other time. I am simply too busy.”
“That is quite alright.” Nightmare responded simply as she turned to face the stallion. “I was already awake with my thoughts.”
“If I may inquire, what has her majesty awake at such an hour as this?’ The earth pony asked.
A cold fire sparked in Nightmare’s eyes as she answered, “That is my own business, and you will remember your station, financier.”
“Of course, forgive my impudence, your grace.” The royal financier hurriedly apologized.
Nightmare Moon waved off the comment with a hoof and replied, “Let us just attend to business. I wish to know the current state of the treasury.”
“Ah yes, the treasury is currently filled to the brim thanks to the recent tax laws. If you are inquiring for some form of project, then I am happy to inform you it can be done without any drawbacks in the empire’s current areas of spending.” The financier explained.
Nightmare’s eyes narrowed slightly at the news. If the treasury was full she should be able to help Stalliongrad without affecting the military. Why had her sister lied to her? Also, “Recent tax laws?” She queried.
“Yes,” The financier responded, “The tax was increased by twenty percent two months ago by order of Empress Celestia. Were you not aware?”
“Yes. I had assumed you meant something else.” Nightmare Moon lied. “That is all. You may go now.”
The earth pony bowed once more, and said, “Your grace,” before departing.
In solitude, Nightmare pondered the information. Her sister had outright lied to her, and she hadn’t even suspected. Why? Why was the tax increased as well? Twenty percent? Twenty percent of what? Their subjects’ income? Whatever it was on, an additional twenty percent was ridiculous. If her sister was going to raise it then why raise it that much? Perhaps the treasury had been low. “No. If that was the case she would’ve lowered it by now.” Nightmare reasoned in her head.
Her sister was up to something, and it felt wrong, whatever it was. What bothered her the most, however, was that Celestia didn’t want her to know. The night-empress ground her jaw, and left her room. She needed to think, and scenery always helped with that.
“Why do you need me to do this again?” Twilight Sparkle nervously asked as she eyed the half-eaten loaf of bread wrapped in her magic.
The royal guard, who she now knew to be called Zephyr, glared at her. “Because,” He said as if explaining to a child, “I snuck extra rations out of the mess hall with me last time I ate. As a soldier, I can be punished for this. Since I didn’t finish the bread it needs to be returned to the larder. I can’t have any evidence left.”
“But it’s been half-eaten.” Twilight protested.
“Vermin is a believable excuse.” Zephyr replied.
“Wouldn’t it just be simpler to throw it away?” Twilight suggested.
“It will be noted missing.” Zephyr answered through his teeth, anger clearly rising.
“But there’s so much food he-”
“Enough!” Zephyr interrupted the unicorn with a shout. “I. Don’t. Want. Any. Evidence. Understood?”
Sighing, Twilight nodded. Zephyr had been doing this to her ever since they first met. Anything he could have her do without drawing too much attention, he would. She wasn’t quite sure why he always tried to have her help be secret, but she assumed it was because most of what he wanted done was like this, against regulations. She had tried to refuse once or twice, but Zephyr would always make her do it in the end. He was stronger than her after all, and she couldn’t use her magic on him. If she did she could be in trouble. After all, as the pegasus had said several times. Who were they gonna believe? A slave or a royal guard? “Good.” Zephyr’s voice snapped her back to reality. “When you’re done, meet me at my current post in gardens. I have another job for you.”
Without waiting for a response the guard turned down corridor and trotted out of sight. Twilight sighed once more. She had best do what he says. After all, she didn’t want to be in trouble. Turning with her eyes closed she walked straight into a fury wall. She fell on her rump, and rubbed her head with a hoof. After a moment, she looked up to see she had collided with a leg. A large white leg. “Empress Celestia!” Twilight exclaimed, bowing. “I am so sorry! I should have watched where I was going!”
Deep down, Twilight prayed the alicorn would just go on her way. While typically jovial towards Nightmare and several subjects, Celestia had always been cold to Twilight. That gaze of hers in particular unnerved the unicorn. That distant freezing gaze. It made her feel more insecure than she had ever been in the streets of Stalliongrad. “Why do you listen to him?” Celestia asked.
Twilight jerked up, reeling at being spoken to be day-empress for the first time. “H-he’s stronger than me.” She replied cautiously.
The white alicorn continued to simply stare at her, though not with the usual cold stare. “Uuuh…” Twilight thought for a moment before adding on. “And he has more authority than me.”
“Why not tell my sister?” Celestia asked.
“I don’t want to seem ungrateful. She’s already done so much for me.” Twilight answered.
“Has she?” Celestia’s brow quirked at the statement.
“Well, yeah. She gives me books to study when I do good. Even though she doesn’t have to.” Twilight explained.
Celestia smirked at the comment and chuckled. “I see. Best hurry on then. Don’t want to cause any trouble.”
Twilight Sparkle couldn’t tell what was so funny, but just brushed it off, grateful the alicorn wasn’t going to do anything about the extra ration. As Celestia departed, so too did Twilight.
As the unicorn arrived at the mess hall she peeked her head in through the door. The room was massive, and filled to brim with wooden benches. On one side, however, was a long counter where food was served for the servants and soldiers. Behind that counter was the door to the larder, and what luck! Nopony else was in the room. Twilight hurried into inside and behind the counter. When she tried the door, however, she found that it was locked. “Damn. I don’t know any spells for locks.” She thought.
She couldn’t teleport inside either. She’d never been in the larder, so she didn’t know what it looked like. Without that knowledge she couldn’t imagine being in there. She began to run over what she could do, but her thoughts were interrupted at the sound of the mess hall door opening. Twilight whirled around at the noise, and ducked behind the counter before she could be spotted. As an afterthought, she grabbed the bread with her forelegs so the glow of her magic wouldn’t give her a way. The clopping of the other pony’s hooves began nearing Twilight. Whoever it was was coming behind the counter. The lavender mare began to panic as she thought of any spells that could hide her. She couldn’t turn invisible, but she did know a few illusions. Hurriedly, Twilight prepared a spell that would make her seem invisible to anyone she cast it on. As the pony stepped around the corner she shot the spell at him. “What the hell?” He shouted and blinked for a second.
The pony stared about for a moment looking for the cause of the lavender flash he had seen. Twilight flinched as his gaze turned to her, but after a second he simply shrugged it off. The pony pulled out a key and unlocked the larder door. As he proceeded in Twilight gulped, and prepared to do something risky. Standing up, she threw the bread into the larder, and galloped out of the mess hall before she could hear the pony’s reaction. It wasn’t that stealthy, but the job was done. Now, she had to meet with Zephyr again.
The gardens were one of Twilight’s favorite parts of the castle. The only evidence of civilization in them were the walls surrounding them. Other than that there were no torches, no magic lights, no statues, and no confining pathways. It was just like a giant meadow. Beautiful rare flowers bloomed all over in unspecific patterns. A few crystal clear ponds filled with oddly colorful fish dotted the grassy land, and old weathered, yet oddly majestic, trees formed a canopy from the sky. Or they apparently did when they bloomed their pink flowers she had been told. She wished she hadn’t missed them, but they only bloomed in winter.
Sadly, the unicorn could not enjoy the scenery at the moment. “Zephyr!” She called out.
After a few moments the royal guard in question approached from the trees. “Do not call me like I’m your dog, whelp.” He spat.
Twilight gulped. “I’m sorry. It can be hard to find ponies in here.” She apologized.
The guard snorted, but did not pursue the comment. Instead he asked, “Did you do as told?”
“Yes.” Twilight nodded.
“Um…” The unicorn interrupted, “I was wondering…what I did to you.”
“What?” Zephyr asked, a dark tone in his voice.
Twilight continued ignorantly, “It’s just that, you’re always so mean to me. I have to wonder why you treat me like this.”
“I will treat you however I damn want to slave!!!” Zephyr screamed, “You dare think I treat you like this because you actually managed to do something to me!? Who the hell do you think you are?! Just ‘cause you managed a lucky hit you think you’re better than me!?”
“Wha-No I-” Twilight stuttered uncomprehendingly.
“Know your place, slave!” Zephyr shouted once more as he slammed a hoof into Twilight’s cheek.
Twilight hit the ground hard. This wasn’t the first time he’d hit her, but it was the first time he’d used so much force. The young mare had no idea what was going on. A lucky hit? She’d hit him? When? How?
“You think you’re better than me slave!? Do you know who I am!?” He yelled as he kicked her in the stomach.
The air was forced out of Twilight’s lungs, and her forelegs reflexively covered her gut. What happened next, however, caught her off guard. Zephyr was suddenly flung several feet away by an invisible force, and pinned to the ground, completely unable to move. Around him was the unmistakable dark blue aura Nightmare Moon’s magic. A familiar powerful voice with a barely constrained fury behind it answered the stallion’s question, “A worm.”
Suddenly, the guard’s armor began to bend inward, crushing bones and organs. Zephyr screamed in pain, and began to writhe much like a worm. After several seconds, the aura around him lifted, and he was left barely breathing but alive and conscious. “Twilight Sparkle.” The voice spoke again, this time without malice.
Twilight looked up to see Nightmare Moon had come up beside her. “Can you stand?” The alicorn asked.
Slowly, Twilight nodded. “You saved me.” She stated as she rose to her legs.
As Nightmare looked at her there was something unidentifiable in the black alicorn’s eyes. “You are my slave.” She explained. “That means your wellbeing is my responsibility. I will not have you harmed under my watch. Of that you can be certain.”
Twilight’s eyes widened at the statement. All she could say was, “Thank you, master.”
“You are welcome, Twilight Sparkle.” Nightmare Moon replied.
A horrible wet retching breath escaped the inwardly-mangled mess that was Zephyr. Snarling at the sound, Nightmare turned saying, “Come, let us find a more pleasant place to talk. Perhaps you can show me what you’ve been learning.”
Smiling, Twilight trotted closely to the night-empress. The soreness of her face and gut faded away in the wake of excitement.
Author's Note: This chapter's not as long as I originally intended it to be, but oh well. I hope you all enjoyed that little moment with Twilight and Nightmare at the end. I think it's the right mix of cruel and sweet for a Nightmare Moon love story. Don't you? At any rate, tell me what y'all think.