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The sun was setting. It was already mostly hidden by the horizon, its dying rays giving the world a warm red tint. In the east, the sky was already fading to purple, and stars were slowly winking into existence, the tiny pinpoints of luminescence eager to twinkle in the absence of Celestia’s sun. Lording over the first stars to appear, already halfway over the horizon, was her sister’s moon, full and gleaming.
Celestia allowed herself a slight frown of irritation at the sight of the rising moon. She preferred to work by daylight, but it wasn’t as though she could simply refuse to lower the sun. Certainly, she would love nothing more than to deny Luna her “beautiful” night, but that would be an unthinkable breach of the rules, even during a time of war.
She tilted her wings, bringing herself into a steep dive. Plummeting downward, she felt the thrill of flight and made a mental note to do it more often. Of late, she had been spending the majority of her time holed up in tents meeting with her commanders and planning their latest move against Luna. It would be nice to get out and stretch her wings for once.
Now, however, was not the time for indulgent thrill-seeking. Celestia broke through a layer of clouds, and the scene of the battle unfolded before her. The ground was scorched and scoured of foliage, leaving only dry, gray soil. Armored earthponies wrestled and charged, crushing each other with their incredible strength. Unicorns impaled enemy soldiers with metal shards, and some wielded deadly magical blades. In the air, pegasi circled one another, occasionally colliding with bone-crunching speed, at which point one would fall to become another dead pony on the field below.
Celestia picked a group of Luna’s soldiers, identifiable by the black-and-blue of their uniforms, and angled herself towards them as she dove downwards. As she tore through the air, several pegasi turned from their aerial combat to regard her. Those who wore the white-and-gold of her army did so with awe. Those who wore the black-and-blue of Luna, however, did so with terror. As she passed, a pegasus called out to the forces below her.
The contingent of Luna’s troops looked up, but it was too late. Celestia flared her wings, causing herself to slow abruptly as she drew nearer to the ground. Then she cast her blade, conjuring a brilliant shaft of pure sunlight directly above her head. She focused more of her magical power, and Zenith, her blade, surged with a brilliant light. Luna’s soldiers, blinded by her magic, were dazed and disoriented as she landed amongst them.
She cut down three before any of them could react, Zenith cauterizing their wounds closed as it sheared them into pieces. A unicorn, the first of her enemies to react, threw a set of sharp shards of iron at her. Celestia grabbed the nearest live earthpony with telekinesis, then tossed him into the path of the shards. They tore into his flesh, and the unicorn, having just harmed one of his allies, lost his focus. He ceased to grip the iron shards, and Celestia took advantage of his mistake, tearing them out of the earthpony and launching them back along their trajectory to bury themselves in the unicorn’s neck.
An earthpony tried to jump on her, and she rolled under him, beheading her enemy with Zenith even as she came to her feet. She kicked out at another unicorn with her hind legs, using her earthpony magic to strengthen the blow. The unicorn’s skull crumpled, and Celestia struck out at another earthpony with her blade.
She turned to face the final two soldiers who were proximate to her, both unicorns. She deflected two iron shards with her blade, then cast a bolt of fire toward one of her adversaries. Her target, a young mare, ducked her spell, but did not evade the spinning metal disc that suddenly shot through the air and opened her throat. She crumpled to the dirt.
The remaining unicorn, a stallion, looked from his fallen ally to Celestia. He backed away slightly, clearly aware of the fact that he stood no chance against the alicorn. Celestia did nothing. Instead, she watched as a tiny point of blue energy built around the far side of the unicorn’s neck. There was a flash of blue light, and another unicorn suddenly stood beside her only remaining adversary. The new arrival bowed sharply to Celestia as the remaining soldier of Luna’s fell to the ground, slain by her teleport splice.
“Lieutenant Coruscare.” Celestia greeted the new unicorn, and she rose out of her bow. She was a deep blue mare with a long, straight mane of white that contained a single streak of black. She wore a stiff white coat, hidden under a flowing white cloak, each of which was trimmed with gold. Along each side of the collar of her cloak were five golden sunbursts, each within a circle. She was the most powerful unicorn alive, and as such was a tremendous asset on the battlefield.
Celestia watched as her own troops surged around her, overtaking their position and pushing Luna’s forces back. “We assume,” she said to the unicorn standing before her. “That thou hath a report for us?”
Astor Coruscare nodded. “Yes, princess. We have lost the ridge, but with minimal casualties. Luna’s forces overtook us despite our slight numerical advantage.”
Celestia frowned. She had prepared for the eventuality, of course, but it was still a nuisance. “Why?” she asked simply.
“I wasn’t present, but it seems her personal guards had something to do with it. The pegasus destroyed an entire air contingent by herself. Were I there, we would not have lost. But I thought I would be more useful on the front. I’m sorry, Princess.”
Celestia thought for a moment, then decided that Astor had not done anything wrong, and did not warrant a punishment. She knew she was playing favorites, but the unicorn was her favorite; she was smarter and stronger than any other commander in her army by an order of magnitude.
“We shalt retake the ridge,” she said at last. “Thou wilt taketh command of the twenty-second and the thirty-fifth, along with a contingent of air power. I shalt strike from above, opening a-”
She stopped, looking up sharply. The troops ahead of them, the ones who had been pushing Luna’s forces back, had begun to scream. The sound wasn’t the usual cacophony of war, but rather the bone-chilling sound of trained soldiers wailing in terror. Through the chaos of the battlefield, she saw her soldiers frantically running toward her, weapons and armor abandoned, and made out a single shout:
Celestia felt a surge of both hatred and excitement. She shared a look with her lieutenant. “Princess,” Astor began, “let me-”
“Nay, Astor.” Celestia spread her wings and brought Zenith to a ready position. “Thou art not prepared to face her. Not yet. Take the ridge.”
Astor made a sullen face, but nodded and vanished in a burst of blue energy. Celestia brought herself forward and into the fray with several beats of her wings. She landed amongst her scattered soldiers, and flared Zenith so as to draw their attention.
“To us!” she shouted, “Form ranks! Push forward, soldiers, for Equestria! In the name of the King!”
She slew two of Luna’s warriors with a single swipe of her blade, then set a unicorn on fire with a simple spell. “To us!” she shouted again. She scanned the battlefield, searching for a sign of her sister, but Luna was nowhere to be seen.
“In the name of the king!” her soldiers took up the battle cry, surging around her to push deeper into the battlefield once again. It was then that Luna made her presence known once again.
A torrent of bats came over her forces, black with glowing blue eyes. They swarmed around her soldiers, tearing tiny chunks out of their flesh when they could. Her soldiers screamed and curled up on the ground, unable to fight the newly arrived foe. Celestia scowled at the magical swarm, then channeled power into her blade. It burst into brilliant light once more, and the bats withdrew, screeching as they converged into a dark cloud above her, just outside the light cast by her blade.
They funneled upward, then arced down toward the battlefield, converging on the form of a blue alicorn. There, they landed, each bat melting into an elaborate, hooded cloak that fell loosely over the other princess’s form. Celestia watched the pointless display with disinterest. She stepped forward, away from her soldiers, until she and Luna stood apart from their armies. To Celestia, Luna aligned perfectly with the rising moon on the horizon. She knew that in her sister’s eyes, she stood against the setting sun.
Luna spoke, magically charging her voice with volume. “The sun is setting, sister. Best thou find a light to huddle beneath, lest the dark devour thee!”
Celestia didn’t answer, instead raising a single eyebrow at her sister’s words. Luna always had been a little over-dramatic. She held her blade at the ready, counting on the fact that her sister would strike first. Luna drew her own blade, an almost identical shaft of concentrated moonlight, then charged.
Their blades met before them, the energy between the two magical constructs flaring, and Celestia felt the corrosive bite of the magic radiating from Luna’s blade, Nadir. She drew away, pushing against Luna’s blade with her own even as Zenith singed the hair of her adversary. They each pulled their blades away, and the harmful effect of Luna’s blade subsided. Celestia pressed the attack, striking out at her sister with a series of lightning-fast blows. Luna, in a display of excellent bladecasting, either blocked or turned each blow away with Nadir before beating her wings to flip over Celestia’s head.
Their blades met once again in the air above Celestia, and she saw her sister sneer. Luna landed, swinging Nadir at Celestia’s face, and Celestia ducked under the weapon, feeling the odd magical burning sensation that seemed to emanate from the blade. She tapped her unicorn magic, and a wall of yellow flames erupted underneath her sister. Luna shrieked, her flesh singed by the magical fire, then threw herself into the air, the force of her takeoff pushing flames in every direction. Celestia allowed herself a small smile of satisfaction.
In the air, Luna’s horn glowed, and her dark cloak broke into hundreds of tiny bats once more. They flew at Celestia, battering her face and neck with tiny impacts and obscuring her vision. She snarled, then drew the flames she summoned earlier about herself with her magic. The fire billowed and churned around her, destroying the tiny magical beasts, then condensed, clinging to the princess as it formed a suit of golden armor and flowing white cloak.
Too late, Celestia looked upward to see her sister descending upon her, Nadir outstretched. Celestia felt a strange cold feeling as the blade came toward her. Unable to raise her own weapon in time, she hit herself with a wave of telekinesis to throw herself quickly downward and to the side. She was not fast enough, however, and a freezing pain blossomed in her side as Nadir cut away a small piece of her hide. She winced as she came out of her roll, then deflected another series of blows delivered by her sister.
She found herself regretting the decision not to bring Astor. Luna might not have Celestia’s capabilities when it came to tactics and magic, but her physical prowess was far superior to Celestia’s. As their blades met in front of their faces once more, Luna sneered. “Art thou badly injured, sister?” her deep voice vibrated through the air around them, ruffling Celestia’s pink mane. “Perhaps thou shouldst attempt to think the wound closed.”
Celestia ignored the taunt as she pushed her sister away with her blade. Luna stumbled back, and did not come at her again as Celestia spoke. “We know that thou hast no penchant for thought before action,” she said as they began to circle one another, “but if thou didst think before acting, thou might have realized that this,” she gave a general nod to the battlefield around them, “is but a distraction.”
Luna’s eyes narrowed. Celestia continued, “The pegasus that thou keepest on thine guard,” she said. “We hope she is not of any import to thee.”
Luna laughed with her tremendous voice. “How couldst this be a distraction? We drew thee out, sister.”
Celestia responded with her own laugh, which was much quieter on account of the fact that she did not waste power enhancing her voice. “We knew that thou wouldst attack at moonrise,” she said. “Thou dost always attack at moonrise. Thine pegasus is as good as dead.”
Luna’s face began to show a hint of doubt, and her smile vanished. Celestia sneered. “Predictable as always, sister. Thou never couldst see the strings. Remember this lesson when thou doth cradle the corpse of thine favorite soldier in thy arms: thou canst never beat us.”
Luna backed away, her eyes shooting towards the sky. She slowly shook her head.
“Every victory that thou claim, every soldier of mine that thou slay, thou doest by our design.”
Luna took flight, undoubtedly to save her strongest soldier and the ridge, and Celestia ended the memory.
Celestia sat in the center of her circular chambers, breathing steadily and with her eyes shut. The memory had not been a long one, but its effect on her had been quite strong. Her breathing quickened slightly as she tried to quell the surging emotions inside her. It had been a terrible memory, one from days long since past. Examining it now left her with an overwhelming sense of regret. She gave up trying to control her breathing and let out a long sigh. She and Luna both had done horrible, horrible things to each other.
She had failed as a sister. Failed to protect the one pony more important to her than any other pony in existence. Let herself be twisted into a weapon of war and done nothing as her sister had undergone the same transformation. How they, the fastest of friends, had become such bitter rivals in ancient times still sometimes baffled Celestia. Their separation had resulted in decades of loneliness for both of them.
Celestia realized that she was angry. Yes, she clearly identified the emotion as rage, a feeling she did not experience often. She and Luna had not simply decided one day to take up arms against each other and sunder the entire race of pony. Somepony had been responsible for their conflict. Somepony had hurt Celestia, had hurt Luna, and had indirectly caused the deaths of tens of thousands of ponies. It was only natural, Celestia decided, that she be angry at them. She let the rage run its course rather than stifling it.
She stood off of the wide circular bed that dominated her chambers and began to pace. Examining the memory had been necessary, she had decided. She would need to look at others from the same time period. She had already been over the more immediate memories of her sister, the ones surrounding her corruption and the birth of Nightmare Moon. Now, she would have to go deeper into the past.
Luna was the reason she had called up the dreadful event in the first place. Even after so much time in the present, Celestia’s sister was still acting distant and sullen. Most of it, Celestia believed, was from guilt. Still, there were things she didn’t know about her sister, behaviours that she didn’t understand. She needed to delve into the past, remember everything she could about her sister, so as to gain the greatest possible understanding of the other princess. It was Celestia’s responsibility to ease Luna’s troubles, and to help her sister adjust to the new world.
Luna was having trouble, and it didn’t help that the ponies in Canterlot were either terrified of her, or ignored her outright. It didn’t help that Luna spent four hours a night sitting in an empty room as nopony came to her court. Celestia had watched matters unfold for a time, but decided after a point to intervene. She would not let her sister spiral downward into depression and jealousy once again. She had failed Luna too many times before.
Yes, she decided, she would continue to delve further into the disturbing memories of the past. She would also make a greater effort to manipulate the palace staff from afar, nudging the right ponies in the right places. She would need to ensure Luna had ponies around her to talk to, ponies who would not shrink away from their princess. She would also need to find problems that Luna, and not Celestia, could solve so that the other princess did not feel redundant. She would, if she had to, create problems for her sister.
She made out the sound of two sets of hooves approaching, and was not surprised to hear a knock at her door. She briefly wondered what kind of problem had arisen that warranted disturbing her at such a late hour, then telekinetically opened the door.
Standing in the doorway to her chambers was Index, one of the palace administrators. He was shifting from hoof to hoof, clearly anxious. Several metres behind him stood Princess Luna, wearing a dark scowl.
“Princess,” Index gave a low bow before coming to his feet again. “Forgive me for asking your counsel at such a late hour.”
Celestia looked from Index to Luna, confused. Luna shot her a glare, looking supremely displeased. Had she been unable to attend to whatever Index needed? It seemed unlikely; by now Luna was well-versed in the workings of modern Equestrian government. A feeling of unease began to settle in Celestia’s stomach. This was not good. “Continue,” she said to Index.
Index seemed somewhat cowed by Celestia’s one word response and the fact that she had not excused him. He shot an uneasy glance back at princess Luna before turning back to Celestia. “I-” he began. He worked his mouth, clearly at a loss for words. “Could we speak... privately?” he asked finally, shooting another glance back at Luna.
Suddenly Celestia understood. The request was so disrespectful to Luna as to be insulting.
“No,” Celestia said simply. She tried not to sound too harsh, and under normal circumstances she would have been much kinder to the poor unicorn. Luna took precedence, however. “What did you come here to ask me?”
Index, clearly distraught, wrung his hooves. “Luna-”
“Princess Luna, yes, a thousand apologies, Princess. Princess Luna has ordered that the escort assigned to Twilight Sparkle be abolished.”
Suddenly, Celestia understood. Twilight was in Canterlot that night, to spend the night with her and Luna. It was tradition that as a guest she be given an escort of at least two of the Princess’s guards. Such a measure was by no means necessary, but Celestia did not want to leave her pupil alone. She was currently eating a meal after arriving from Ponyville. It was very late, and nopony would be in the dining hall to eat with her. Twilight, while quite introverted, would likely not appreciate taking her supper completely by herself. Celestia had thought ahead and seen to it that she and her pet dragon would have somepony to talk to.
For whatever reason, Luna had ordered Twilight’s escort away. Celestia couldn’t fathom why, but she also knew that Twilight would be fine without them. The young mare knew her way around the palace. Index, however, had not seen fit to follow through on Luna’s order. He had come to Celestia rather than carry it out.
Celestia concealed her immense displeasure at the situation. The last thing Luna needed was somepony questioning her authority. Hopefully, Celestia could still turn things around.
Rather than answer Index, Celestia turned to her sister. “I am so sorry, Luna. Please, forgive him for his appalling breach in etiquette.”
At this, Index paled and glanced quickly at Luna before turning back to Celestia once more. “Princess,” he said. “If I have done something wrong, please accept my most sincere apologies! I never-”
“Index, you have worked in the palace for what, twelve years?” Thirteen years, four months, six days, Celestia recalled.
“And you have enjoyed serving so close to me, yes?”
“Of course, Princess. It is an honor to work under you.”
“And when you cannot solve a problem, who do you bring it to?”
“Why, you, Princess. Your wisdom and judgement are unparalleled.”
“And when I give you an order?”
“I would follow it to the death, my Princess.”
Celestia leaned forward, and spoke softly to the administrator. “And why,” she said, “do you do these things?”
He began to answer immediately. “Because you are the ruler of Equestria,” he said. “Because you are my Princess, and-” realization dawned on his face. Her slumped, then spoke again, losing his indignant tone. “Princess...” he began.
“Not to me.”
Index turned to face Luna. “I have wronged you, Princess. From the bottom of my heart, I ask that you forgive me.”
Luna gave the kneeling pony a cold stare. When she spoke, her voice was hard. “If thou had sought to undermine my sister’s authority, what might thine punishment be?”
At this, Index began to tremble visibly. “I-I-I-” he stammered. Luna cut him off.
“Be about thine business.” she said curtly. “And do not make this mistake again.”
Index gave a tiny yelp at the reprimand before hurrying away. He cast one last look at the alicorns before rushing around a corner as fast as he could walk without running.
Celestia felt a tinge of pity for the poor pony, then stepped out to meet her sister. “I was giving you an opening to be nice, Luna,” she said, “that’s why I was so harsh with him to begin with. So you could seem kind by comparison.”
Luna scoffed. “Thou callest that harsh? By ancient standards, I was kind. He still has a job.”
“We don’t live in ancient times anymore, Luna. A thousand years have passed since you last ruled.”
“As if I could forget,” Luna said wearily. “When thou art twice my size, and everypony looks at me strangely when I say ‘thou’.” She gestured to the end of the hallway. “Shall we?”
Celestia began to walk with her sister towards the dining hall. “Are you excited to meet Twilight?”
For the first time in several days, Celestia saw her sister laugh. “Thine last student was a weapon bred and trained to murder me. Forgive me if I am less than thrilled to meet another.”
“I was kidding, sister. Twilight and I have already met, and she was interesting enough. I shall be pleased to be formally introduced.
“Oh, right,” Celestia said as they rounded a corner. She had known Luna was joking, but her objection had served to draw more attention to the fact and possibly encourage her to do it more often in the future. “Funny that you should mention Astor, I was just thinking of her. You remember how the Coruscare scale is named after her, on account of the fact that she’s a perfect ten?”
“I do.” The Coruscare scale measured a unicorn’s magical energy.
“She’s a nine point three now. The scale had to be reordered to accommodate Twilight Sparkle. She’s the new ten.”
“Element of Magic indeed,” Luna muttered. “Hopefully she is satisfied with having defeated me once already.”
They were moving through one of the palace’s larger passageways, and the guards lining the walls bowed as they passed. “So tell me,” Celestia said. “Why did you want to have Twilight’s escort sent away in the first place?”
“I don’t like the captain,” Luna said simply.
Celestia stopped in the middle of the hallway to give her sister a look. “You don’t like the captain? That’s your only reason?”
Luna simply kept walking, giving Celestia a smug smile. “That’s my only reason. He seems ...off to me.”
Celestia was taller than Luna, and it was easy for her to catch up to her sister while still appearing graceful and majestic, as befit her station. “You had the guards sent away because one of them seemed off?”
“Esteem, I think his name was. He volunteered to be part of her escort despite the fact that the duty is far beneath his rank. It seemed strange.”
Esteem, Celestia thought, recalling everything she knew about the pony. “Hmm,” she said after a time, pursing her lips. “You’re right,” she said at last.
“Yes. Captain Esteem should not be anywhere near Twilight Sparkle, or her friends, at any point in time. Requesting to be on Twilight’s escort is a blatant subversion of my authority. I shall have to reprimand him.”
“What ever happened to being kind?”
Celestia stopped before the doorway to the dining hall and faced Luna. “Esteem is a soldier. He respects discipline. I’m sure he’ll understand.”
“I don’t know, Celly,” Luna said to her quietly as Celestia opened the doors. “I spoke with him this afternoon. His soldiers are terrified of him, you can see it in their eyes. He is always so quiet, and controlled. He almost reminds me of-” Luna’s sentence trailed away and died as they both turned inward toward the dining hall.
The wooden tables and benches that normally stood in neat rows were scattered and broken, splinters littering the floor. Celestia could make out the bodies of three of her guards, lying unmoving in pools of blood on the stone floor. Another pool of blood sat in the center of the room, slightly smeared towards them. The dining hall had only two occupants, neither of whom was Twilight, or Esteem.
They were her parents.
Panic gripped Celestia, stronger than it had in over a thousand years. She felt her mouth fall open slightly, and she took an involuntary step back from the couple in the center of the room. Words failed her; all she could focus on was the fact that she didn’t have a plan. With Nightmare Moon and Discord, there had been a plan. She had worked to ensure that her enemies would not harm her kingdom, had assembled the Elements of Harmony. Now, however...
Her eyes fell upon the pool of blood in the center of the room once more. It wasn’t perfectly round; the fluid had been dragged towards them, almost as if somepony had struggled while they bled out.
She looked up at her father. “What have you done with Esteem?” she demanded, “and Twilight?” She deliberately said Twilight’s name second so as to make the unicorn seem less important. Hopefully, if the King had her, her importance would be overlooked.
King Titan was exactly as tall as Celestia, but much broader. His mane was a long, almost feminine flowing mass of bright white ether. His wings and coat were a matte black. He wore nothing, and his cutie mark was a simple white circle.
His face bore the expression of dispassion that Celestia remembered so well. His eyes were cold and distant, his mouth a thin line at the end of a square muzzle. He was handsome, in a way.
Since they were the same height, it was difficult to tell how much older than Celestia he really was. But if one looked closely, they would notice that the tips of his wings split into the same bright white ether that he had in place of a mane, and that his irises were a burning white as well. He had a certain stillness to him, as though he could stand in the hall forever, watching with disinterest as the stone walls crumbled around him and were overgrown.
Titan spoke in a fluid, resonant tone that seemed to demand attention despite not being particularly loud. “You forget,” he began, “our first rule. You never ask us questions, my daughter.
“I will, however, do you the service of answering the most obvious one.” He looked at Celestia.
“How?” she asked simply.
“I had help,” the older alicorn said. “You failed to fully bury the knowledge of our existence and our imprisonment. A unicorn of considerable talent was all it took to tip the scales and allow me to break our bonds. How you could have made such a grave oversight is beyond me, however. I taught you to be better than this.”
Celestia didn’t bother masking the disgust in her voice. “You taught me to be hateful, paranoid, and alone.”
Titan tilted his head slightly, as if confused. “I taught you to rule.”
He waved a hoof and began to pace the room. “Let’s not do this, Celestia. You could stand there and wax philosophical about what ponykind ‘deserves’ while I argue with you. Or I could scream and yell and stomp my feet, expressing my anger at you for imprisoning me in the first place. We could taunt one another and bring up painful memories from days long since past. I’m sure you could hint vaguely at all the plots you have in place for just this occasion. I don’t want to do any of these things. I don’t even want to fight you, though I suspect I will have to.
“Instead let us simply allow the events of tonight to unfold uninterrupted. You will fail to defeat me, and your former pupil will break you down into your component parts. I will use your power to create a son, whom I will appoint the new prince of Equestria. Luna will be captured and forced to be his lady wife, and I will begin reverting things to their natural order while he and his faithful student pacify the population.”
His faithful student. Celestia felt a chill. She turned to her mother.
Where the King looked upon them with disinterest, Queen Terra’s eyes were filled with hate. Her lips were pulled back in a sneer, her nostrils were flared. The expression was almost comical on the Queen, as her coat was a forest green and her mane a sunshine yellow. Celestia knew that Terra was much younger than Titan, and likely younger than herself, now.
Terra snarled. “Your precious student-”
Titan interrupted her. “Enough, Terra,” he said simply. “Tell them nothing.” Terra stopped talking immediately.
Her outburst had been enough, however. If Twilight was still alive, and working for Titan, it meant only one thing. Her most faithful student had been enslaved by the Sliver of Darkness.
“I must admit,” Titan continued, “That I was surprised to find you in power upon my return. With me gone, I can only imagine that Discord seized control of the world once more. How you managed to defeat a draconequus is beyond me. My old rival was not a force to be trifled with.”
“I also find it interesting that you have aged so little since I saw you last, Luna. It would seem that your old rivalry did not end with me out of the picture. A pity, considering if you were Celestia’s age the two of you might actually stand a chance of opposing me. As is, you are severely out-classed.”
Celestia grit her teeth. “There’s more to ruling than power, Titan.”
She needed to think. Her imminent death was no reason to shirk her duty: ensuring the safety of ponykind. Her opponents might have Twilight, and they might out-age her and her sister by a combined two and a half millenia, but that didn’t make the situation hopeless.
It just made the game they were playing a difficult one. Celestia made her first move:
She knew that Luna hated being ordered around by her - they were, after all, supposed to be equals. She also knew that her younger sister would much rather stay and fight, despite the impossible odds. A part of Celestia hoped, however, that in the face of such an unbeatable opponent, Luna would be able to swallow her pride and listen.
Fortunately, Luna ran, speeding out through the doorway they entered through and taking flight in the hallway.
Terra immediately turned to Titan. “Send me after her,” she begged. “I owe her.”
Titan looked at his wife, deciding. “Yes,” he said finally in his quiet, controlled voice. Terra flew off after the younger alicorn, leaving the two of them alone.
Celestia stood motionless, but in her mind she was thinking furiously.
A corrupted Twilight Sparkle, she thought. How can I anticipate the game plan of an opponent I’ve never even met? The answer was an obvious one. The Sliver will construct an anti-Twilight. So what do I know about Twilight Sparkle?
Titan stopped pacing and looked into her eyes. Even after over a thousand years, she had to suppress a shiver. “Surrender, Celestia,” he said simply. “I don’t want to put this off any longer. I will be king again.”
The princess of Equestria gave no answer, save but to conjure a brilliant blade of sunlight and level it at the older alicorn.
Twilight is studious and patient. Intelligent and curious. A little timid, but brave when it counts. She both respects and fears authority. She feels the need to rationalize all of her actions, and the actions of those around her. She has a close group of friends who also happen to bear the Elements of Harmony.
And you let them get her, another voice said accusingly in the back of head.
Celestia flattened the emotion of guilt almost instantly. Nearly eleven hundred years of life had given her a mind of steel.
Outside of her thought process, Titan regarded her incandescent blade lazily. Faced with what was until moments before the most powerful pony in Equestria, he maintained his dispassionate composure. “I see,” he said simply.
Celestia let him take his time. An anti-Twilight, then, would be what? Her answer almost made her sick. She’d be completely insane. Unpredictable. An impatient, sadistic monster with more power than any other unicorn in the kingdom. A perfect ten on the Coruscare scale. And Twilight is trapped inside of her.
Celestia had to save her student. She also had to save her sister. In the long run, she had to save all of Equestria. She estimated she had less than two minutes to live.
She worked a thought-speak spell and sent it after her younger sister. It was a powerful spell, and it would be extremely illegal for a regular unicorn. Celestia, however, was past worrying about breaking her own rules. She had to save Luna.
The spell connected in a moment, allowing her to send thoughts to her younger sister.
“Listen carefully, Luna,” she told the other princess through their mind link. “Terra is coming after you. You need to fly low and make for Ponyville. Find the Elements.”
She turned to face the would-be king, alone. She wasn’t afraid, really. The first rule of being able to live forever was that you would still, someday, die.
Titan cast his own blade, a slim length of darkness. It didn’t glow, or burn, or waver. In fact, it almost looked solid for something made entirely of energy. The blade was a perfect representation of the king: total control. Celestia waited for him to attack first. Every moment he delayed was one that she could spend planning.
Using her powerful mental discipline, she split her mind three ways. She had never been sure if the technique was magical or not. After a thousand years of practice, however, the princess’s mind was capable of amazing things. The first of her minds would fight Titan, while the second would handle helping Luna to escape. The third needed to figure out how to guarantee the protection of the Elements of Harmony.
Those six ponies were their only hope. Sadly, their leader had already fallen.
An anti-Twilight would be unpredictable, yes. Her actions would not be completely random, however. She would hate Twilight’s loved ones with a burning passion.She would be power hungry. Most importantly, she would have no respect for authority, no loyalty, and no fear.
Titan attacked, accelerating through the sound barrier less than halfway through his lunge. Celestia was thrown backward into the surrounding rubble as she barely managed to deflect his blade.
The princess knew Twilight as well as anypony. Which meant she also knew her student’s shadow. Celestia imagined a game board taking shape in her mind. While the anti-Twilight might not know it, she had just become a piece. The game was far from over.
She was vaguely aware of her other minds: the first was now fighting Titan, and despite its cautiousness, losing. The second was speaking with Luna through her spell. The two would occasionally communicate, but left the third mind to its machinations. The Elements of Harmony were more important than everything else.
Titan doesn’t know about the Elements of Harmony, she thought. Neither does Terra, and nor will their son. But Twilight- or rather, anti-Twilight- will. It is a safe assumption, then, that with her lust for power and disregard for her superiors, she’ll seek to use the Elements against them. I need to give her that opportunity.
Her thoughts stuttered slightly as King Titan threw them through a solid stone wall. She had hoped for more time to plan, but it seemed that even fighting cautiously their battle would be a short one. Celestia still had things to do, however.
She communicated briefly with the part of her that was fighting Titan. That Celestia needed to ensure that the Tower of Harmony was destroyed. Titan could not know of the existence of the Elements, and the anti-Twilight would need to know he didn’t know. Destroying the tower would give her the opening she would need to retrieve them.
The part of her fighting Titan answered in the affirmative, but warned against being too obvious. Since Celestia was so much weaker than the king, her only hope would be to strike fast and defeat him quickly. Since she wasn’t doing that, it would be obvious to him that she was biding time for something else.
Her second consciousness chimed in, offering an easy solution. She would make it appear as though all her effort was focused on protecting Luna. Indeed, at that moment, Luna was in serious danger.
The Celestia fighting Titan manoeuvred in the air so as to put Titan in between her and her sister’s adversaries. Then, she launched a stream of sunlight at the older alicorn. He dodged, but Terra, several thousand metres away, was struck. The part of Celestia that was dealing with Luna expressed satisfaction.
Despite her attempt at subtlety, Titan would likely figure out what she had done. Celestia was fine with that, however. In reality, the move had been to cover up her true intentions. The king might expect her to hide a play behind another play, but she doubted he would look deeper.
Celestia manoeuvred in the air again, this time giving Titan an extremely small opening. He attacked, throwing her through another building with so much force that it broke the focus of all three of her minds at once.
When she collected her thoughts a moment later, however, she found herself in the exact structure she had intended Titan to throw her into: the palace library.
The corrupted Twilight - now the princess’ most important piece- would have a hatred for her friends as deep and voluminous as Twilight had had love. It would be difficult, then, to prevent the corrupted unicorn from murdering them. Fortunately, Celestia had just the thing.
You need to grab a certain book, her third consciousness told the part of her mind that was in control. It’s there, under magical theory. You need to move it to the section concerning the black arts, war magic, and mind magic. Place it on the ground, in clear view, open to this page. Ensure Titan does not destroy these shelves.
Even if the anti-Twilight didn’t decide to betray her masters on her own, the page that the book was open to would likely plant the idea in her mind. In order to gain the firepower necessary to defeat princess Luna, the corrupted student would need the books on the surrounding shelves. Celestia was, hopefully, ensuring that her “enemy” picked up exactly the book that would tell her how to harness the power of the Elements of Harmony.
She knew that Twilight would instantly be suspicious of a book on the ground conveniently open to just the page she needed, which was enough reason to believe that anti-Twilight would take the bait. Once she did, the book would tell her how to harness the Elements of Harmony from their current bearers. It was a process that did not involve killing them. Twilight’s friends, five of Celestia’s essential pieces, would be safe from the corrupted Twilight.
Of course, that was only if she could get the book where it needed to go.
You need to get it there fast, her second mind added, Luna will need our help again very soon.
Thankfully, the part of Celestia fighting Titan delivered. As the king came in to land another blow, Celestia threw herself to the side, throwing a nearby bookcase at him. Titan knocked the bookcase out of the air with ease, but with eleven hundred years of experience manipulating objects, Celestia plucked the book she needed from the shelf.
She rolled in to attack him from the other side, causing him to turn to face away from the book she now held. He easily thwarted her assault- he was three times as strong as her, and a better bladecaster besides. But while he did, she found the page she needed.
She threw herself into the air, careful to trace in her mind the most likely path he would take to follow her. As he shot up after her and out of the library, she slid the book into position, page open.
Then, she dived, and when their positions were in the right alignment, she attacked with another long-range beam of sunlight. While Titan dodged her assault with ease, the king had not been her mark. On the other side of the city, Terra was crushed under several tons of falling stones.
Satisfied that Luna was safe, the part of her mind dedicated to protecting her fused back into the whole. Now Celestia had only two tasks, and two minds to complete them. Delay Titan, and ensure that the Elements of Harmony were properly positioned on her game board.
Luna was safe, however. In her mind, her sister’s piece slid across the game board and into position.
Titan clearly realized that the spell had been aimed at Terra. He did not look pleased.
Celestia moved, goading his next attack. He would hit her hard, likely with enough strength to finish her. She was almost prepared to lose, finally. She just needed him to hit her in the right direction...
Celestia was thrown through the air. Not for the first time, she broke the sound barrier and burst through another section of the palace.
Specifically, she was thrown through the Tower of Harmony.
She struck out with her own magic as she exploded through the tower, encouraging its destruction with subtle telekinesis. The tower collapsed, but the force of Titan’s throw brought her through both tower walls, causing her to land on the grass some distance away.
Celestia looked at the ruins of the Tower of Harmony as Titan descended next to her. Somewhere in the rubble, unbeknownst to the older alicorn, was a chest containing the one weapon that could defeat him. And his own servant, the anti-Twilight, was going to bring it to the only ponies who could use it against him. Satisfied, her consciousness slid anti-Twilight’s piece into position, then merged into the whole.
Celestia lay helpless on the ground next to Titan, feeling unbearable pain. The pain was why she had had to split her mind in the first place. She needed to focus to give ponykind a fighting chance in her absence. Now, as she was brought out of her partitioned mind and into the real world, she found herself completely drained of power as Titan stood over her. The fight had hardly lasted a minute.
She was, of course, just another piece. Titan had moved to take her, and in doing so he had allowed Luna to escape. Luna would be strong enough to protect the Element bearers until the corrupted Twilight learned war magic. When she did, however, she herself would be compelled to refrain from killing the Element bearers, giving them the room they needed to fulfill their purpose.
Titan had said he would leave the kingdom with a son. The newborn son he spoke of would apparently have all of her power- but even if he did, he would be no match for the Elements of Harmony. The princess had agents of her own within Canterlot, contingencies that would keep the prince busy at least long enough to ensure the Twilight and her friends fulfilled their purpose. His actions, too, would be dictated by Celestia long after her death.
With Celestia taken out of the game, the king would believe that the only threat to him would be Terra herself. He would return to his works, and restore the natural order. While he did so, he would keep Terra close, where he could watch her and be certain the other alicorn did not plot against him.
Titan raised his blade, and in her mind, Celestia moved his piece and Terra’s off the board. She was careful not to betray her happiness at one particular observation:
Every remaining piece in play was hers.
“Terra is coming after you. You need to fly low and make for Ponyville. Find the Elements.”
Luna sped out and away from the palace grounds, flapping her wings once to clear a rooftop, then dove back down into the streets. Even as a relatively young alicorn, she was a world-class flyer, but that would mean little when trying to outrun Terra. From behind her, an incandescent flash of white light lit up the world, and she heard a thunderous crack.
“And what about thou, Tia?” Even through thought-speak, she sounded panicked. “Thou canst not hope to defeat him! Not every pony in Canterlot could defeat him! Flee!” She tilted her wings, causing herself to do a barrel roll midair, and searched the sky for the other alicorn. Terra was nowhere to be seen. Luna continued flying through the streets. Her only chance of escaping was if Terra didn’t see her. She needed to head to the city gates.
“I know, sister,” Celestia’s voice sounded sad inside her head. “But I have a plan. I need you to send me what you see.”
Luna let her sister’s spell widen, so that Celestia could see through her eyes. It would be too much information for her sister to keep track of in a fight, and the younger sister wondered how Celestia planned to survive.
Another burst of light followed by a wave of sound came from the direction of the palace.
Celestia’s voice sounded again shortly afterward. Even thought-speaking, it was terse and strained. “Terra stopped and made several pegasi out of nothing. Black coats, blue manes. I’ll help you fight them. Turn left.”
Luna spread her wings to slow herself midair as she veered toward an alleyway on her left. She didn’t slow herself fast enough, and she impacted the side of a building, hard. Being an alicorn granted her earthpony strength and resilience, however, and she simply pushed off of the building wall with her legs and beat her wings to regain her course. Behind her, she saw a black form trailing blue blur past along the road she had been travelling. So fast, she thought, I had forgotten Terra’s creatures could be so potent. She turned down another alleyway, and came face to face with one of the puppet pegasi for the first time.
It was obvious at first glance that it wasn’t a normal pony. Its coat was was black, a color not natural among ponykind. Its mane was a blue so light and vibrant it almost seemed to glow. The creature’s eyes were the same shade of blue, with no pupil. It grunted mist out of its nostrils, obviously not intending to let her pass.
But it was a pegasus, and Luna was an alicorn. She didn’t slow down and she sped through the alleyway, and cast a spell she had learned as Nightmare Moon to strike it with a bolt of lightning from her horn. She expected the construct would simply dissipate.
The pegasus dispersed into an inky cloud of black smoke, and Luna flew through it unharmed. She propelled herself upward over another rooftop, doing another barrel roll and scanning the sky.
This time she saw Terra. The other alicorn was perhaps three hundred metres away from her, hovering high in the air and surrounded by perhaps a half dozen of her pegasi. The tiny green figure saw her too, and lunged.
Suddenly the world became so bright it might have been daytime. Luna flinched, but not before seeing a stream of white-hot sunlight cut through Terra and two of her pegasi. The incandescent beam was extinguished an instant later as another loud boom came from the palace.
“The West gate, Luna! Go!” Her sister’s voice sounded frantically inside her head. “That won’t slow her down for long!”
Luna was shocked that Celestia’s spell had packed so much punch. Celestia was even stronger now than she had thought.
Luna pumped her wings furiously and dove back down into a street. It was a busy street during the day, and was now filled with panicking ponies. They looked up as she passed, obviously confused as to why their princess would be speeding down a main street so late at night. Now they notice me, Luna thought glumly.
Another flash from the palace. Another ripple of concussive force.
Luna flipped in midair again and saw two of the pegasi gaining on her before turning back around. She levitated a nearby signpost out of the ground with her magic, then swung it around toward her pursuers. One of the pegasi banked in time to avoid the steel signpost. The other did not. She hadn’t swung the post very hard, but the pegasus’ momentum was enough to cave its skull in around the metal pole. It poofed into another cloud of smoke.
She dropped the pole and banked sharply into the remaining pegasus. They collided, and she grabbed his wing and used earthpony strength to bring the flailing pegasus in front of her, angling the two of them into the corner of a nearby bookstore.
The bookstore was made of wood, and the walls were simply not strong enough to withstand both of their weights moving through the air at such high speeds. The corner of the store burst into splinters as she carried them through it. She dropped the puppet’s limp form to the road below them. It might not die, but it wasn’t picking up the chase any time soon.
The impact with the wall had shaken her, and shards of wood were lodged in her wings and hooves, but her earthpony resilience was more than enough to handle the damage. She shook herself once and cleared her head.
She veered back down the street toward the city gates. Canterlot was not a large city, and she was closing the distance to the gate fast. Hopefully, Celestia was also almost out of the city by now. Another loud crack from the palace dashed her hopes.
Only feet from the gate, Terra attacked.
Luna felt an invisible force crush her to the ground, and her field of vision went white with pain as she struck the ground just inside the gate.
“Keep going, Luna”, her sister’s voice said weakly inside her head.
Terra landed in front of her with her remaining pegasi. “Luna!” The other alicorn’s voice betrayed her excitement. “What did you plan to do after you got out of the city? Outrun me? There’s no place you can go where I won’t find you, child.”
Luna pushed against the floor with her legs, sliding herself further under the massive stone archway that was the western gate.
“A little further sister. You’re going to need to hit her with everything you have.”
Terra continued. “As much as I would love to tear your pretty little head off its shoulders, Titan wants you alive and well.”
Suddenly, Luna realized what her sister’s “plan” was. Celestia wasn’t going to escape. She was just distracting Titan. Her sister intended to lose.
She dragged herself further under the western gate of Canterlot, trying to make herself look as pathetic as possible. She mentally readied a huge portion of her magical power, but it was far too little to actually kill Terra...
“I don’t see why you are so reluctant, Luna. You’re going to be married! Isn’t that wonderful news?” The other alicorn stepped towards her and smiled.
Luna attacked. “Tia, now!” Her spell was a blinding bolt of moonlight that zipped through the air and struck Terra in the chest. The other alicorn screamed. Luna immediately felt exhausted from the expenditure of magical energy.
At the same time as Luna struck Terra, another blinding stream of Celestia’s concentrated sunlight struck the western gate of Canterlot, causing tons of stone to collapse.
Luna flapped her wings, taking to the air and gaining the speed necessary to avoid the falling archway and exit Canterlot. Terra, however, was not nearly so lucky. The other alicorn, stunned momentarily by Luna’s spell, was crushed under massive blocks of stone along with her puppets.
Luna found herself standing on the grass just outside the city walls. “Celestia,” she thought to her sister. There was no answer. “Celestia!” Her sisters reply came soft and faint.
“Luna. Are you safe?”
“I am, now get out-”
From the direction of the palace, there was another flash of light, followed by a slow crack.