Princess Celestia was staring at the stained glass windows in the throne room of Canterlot Castle. She was focused, in particular, on the one depicting the phases of the moon. Shining Armor’s letter from yesterday floated lazily by, suspended by her magic. The Storm Dancer described in the letter was not the one she recognized. Her sister’s faithful attendant had attacked the Captain of the Royal Guard. Could her sister have brainwashed Storm Dancer? Such a thing was well within the realm of shadow magic. Celesita shook her head. Perhaps she would need to make a visit to Ponyville to assess the situation, though it would be difficult from a political standpoint to leave Canterlot after placing the city in lockdown. She would have to settle with the letter she sent:
I am appalled to hear about Storm Dancer’s treachery. I assure you punishment will be dealt with on his return and you need not let it weigh down your thoughts anymore. For now, your remaining task shall be to rest and heal. Your sister, being one of the few ponies that have the concentration to properly perform light magic, shall be more than sufficient to aid in your recovery. I am confident in her ability to administer healing spells as needed. I must say, your description of your symptoms have caused me a great deal of worry. I am particularly shocked by your loss of magic. There are few things that can cause such an event and I shudder to think that Storm Dancer might have inflicted one of them upon you.
I have informed Princess Cadence of your injuries, as you requested. Her doting on you warms my heart. She has left on the morning train to Ponyville in quite an upset form. I understand her need to be near you, and normally I would think her presence a blessing, however I fear she may be a tad frazzled with the news of your injuries. I recommended she take an attendant with her, but she refused most profusely. I would suggest that one of your sister’s wonderful friends help with calming her down.
I will note that until your letter arrived I was anxious about your sister’s lack of a response to my last correspondence. I see now that she has had her hooves full with your recovery. I would be ever so grateful if you could pass along my greeting to her. Rest well Captain and know that we are taken care of at the castle. Your protégée, Wind Strider, is turning out to be quite adept at carrying out orders and swiftly at that. You have trained him well; it is simply too bad that he cannot replicate the shield spell, like you and I, lest he find himself the new Captain! Ah, perhaps I should not make such jests while you lie ill, but perhaps a smile shall do you some good. As always, the sun watches over you in your time of need.
Your friend and Princess,
With a heavy sigh she glanced upwards. It was almost noon. She could tell even without vision on the sun. She stood up from the throne and glanced over to one of her guards. “I will be in the planetarium, if one should need me.” She gave the guard a harsh stare. “Make sure no pony needs me.” The guard nodded in return with a slight gulp. He was not used to seeing the princess be so curt. She regally strutted down the red carpet that lead to the grand entrance of the throne room.
She navigated the intricate hallways of the castle, pausing only a moment to look outside one of the few windows that were not stained glass. She gazed across her beautiful city. Even in the splendid glow of the soft yellow barrier that protected it, the city was a gem of creation. Its tall spires reached for the heavens and its perfectly paved streets guided residents to their destinations. It was the pinnacle of all cities, in the golden land of Equestria, the holy land. There was little that could even be done to improve it. It basked in the light of the day with magnificence and was a beacon of majesty against the starry sky. It put nature to shame. There was only one word that could describe it: Canterlot. For its own name had become the definition of spectacular. Celestia smiled. It was hers. Hers was the solitary vision made tangible that could have harbingered such an emphatic superstructure of utopian opulence.
She made her way into the top of the central tower of the castle. This area of the castle was for restricted ponies only. Only a select few were allowed here and no tours ever ventured this far up the central tower. It was less restrictive than the ruling princesses’ bedrooms, there were no enchantments that barred access, but it still was off limits to many of the kingdom’s citizens. The top of the tower, where she now stood, was capped with a magnificent dome, the planetarium. The dome that encased the tower had been specially designed by her and Clockwork, one of her faithful students. As she entered the dark room, she bowed her head in remembrance of Clockwork. She whispered to the walls, “May your soul live in idyllic serenity, my dear friend.” Feeling a set of tears coming on, she quickly shook her head and inhaled deeply to clear her thoughts. She glanced upwards at the ceiling. A small pinhole was set in the center. When the sun would reach its center point in the sky, a beam of light was enter the room. It was almost that time. She quickly levitated a few reflective crystals into the sockets on the walls. Then she went to work on the levers. With a set of careful calculations for the current season she slid each lever into a specific position. The room vibrated slightly as large gears began to rotate the brass arms that held the crystals. Celestia sighed. She had originally commissioned this addition to the castle in preparation of Luna’s return. It was meant to be a gesture of goodwill, a place where she could gaze at her stars even in the midday. Luna was grateful for the gesture, but she used the room rarely. Luna had always said it never captured the positions quiet right so she only used the room when she was designing large constellations. Celestia waited penitently as the sun reached to crest of its daily arc.
The sunbeam entered the room with an almost audible radiance. She watched it creep in. Others would have said this impossible, to observe light moving was a physical impossibly. She was light, however. The beam hit a reflective dish at the base of the room and scattered beams of rainbow light to several crystals on metal arms. She watched patiently as the rays crept from reflective point to reflective point. Light can be so slow sometimes. Once the apparatus was fully lit, Celestia stomped on a small pushbutton on the floor. The gears that lined the walls began to turn with a series of cranks and hisses. The room rotated and the floor rose. A pillar emerged in the center of the room supporting a blue sphere of shifting liquid. The rays of light were centered on the sphere and in an explosion of multicolored light the domed ceiling was painted with stars.
Celestia glanced up in wonder. The night sky had always fascinated her. Even during the thousand years she took care of the moon, she could never set the sky alight with spark her sister could. Even in this simulation, she could see all of the infinitesimal details that her sister had painstakingly woven into the canvas. Celestia let out a sigh. She would under no circumstances ever admit it, but she desperately envied the beauty and control Luna had over the heavens. When the first Nightmare Night occurred, Celestia had admitted it to the younger Alicorn in one last attempt to avoid the incident. Her sister, consumed by despair and rage, brushed off the comment as a lie. The raising the sun had always been a functionary task. It was raised every day because it was needed. There was no love to the motion; there was little expression other than the effort involved. The night sky, however, had always been an art form. It was painted because it was supposed to cradle and comfort, to make others wonder and awe. Celestia shook her head. In many ways, little Lulu had been well within her right to be upset that the ponies of Equestria ignored that which she put so much effort into in favor of what was little more than a emotionless task. Often Celestia wished she could paint the sky like her sister, but the power of the sun could do little than provide warmth and a steady even light. The most she could manage was the colors of the sunset and sunrise, but truthfully, those we just a fact of the world she had no control over.
“Alas, now is not the time,” she sighed. The Dome of Vision’s images were always true, however with all of the flashes of pictures they often lacked context. It was possible her vision of Nightmare Moon had nothing to do with an eternal night. Perhaps Nightmare Moon was attacking some great threat that required Luna to use the power of her Affixed. Then again, the visions could be exactly what she thought. Celestia glanced up to the starry projection. If her sister was troubled, it would show in the stars. Not the larger constellations, Luna would always ask before moving those stars, lest she confuse sailors all over. But the smaller stars that were not connected to any picture, those would cluster up or shift from time to time as Luna’s overall mood changed. “Lulu, you never were one to hide your feelings well.” During the time before Nightmare Night there had been signs of Luna’s despair. She had seen them, and ignored them as childish antics. “If only I was more attentive at the time, perhaps our relationship would not be so strained. I’m sorry Lulu.” She stretched her neck back and simply gazed upwards, looking for anything that would give her insight into her sister’s heart.
The stars were quite pretty, fantastically so, she could only conclude. If something had been troubling her sister, she should see wild patterns of strewn strings of stars flung onto the sky in frustration. These stars instead were meticulously placed with such detail. “What is going on in your head, sister dear?” The stars were clustered together, to combine their brightness. She grasped her magic around one of the control levers. The dome rotated as it simulated the night’s progression. The stars seemed to dance in circles, “These aren’t positioned like before at all. Where is the anger? These are almost celebratory in nature…. Happy even.” Celestia pulled the lever back up and rewound time. “No… it couldn’t be….” There was a path that clearly lined where the moon would traverse. There was only one conclusion. “If I’m reading these correctly…. Lulu… are you… in love?” Celestia sighed and shook her head, “You silly filly….”
“Princess Celestia!” The door to the planetarium was thrown open, flooding the room with harsh light. Acting Captain Wind Strider gave a brief salute. “I have important…”
Celestia frowned. “I thought I made it quite clear I wished to be left to my thoughts today, Wind Strider.”
“We have something here we think you would wish to handle personally. We have set up the throne room for you.”
Celestia raised her eyebrow. “This cannot wait?”
Wind Strider sighed, “No, your highness, I do not believe so.”
“Very well, escort me to the throne room.” The two ponies descended the stairs and made their way back to the northern end of Canterlot Castle. “Tell me, Wind Strider, has any correspondence passed through the mail room from Princess Luna?”
“I am sorry, my princess, I am just responsible for captaining the royal guard.” Wind Strider shuddered. He was not used to being bad at his job. “I am aware that Shining Armor had his hooves in many of the happenings of the castle as a service to you, but he had not trained me in such things.” The Pegasus looked up at the princess to see her expression clearly said she was not looking for excuses. “To the best of my knowledge, I do not think dear Princess Luna has sent anything to the castle from Griffica. But, as I said, I don’t know. I believe Rivensilt has the knowledge you seek.” Wind Strider looked to the ground for a moment as they passed the junction point that connected the west wing to the central tower. “Lady Heartstrings, uh… Rising Star I believe is her given name, she was in the mail center earlier today. She would know. Oh look, the throne room! My how the time files!”
Celestia sighed with irritation, “Yes. This would be the throne room.” Celestia took her seat on the throne and inhaled deeply. “Very well, what is this event that needs to be dealt with?”
Wind Strider looked nervously off to the side. Two more guards escorted in a limping pony dressed in damaged armor. “We found him hobbling about outside the city-shield. He is refusing medical care. He says he needs to talk to you immediately.”
The battered pony kicked one of the guards away. “I can speak for myself!”
“I see.” Celestia sat down on her throne and nodded. “It would seem you have much to speak about, Storm Dancer.” Celestia gave a half hearted smile to the injured pony. “But perhaps Acting Captain Wind Strider is correct. You seem to be in dire need of medical attention. Might I suggest that we wait to have our discussion until later?”
“No! Princess, this is very important!”
“Very well.” Celestia’s tone went from caring to harsh very quickly. “Perhaps you would care to explain how you came by your injuries. I will have you know letters have preceded your arrival and their details are quite telling.”
Storm Dancer fell to one knee. “Nightmare Moon has returned!”
Celestia’s eyes widened. “Nightmare Moon was vanquished by the Elements of Harmony. What you say is simply impossible. Besides, Princess Luna is in…”
“The princess of the night is in Ponyville! I saw it with my own eyes!”
Celestia stood up from her throne. She began to pace around Storm Dancer slowly, encircling him like a snake does to its prey. “Be very careful with the next set of words that you choose to speak. It sounds as though you are getting ready to accuse my sister of treason.”
Storm Dancer struggled to bow in his armor. “It is with a heavy heart that I must.”
“Your wounds… they are deep and of dark origin. These burn marks are the work of shadow magic. Only four ponies in the world are capable of casting in such a domain.” Celestia leaned closer to get a better look. “These injuries are Shadow Sealed. They will never heal. Not even with the aid of purity magic. This is very dark hex. I am inclined to believe you. Only the mistress of shadow could cast this magic.” Celestia, rather melodramatically looked up at the stain glass window that showed the phases of the moon. “My sister…. Luna cannot draw on this power on her own; this is the work of Nótt.” Celestia sighed, “It seems that Nightmare Moon has returned.”
“It is a grave day for Equestria. But I have found a suitable tactic we might be able to use.” Storm Dancer dropped a small jeweled necklace on the ground. “It’s broken, but this is an…”
“An Amulet of Null. Centaurian artifacts are forbidden. You attempted to use this on Nightmare Moon?”
“Yes. It prevents even the shadow demon from using magic. It…” Celestia stamped her hoof on the Amulet of Null, shattering it. “You…!”
“It was broken. No being in the world can repair Centaurian magitek; it draws on an ancient, chaotic power. Its components are too dangerous to allow their existence once the unit has stopped functioning. This is why Centaurian artifacts are forbidden. Even in dire times they must be avoided at all costs.”
“But without it…!”
“If Nightmare Moon truly wishes to bring about Eternal Night once again, the Elements of Harmony will quash any such actions.” Celestia’s eyes rolled to the ceiling for a moment. She closed them and hummed a few notes to herself. “What I would like to know now is how exactly you managed to placed the Amulet of Null upon my sister’s neck and how she managed to remove it.”
Storm Dancer let out a pained cough, “Her thralls!”
Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Thralls? Elaborate.”
Storm Dancer stamped his hoof. “She has corrupted the Elements of Harmony! This is why we needed the amulet!”
Celestia bit her lip. “Corrupted? How?”
“It’s not just the Element bearers; she had the captain of the royal guard in her control as well!” Storm Dancer’s leg slipped and he crashed to the floor. As he struggled to stand he continued, “But I found a weakness. She has taken a special liking to one of her puppets, your student Twilight Sparkle.”
Celestia tilted her head slightly in disbelief, “My student? A liking in what way?”
“The succubus has turned her into a love slave. A mere puppet for her lust! Luckily she values this slave highly, no doubt to the magic that particular Unicorn is rumored to have. And if I learned anything from the Griffin War, it’s that the right pressure point used in the wrong way can make all the difference in the world.”
Celestia’s eyes widened slightly. “Am I to understand that you used my student as a hostage?”
“It was the only way I could…”
Celestia’s eyes narrowed. “And what exactly did you do to this hostage that motivated my sister to comply?” Celestia’s mouth went agape slightly. “There is blood on your hooves….”
Storm Dancer winced slightly. “I assure you, if her mind is salvageable she will be none the worse for wear.”
“I see.” Celestia sat back down in her throne and looked pensive. “Please, continue.” Celestia levitated a small metal box from behind the throne. “Describe the event. In detail.”
Storm Dancer took a deep breath, “Once I learned of Nightmare Moon’s presence, it was difficult to proceed.” Celestia used her magic to open the metal box and from the inside, a small cloth of velvet floated out. “I used a sleeping potion I conned out of the witch of the wild Everfree and subdued Nightmare Moon’s mistress. Then I…”
Celestia broke her stare off of the velvet cloth. “You were in the Griffin War, correct?”
“Yes. I was awarded the Golden Horseshoe for vigilance and strength!” Celestia smiled and gave Storm Dancer a nod. A small needle floated out of the metal box and was quickly strung with a multicolored thread. In an instant the needle began to stitch into the velvet cloth. Storm Dancer coughed uneasily, quite unsure as to what was going on. “As I was saying, then I captured her mistress and demanded that Nightmare Moon don the Amulet of Null. It was quite ingenious I might add. Once she had the amulet on I was able to subdue her. I had a bit of trouble with the bewitched captain of the royal guard. Luckily I am ever so prepared and I used a potion of the Mangus Thief on him. Powerful stuff that….”
Celestia nodded. “Mangus Thief? Interesting.” The velvet cloth, now free of the needle, floated down to Storm Dancer’s face. “Tell me, what does this look like to you?”
“It’s… uh… the mountain tops of Griffica?”
“Oh good. That’s what I was going for.”
“Right… as I was saying, I was…”
Celestia stood up from the throne and shook her head. “No, no. We hath heard enough of thine obscene words.” She said with a far too cheery smile.
Storm Dancer suddenly felt very uncomfortable. “Um… why… why are you talking like that?” There was a blaring pinging sound from underneath his hooves. The gray Pegasus gasped in horror. “Oh… no…”
“Storm Dancer of the Pegasus tribe!” A circle of glowing runes formed underneath his hooves. “We hath witnessed thy plea of thy acts and are ready to cast judgment uponest thee!”
Storm Dancer found himself unable to move. “Oh no! No, no, no!”
The velvet cloth, now with an image of the Griffica Mountains hastily stitched upon it, floated above Storm Dancer. “Hear now thine acts of sedition and bearest witness to our divine and royal ruling absolute.” The runic circle completed with an audible ping. “One admitted account of possession and use of a Centuarian artifact, an Amulet of Null. One admitted account of accusation of treason against a member of the royal court.”
Bars of light rose from the circle to the ceiling, imprisoning Storm Dancer. “Please, Princess! You misunderstand!”
“One admitted account of possession and malicious use of a Potion of the Mangus Thief, upon a member of our royal court, no less! Perhaps even for all these we would forgivest thee, but this last account.... One admitted account of… assault… upon an Element Bearer.”
Storm Dancer shivered. “No! No, no, no! Please! I beg of you!”
“For thy crimes against mine sister, thy princess of the night, our favored pupil, and our own divine crown: We stand ready with our royal ruling.” A ray of golden light traced upward from the center of the circle and impacted the stitching of Griffica. “We hereby banish thee to the mountain tops of the nation of Griffica.” Storm Dancer let out a gasp. “We hope the residents hath forgivenest thee for thine actions in the war.... Though we doubt this is the case.”
“I can’t...! No…! Celestia! I am your faithful attendant! I can do better! I can stop Nightmare Moon! I can stop her! I can stop her! No, no, no, no!”
The ray of light widened and it became hard for Storm Dancer to see the princess. “During thine exile, thou will be magically expelled from returning to our holiest of lands. Thy sentence shall last three hundred years.”
“No pony ever lives that long! I live for Equestria! You can’t…!”
“WE CAN! During this time, not even thy remains shall be permissible to return. Thou shall not seek thine eternal rest within our great boundaries.” Storm Dancer felt himself lifted off the ground as the floor under the runic circle seemed to break apart into an abyss. He began to fall as the ray of light coming from the velvet cloth pushed him into the rift. Wind rushed from the room into the newly formed pit.
Storm Dancer screamed, “No! No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! Great Celestia! Have mercy!”
“We suggest thou direct thy prayers to the Ancient Sprits. For from now on, THE SUN HATH FORSAKEN THEE!” With a blood stopping scream, a blinding flash of light shook the room. When the occupants could see once again the rift and the circle were gone. The small piece of velvet cloth ignited and turned to ash. Storm Dancer’s battered armor fell to the ground with loud clangs. Celestia chuckled, “My sister and Twilight… My sister… and Twilight….”
No matter how much he tried, Wind Strider could not steady his heartbeat.