56w, 3dAussie Bronies
"...Honestly, Tia. Must we go through the unneeded pomp and ceremony for so small a journey? Ponyville is mere moments away by our wings, almost instantaneous with proper use of the arcane. And yet we are to travel for an extended time on a metal monstrosity, surrounded by dignitaries and nobles, only to be mobbed by ceremony yet again upon our arrival. 'Tis almost obnoxious."
The Royal Sisters strode down a hallway of the Canterlot Castle, long legs eating up the distance despite both holding a rather lax pace. Luna's head was lowered, and she huffed grumpily as the pair drew ever closer to the castle foyer, where a small army of the members of the Royal Entourage were gathered to accompany her on her trip to Ponyville. Scribes, servants, minstrels, attendants, advisors... It was enough to make her have to resist the urge to heave.
Luna had never been one for castle life; that was more Celestia's cup of tea. The older sister was calm and calculating, tacitly handling her significant duties as if nonchalantly taking a stroll in the park. Luna, on the other hand, had a truly almighty temper, and often spoke more with action than carefully chosen words. Several vain and otherwise insufferable nobles had already learned the limits of her patience when having to deal with the more trivial matters of the court...
...Usually the result of which was a large amount of high-class ponies rubbing their bottoms in indignation and pain, attempting to rub out the charring in their coat that a magical lightning strike was prone to leave. This was why Luna preferred to do her work from the shadows; the complexities of court vexed her greatly.
Celestia gave a small smirk. "What you say is true, Luna. But the people enjoy their ceremonies and such. It is our duty serve them, as is our duty to serve Equestria. Besides," she winked at her. "I rather enjoy being the center of attention."
"Oh, we've certainly noticed that," muttered the smaller alicorn.
Celestia laughed at this, her warm voice sounding almost musical as it echoed down the hallway. The pair continued on, Luna mentally preparing herself for the refined circus act that was the court. The Princess thought of calm and peace, of brown paper packages tied up with string. She didn't want to end up making a repeat of her last snap of temper. The court jester was still unwilling to even so much as speak in her presence. Luna snorted to herself. It wasn't her fault that the foolish pony had decided to tempt fate by ambushing her with that blasted pastry launcher Celestia had gotten for Hearth's Warming. It also wasn't her fault that the resulting retaliation had partially collapsed roof of the main hall.
Okay, mostly wasn't her fault.
The pair rounded a corner, now walking along a heavily windowed passage, the sunlight coming through the colored glass panes dying the white stone walls a veritable kaleidoscope of color. As they moved, now in a comfortable silence, Luna began to daydream, gazing at the tinted and letting it transfix her it. More than anything, she simply wanted to have some form of escape from her predicament, so that she might make her way to Ponyville on her own terms. Perhaps a sudden sleeping disease would strike all of the ponies in the main foyer... No. Too soft. Maybe a vicious horde of diamond dogs would spontaneously assault the castle. Hmmm... Now that could be entertaining. Luna's hooves itched as she remembered the last time she'd sounded defeated an army. What a glorious battle that had been! Those were the good old days, back before she and Celestia had assumed the title of Princess, back when they had roamed the land as travelling warriors alongside their brother-
A sudden burst of light interrupted her thoughts. Instinctively, she slipped into a combat stance while her eyes cleared. What was going on? Were they under attack? Was there really a diamond dog siege underway? She frowned slightly as her vision returned, revealing a white, shaggy mare with brown splotches on her coat standing several paces away, smoke from her teleportation spell gently wafting up to the ceiling. Icy blue irises, shaped as vertical slits, regarded her cooly.
Elder Ragdoll? Well, it's no battle, but perhaps this could get her out of this mess nevertheless.
The peculiar unicorn gave a deep bow, and the sisters could see her fluffy brown tail twitching in obvious agitation. "Printessa Celestia, Printessa Luna, privet stviya. I am not interrupting anything, I hope?"
Celestia, cool as an ice cube in Antarctica, responded almost instantly. "Of course not, Elder. We were simply on our way to the foyer to bid Luna farewell for her trip to Ponyville. Would you be so kind as to walk with us?"
Ragdoll nodded and fell in step to Celestia's left, now walking in between the two sisters. Luna found it faintly unsettling how the mare carried herself. She trotted along smoothly, almost lethargically, yet somehow keeping pace with the long-legged alicorns. Her motions were fluid, and yet carefully controlled, as if she were moving through the tangled undergrowth of some forest, stalking her prey. Luna repressed a faint shudder. While she truly enjoyed the company of the Elder, her status as a hybrid, and as a carnivore, no less, was somewhat unsettling at times. It was made even more disconcerting by the fact that while Celestia's and her own metal-shod hooves made loud noises on the stone floor, Ragdoll moved silently, as if she were nothing more than a ghost.
"I bring grave news," the Elder said mildly. Her alien eyes focused straight ahead, but her pointed ears constantly swiveled this way and that as she walked.
"Concerning..?" Luna prompted.
"The Nightmare, Printessa."
Celestia frowned while Luna involuntarily flinched. The older sibling spoke slowly, saying, "I know not of why you bring this up, Elder. It has been more than a year now since the Bearers of the Elements vanquished it. Surely we may let dead mares lie?"
"Is never truly defeated, the darkness. That would bring imbalance, net? Ironic, it is, that the good may not exist without the evil." Ragdoll chuckled softly. "No, Celestia, the Nightmare is still out in the world, and neither of you will ever truly be rid of it."
Luna felt a small flash of anger. "And why, pray tell, is that?" She had often had to deal with accusations that she still bore some faint trace of corruption from her possession, but never from a being that she knew or respected so well.
"Is inside all of us, comrade. Is very embodiment of that black place in our soul. Every pony, great," she quickly glanced at the sisters. "Or small, bears trace of it. Is part of who we are."
There was silence for a time, the three mares walking steadily down the technicolor passage, before Luna spoke up again. "Surely you did not come here to speak of philosophy. You said you have news, We ask that you speak it with most haste. Such talk of darkness upsets us."
Ragdoll chuckled again. "That too, is ironic, for you are the Printessa Nochi, Princess of the Night. Darkness is your domain. Embrace the shadow, do not fear it. Is this not the lesson you wished to spread as Nightmare Moon?"
Luna glowered, and sunk her head.
"Do not think of this badly. If you must know, I rather enjoy the concept of eternal night. Is not problem for me." She said, as she blinked her icy eyes again. Luna briefly thought they glowed faintly for a moment. "But enough of this. I move on to reason I am here now, da? Luna, I am sure that you remember blessing you give before you were consumed? This has much to do with what I have to say."
Luna thought for a moment. What was she talking abou-... Oh. Her dark cheeks faintly blushed as she remembered that night, when she had given her dearest companion, Sir Apple, her personal blessing and a wish.
Celestia looked confused. "A blessing? Luna, what kind of blessing was this, and on whom?"
Ragdoll spoke before Luna could. "One whom has a special name, taught to me by the stars, for he will play a great role soon. You know him as Buck Apple, Printessa Solnsta."
The ivory alicorn's eyes widened. "Sir Apple? Why would a simple blessing affect..." she paused, obviously deep in thought. "Luna... It wasn't a simple blessing, was it." Celestia stated.
Luna sighed faintly in resignation. "No. 'Twas much more powerful than what we usually give to our subjects. We felt that he had earned much more than a paltry gift of magic."
"Luna..." Began Celestia.
"Tell her what he did as he received the gift," said Ragdoll flatly.
The Princess of the Night glared at Ragdoll breifly, somewhat peeved that she would know of what transpired so well. Then again, knowledge of such things was the Elder's special talent, after all. Wilting under Celestia's demanding gaze, Luna looked down sheepishly. "He, um... Raised the moon?"
Her sister's jaw fell wide open, and she stumbled a bit, the regal alicorn looking somewhat comical as she flopped about, trying to regain her pace. "He did WHAT?"
"Ehehehe... We were planning on telling you after it happened, but then we fell to the corruption. It sort of slipped our mind." Luna muttered quietly.
The look on her sister's face was unreadable, but extreme. "Luna. Buck Apple is an earth pony," she stated slowly. "And you are telling me that he not only can use magic, but has enough to move the moon itself?"
Luna merely nodded, stuck between feeling ashamed and proud of her actions.
"Sister, this is no mere blessing. That kind of power is only achieved by a god. Sir Apple is not a divine being, he was born of flesh and blood. How is that he is able to do such a thing?"
Ragdoll once again spoke up. "Printessa Luna give him far more than magic."
Both Luna and Celestia looked at her, confusion written plainly across their faces.
"She give a piece of her soul."
Both of the Princesses stopped walking simultaneously. Celestia looked extremely worried, while Luna's visage was pasted with something that was a cross between concern, pride, and guilt. Ragdoll padded a few more steps forward before turning, the spectrum of light coming from the windows tinging her shaggy coat all the colors of the rainbow.
Luna wasn't sure what to make of this. It was very possible such a thing had happened... That would explain how he had managed to move the moon. But still, a piece of her soul? Wouldn't she notice if a part of it was removed, even as a gift, unintentional though it was? She pursed her lips in thought. This also didn't explain why her powers had been somehow non-existent at times he he had been nearby, like during the eruption, and again at the tournament. Most perplexing...
"But at time, her soul was beginning to be held sway by Nightmare," The Elder continued. "She give him piece of this, too. Both fragments now grow inside him, like seeds, changing him."
"Does he know?" asked Luna.
"Is not likely. He will know he has been given a great gift, but not significance. I believe it shows as a picture of a crescent moon on his chest, where the most power was delivered."
"His heart. We gave that to his heart."
Celestia frowned. "Then these fragments are impossible to remove. Elder, what will happen as they grow?"
Ragdoll closed her eyes for a moment, choosing her next words carefully. "He must choose the one to survive. There is not enough room in a pony for three souls, barely enough for two. The choice will be difficult, as both sides will play at his strengths and weakness as they fight each other. The Nightmare has unique talent for corrupting, this is true. Is very likely that it will dominate your fragment, Luna. It already has before.
"But aside from this, as Nightmare grows in strength, so too will forces of evil. Equestria will see terrors long forgotten no matter what happens. Ancient magic will react to presence of such a powerful being coming back. There will be difficult times ahead, and the knight will not be the only one to have risk of corruption. Foes both of you thought long vanquished will rear their heads again. They will not stop growing until the Nightmare is stopped."
"What if my fragment is the victor?" asked Luna.
"Then Nightmare is pushed out of his body, and both will become... vozrodivishiisya. I am sorry, I do not know how to explain it in Equestrian. They will be changed, this is known."
"And in the meantime?"
Ragdoll stiffened one of her forelegs, and bone spur smoothly slid out the back of her limb, glinting faintly in the multicolored light. She inspected it carefully, before running the very tip along the stone floor. It carved through the solid rock like a hot knife through butter.
"Prepare him. Train him in what he must face. Is best if he knows everything. Also, as we speak, Rust is gathering a group of beings that will greatly assist you in this."
Celestia and Luna both gave a small bow, grateful for this knowledge. "Thanks to you, Elder. You may have averted yet another disaster. But, before we continue on, do you know where Buck Apple is now? I think it appropriate that we begin this training immediately." stated Celestia. The darker alicorn nodded in agreement.
Ragdoll smiled. Her eyes flashed again. "He is in the foyer, standing next to Captain Cloudhammer, with a big, stupid smile on his face. They are to escort you to the awaiting train for your journey to Ponyville."
Celestia gave a small chuckle. "Not anymore they aren't. Elder, please tell the Royal Entourage to proceed to the train and board as scheduled. However, there will be a change in passengers. We promised Ponyville a visit from royalty, and they shall have their visit." The ivory alicorn now had a wicked grin on her face. "Send Prince Blueblood in my sister's stead. I believe a certain fashionista in Ponyville will be all too eager to see him again, and the country atmosphere may do the pompous foal some good.
Despite the situation, Luna laughed at this. After the disaster that was the Grand Galloping Gala last year, Prince Blueblood had become insufferable. The Element of Generosity would gladly take him down a peg or two... With only a few broken bones made in the process. Oh well, no pain, no gain.
And, as a plus, she got to skip the silly procession. Sometimes, dreams really do come true.
The moon was not shining tonight in the far eastern desert. Hidden by a gloomy pall of thick clouds, little, if any light found its way through, punching through the scant holes in the black veil as brilliant silver blades. Such a meager ambiance gave pause to even the most active nocturnal denizens of the barren land. A cold, evil wind blew as desert owls looked wistfully back over their feathery shoulders toward inviting nests before setting out for a night's hunting. Foxes and coyotes softly whined as they padded over the dry earth, anxious to return to the safety of company and shelter. A cottontail took one look outside its burrow before wisely retreating, unwilling to even set foot into the gaping blackness. Sometimes going hungry was worth it, as long as survival was ensured. And on nights like this, survival seemed like a cruel joke.
Aloof, gazing down upon the shadowy wastelands from its perch atop a craggy mesa, a great blotch of darkness, far blacker than its surroundings, held position in quiet contemplation. The bitter breeze running over its thick coat felt welcoming, soft like a lover's caress. The gritty crunching of dried dirt and stone beneath cloven hooves sent shivers down a hunched, yet stout spine. The shape adjusted position, turning from the open expanse of the desert to look down toward the base of the mesa, where a few small campfires were burning, the faint, inviting pinpricks of light visible for miles in any direction. Surrounding the fire, dim shapes of a cluster of tipis could be seen, reflecting the ruddy firelight off flaxen sides.
A small pebble was crushed to dust under the sudden, crushing force from an angry hoof being stomped into the ground. The hoof twisted back and forth, grinding the remains of the pebble into oblivion. The owner of the limb whipped it out and away, sending the finite grains formerly under it's hoof off over the edge of the mesa, immediately vanishing into the shadowy gloom. Small, narrowed eyes, glinting faintly in the blackness, hatefully glared at the lights.
That single thought, tenaciously clung to. Repeated time and time again, until it nourished the figure almost as much as the meager grasses and plants the desert environment permitted. The simple concept of vengeance was enough for the figure, burning like a black star deep inside its twisted heart.
The shadow stamped a leg down again, a thin, whip-like tail lashing back and forth in anger. It turned from the camp, setting it's gaze on the far off horizon. In the distance, the dark pall of the night was faintly beaten back by the lights of another settlement, this one made of wood and stone. The very sight of it fueled the furnace of hate in the figure's chest. It was sickening, the very idea of such a place, static, bending nature to its will, corrupting the very essence of the land.
The tribe has betrayed everything we stand for, by siding with such a pestilence.
Powerful shoulders flexed and rolled in the darkness, faint moonlight glimmering briefly on thick ivory horns as wide as a pony's hind leg. A loud snort echoed across the mesa, and a great cloud of steam shot from blunt nostrils.
They have betrayed me. They shall pay!
The small, beady eyes fixed on a darker splotch near the settlement. Even this far away, the faint scent of the apple orchard could be detected in the night air. The figure involuntarily recoiled, nauseated by the putrid stench of the alien fruit.
Especially the disgusting creatures who dared to desecrate our land... MY land. These... "Apples".
The figure took one last look at the distant orchard before slowly moving down the sides of the mesa, picking its way carefully down the steep slope. Upon arriving at the bottom, it began to trek away from the lights of both the campfires and from the town on the horizon. The very essence of the creature seemed to grow blacker with each step it took, until it became even darker than the night surrounding it, one great stain on the surface of the shadowy desert.
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