Chapter 30: Fealty
Celestia stared at the piece of paper between her forelegs, reading the words again, certain she had misread them the first time. Finally, she picked up her quill, a blank piece of paper, and composed her response:
Are you sure of this? How come I didn't see it? I just looked at the pattern no more than thirty minutes ago.
She sent it off, then impatiently waited for a response. It came a minute or two later:
It was very hard to see. I almost missed it myself. It's in the background, behind the pattern. He's very far away. Like a distant star. But it's very bright. I am certain he's involved. But whether to our benefit, or to our harm, I cannot determine.
She finished reading, then quickly wrote her response:
Is he coming here?
Another small golden flame, and the paper had disappeared. Again, she waited for a response, which arrived quickly:
I do not know, my Princess.
She considered this for a moment. Firewing had said the other human was very far away. That meant they probably had some time before he came here—if he was in fact coming here at all. She'd have to talk to James, find out everything she could about the people he knew—not that she could even be sure the person in question was someone James knew. But again, she had time. Enough time to give James his three uninterrupted days of contemplation on the decision he had to make. She'd wait until those were over before she asked him.
She wrote another response:
Thank you, Firewing. You've been a loyal friend to me since the day I met you.
Once more she sent it off and did not have to wait long for a response:
And I always will be your friend. Good night, my Princess.
Good night, Firewing.
She sent her response. Then she stood up, removed her tiara and other royal adornments, and prepared for bed. Just as she was about to lay down, there was a knock at her door.
"Your Majesty?" one of her Celestial Guards called from outside. Her horn glowed as she magically opened the door.
"Yes? What is it?"
"We have a … situation, Your Majesty. The underground lab at the Academy physics building has been broken into."
"What? How did they get past the guards?"
"We don't know, Your Majesty. We don't even know when the break in happened. It was just reported to us by Theory Point. She noticed it about an hour ago. It's the first time either she or Doctor Peterson has been to the lab since the Summer Sun Celebration."
"The lab was warded … Not even a unicorn could have gotten in using teleportation," she responded confusedly, floating her tiara and other royal adornments over to her, putting them back on. "Send for my Pegasus Guard escort."
"I already took the liberty of doing so, Your Majesty. I thought you would want to go there. They are waiting for you outside the balcony, your Majesty."
She smiled at the guard. "Thank you, for your foresight."
"It is my honor to serve, Your Majesty," he bowed to her as she turned towards her balcony, walking out onto it. She looked up to see four Pegasus Guard escort circling just above it. Then she spread her wings, lifted off the balcony and joined them. The guards formed up in a protective shell around her, then started towards the Academy.
Landing a few minutes later, she walked towards the building. There were several guards standing outside, along with Theory Point, and Colonel Stardust. They all turned and bowed when she landed.
"Please, as you were." she said, looking around a bit before turning her attention to Theory Point. "What did they take?"
"They didn't take the object, Your Majesty. But most of the research notes James and I had written down are missing."
She nodded once. "And you don't know when it happened?"
Theory Point shook her head. "It could have happened anytime between the start of the Summer Sun Celebration and today."
The alicorn nodded again and looked around more, a look of concern on her face.
"Don't worry, Your Majesty," Theory Point continued. "Between the two of us, James and I should be able to reconstruct most of the research notes. He has a near photographic memory when it comes to equations and numbers."
"I'm sure you can," Celestia smiled slightly, but then frowned. "My bigger concern is those notes ending up in the wrong hooves." She walked towards the building now, entering and going downstairs before stepping into the lab. Several Unicorn Guards in the lab stopped what they were doing and started to bow.
"Please, as you were," she said as she walked over to the locked filing cabinet where James and Theory Point had kept their research notes. She lowered her head, examining the heavy steel lock that lay on the floor. It had been melted off of the cabinet—probably by a very intense heat spell, or possibly an electric arc spell. Not all of the notes had been taken, but a good number of them had been.
She raised her head back up, and the tip of her horn glowed slightly as she tested the area around the lab, then blinked in surprise. "Well, now we know how they got in," she said, turning to the guards in the room. "The magical wards are gone. Any unicorn with any teleportation skill at all could have gotten in here undetected as long as there was nopony in the lab to see them once they were in. But it would have taken a master thief highly skilled in magic to remove the wards without tripping their alarm traps."
"We will scour the entire lab Your Majesty. For any magical signature they may have left behind," one of the Unicorn Guards assured her.
"I know you will do your best." She smiled and turned, walking back upstairs and outside again. She called her Pegasus Guard escort back to her. "We will return to the castle. There is nothing else to be done here and we will only be in the way." She sighed to herself slightly. "All we can do now, is wait for the Unicorn Guards to finish their work and hope they can find some trace of who might have broken in."
"As you wish, Your Majesty," one the Pegasus Guards responded. Again, they formed up around her, took to the sky, and the formation made its way back to the castle.
Cinderfang sat on the open plain just outside the eastern border of Equestria. Looking towards the west, he could just barely make out an approaching cart in the early morning light. Two large gray earth ponies pulled the cart. In front of them, a large jet black unicorn led the way. Even from this distance, he could see the amber irises of the black unicorn's eyes.
He spread his great wings, taking to the sky. It took him less then a minute to cover the distance. He landed in front of the cart, drew in a deep breath, and let loose with a burst of flame and an eardrum shattering roar. The two earth ponies pulling the cart stopped immediately, cowering and shaking before the great dragon. The black unicorn, however, gave no indications of fear at all.
"Was that really necessary, Cinderfang?" the unicorn, a female, said in an unamused tone of voice once the echoes of the roar had faded.
"You didn't tell me they were going to have escort!" the dragon snarled in response.
"You couldn't handle a few guards?" the unicorn scoffed.
"Even a dragon is no match for two squadrons of Pegasus Guards!" he shot back angrily.
"We can't afford to let them recover another object, Cinderfang!" The unicorn stomped her forehoof angrily.
He snorted in response. "I guess this little coup of yours against Celestia isn't going as smoothly as you planned, hmmm pony?" he mocked.
The unicorn shook her head. "The human they have working for them is dangerously close to finding out the truth about what we are trying to do!"
"And you know this, how?" Cinderfang raised an eyebrow.
"We broke into the lab during the Summer Sun Celebration and stole some of his research notes. The foals were so focused on security for the Celebration itself, they probably still don't even know we were there." She smiled now, a smile that Cinderfang could only think of as smugness.
"Clever, I suppose," he responded.
"You need to go back and get the object, Cinderfang. Before they have a chance to make another recovery attempt."
He snorted again. "In case you haven't heard, the old dragon banished me from Equestria. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find food outside the borders of Equestria? The hunting here is terrible."
"Yes, I'm sure it must be so much harder to hunt when you can't prey on their milk cows," the unicorn responded sarcastically.
"And are you going to come break me out of pony dungeon if I get caught? Forget it, I'm not going back there. When they go back up they will have Unicorn Guards with them who'll be casting anti-flame shields. What am I supposed to do then, pony?"
"If you hurry, you could get up there before they went back. Surely, you can fend off the one wing they left up there to guard the area."
"And then have the Elder Dragon Council send out a hunting party to find me? I think not. If you want it so badly, why don't you go up there and get it yourself?"
"Do I look like a pegasus to you? Or perhaps you think I can just sprout wings and turn into an alicorn? I can't get up there, you foal! Look … once Celestia is out of the picture, the Elder Dragon Council will nave no power anymore. You'll be welcome back in Equestria immediately. Even now, the magical barriers weaken. It won't be long before they break completely, and those from The Beyond can come through to help us. We must persevere until then."
"You and your Beyond," he rolled his eyes. "Fine, I'll think about it. That's all I'm promising."
"Don't think too long, dragon. Or you're right, they will have another recovery team up there that will be better prepared for warding you off."
"Yes, yes," he waved a claw dismissively.
The unicorn motioned with her forehoof towards the earth ponies pulling the cart. With a nervous and jerky start, they made a tight circle, turning the cart around so the back was facing the dragon. The unicorn's horn glowed with a red aura as she lifted the tailgate from the back of the cart. Inside, was a large dead bull. Cinderfang could smell the taste of fresh meat. It had been killed very recently.
"For your trouble," the unicorn said flatly, pointing to the bull with her horn.
He drooled as he lowered his great head, opening his jaws to snap up the dead bull from the cart. The two earth ponies pulling the cart fidgeted nervously—probably afraid he might take a bite out of them too while he was grabbing the bull, he thought. He quickly snatched up the bull, the earth ponies shifting to compensate for the suddenly reduced weight of the cart.
As soon as his head was clear, the cart lurched forward again as the earth ponies turned the cart around, apparently afraid to have their backs facing him. But now they looked as if they might vomit, watching him start to devour the bull. He delighted in their reaction as he bit down on the dead bull with a sickening crunch. They started fidgeting again, their faces twisting with a reaction of disgust. They looked as if they couldn't get underway fast enough.
The unicorn, however, seemed completely unfazed by his eating habits as she lifted the tailgate with her magic, replacing it in the slots at the back of the cart. She turned and looked at him again. "Next time we see each other, Cinderfang, I certainly hope you have something better for me."
He said nothing in response, his mouth too full of fresh meat to do so. It was probably just as well that his mouth was full. If it had not been, he wasn't sure he'd be able resist the urge to incinerate the sassy, arrogant little unicorn.
The unicorn walked around the cart, moving in front of it again. She motioned for the earth ponies to start moving. Immediately, they jerked forward, starting out at a fast walk. Occasionally, they would speed up to a trot, at which point the unicorn would stumble forward, then turn her had back and shout curses at them, telling them to slow down. He watched this cycle repeat a few more times—the earth ponies always wanting to move faster, the unicorn stumbling forward, then rounding on them and cursing at them. Only when they had put several hundred strides of distance between him and them, did the earth ponies seem to calm down and start walking normally.
He merely chuckled to himself again at their reaction, then resumed his meal of fresh cattle, another satisfying crunch reaching his ears as he bit down once more …
Even though the morning sun was already well above the horizon, James continued to lay in bed, undressed and staring at the ceiling as he contemplated Celestia's offer. Was he really willing to give up so much freedom? Was it really as bad as Theory Point had said? He thought about what his professional goals had been before he arrived in Equestria. There were any number of paths his career could have taken. But being a top adviser to the most powerful ruler in the world before he had even reached the age of thirty … That was definitely not a path he had considered even in his wildest dreams. He had no doubt Celestia was telling the truth when she had said it was considered by most to the highest honor that could be achieved in Equestria.
He sat up, and climbed out of bed, going over to the wardrobe to get dressed. "She said, I could talk to anypony I wanted. Presumably, that also includes existing Council members," he said to himself as he finished dressing, then left the dorm building and made his way to the castle.
It didn't occur to him until he reached the Grand Foyer inside the castle entrance that he had no idea where the Council living area was. Being bolder than normal, he simply stopped one of the patrolling Royal Guards and asked them to show him the way. To his surprise, the guard quickly obliged, almost like he had been expecting him to show up. Maybe he had been? Perhaps Celestia had already considered he might show up to talk to existing Council members, and had informed the guards?
The guard lead him up a flight of stars he had not traveled before, then to a large door at the end of a corridor. Two unicorn guards stood on either side, guarding the door. Neither one of them attempted to stop him or his guard escort, or questioned them. That could be a good sign, he thought. Perhaps it meant visitors to the Council members were allowed to come and go freely. On the other hand, it could simply mean they had been expecting he would show up.
The door began to glow slightly as one of the unicorns magically opened it. Behind the door, he found himself in a well furnished common room. A large stone fireplace dominated one wall, although there was no fire in it right now, being summer. On the far wall, there was a large bookshelf. He recognized some of the titles on it, including the Daring Do series. Most of the books on the shelves seemed to be for recreational reading rather than research or education. A large polished oak table dominated part of the room. Currently, three Council members were seated at it, playing some type of board game he didn't recognize. They were dressed in the same robes he had seen them wearing at the meeting, but the atmosphere seemed much more laid back than it had at the meeting. They looked up, smiled, and nodded at him.
"Welcome to our humble home, Doctor Peterson," one of the players, a light green female pegasus said. "We figured you'd stop by." The pegasus looked at the guard who escorted him. "Thank you for bringing him. You can go. One of us will guide him back out if he can't find the way."
The guard nodded, but said nothing. Turning and stepping back out of the room. For now, James continued to stand just inside the doorway, looking about slightly nervously.
"You can come in," the same pegasus that had spoken earlier said. "We might seem a little mysterious to you right now, but we don't bite."
He stepped in further. A unicorn seated at the table magically closed the door behind him. He looked at the three ponies seated in the room right now. There was the pegasus, who had done most of the talking so far, a unicorn, and an earth pony. Immediately, he was struck by their eyes. All three had magenta eyes, the same color as Celestia's. Vaguely, he thought he remembered that they had been a deep blue at the first council meeting he had gone to—the color of Luna's eyes. But that couldn't be possible, could it?
"I imagine you have a lot of questions. We will answer the ones we can. I'm Storm Runner, by the way," the same pegasus that had spoken earlier said. "The unicorn here is Moon Song, and the earth pony is River Rock." The two ponies simply nodded as the pegasus spoke.
"A pleasure to meet you," James responded.
"Likewise," The pegasus responded. "Can I get you something? Some tea or something else to drink?"
"Thank you, but I'm fine … So do you really have to get permission from one of the princesses to even leave the castle courtyard?"
The pegasus nodded. "We do. It's not nearly as bad as it sounds though. Basically, both of Their Majesties almost always give permission. There's really only two times they don't. If there's a high threat level and she thinks she may need to call a Council meeting on very short notice, she might restrict us to the local area. If there's a threat to the Council itself, then she may not let us leave the castle at all until the threat has been sorted out. Her Majesty is deeply concerned for our safety and well being."
"It's that simple?" he raised an eyebrow.
She nodded. "Basically, yes. I mean unless your travel plans are ridiculously outrageous, Their Majesties almost never deny them. Even if it's very short notice … We do tend to stay rather busy though. So often, there is little time for travel. But we're a very close knit group and we have plenty of fun. You'd quickly become part of it if you joined us."
He nodded slightly. "And what about the oath? I know there's an oath involved. But I still haven't seen the words."
"It's the same oath the Royal Guards take actually. The Equestrian Oath of Fealty. Don't worry. You'll get to see it before you have to take it. There's a whole ceremony you'll have to memorize actually. The whole thing is very ritualized."
"Very well." He decided just to take the direct route with questions and put them on the spot. "Alright then. Tell me … Why should I leave a very prestigious job at the Academy to join you?"
All three of them gave him strange looks now, as if he had just asked the strangest question in the world. There was silence for several seconds before the pegasus named Storm Runner answered him. "Is not the honor of serving Her Majesty reason enough?"
Definitely very devoted, he thought to himself. "Fair enough … but … what are some of the other benefits of being on the Council?"
This time the unicorn spoke up. "The ability to play a direct role in shaping the future of your home. Yes, Her Majesty still makes all the decisions. But with the exception of Her Majesty, Princess Luna, nopony has more influence on what she decides than the Council members do."
"It's not my home," he shook his head once.
The pegasus responded again. "With all due respect, Doctor Peterson, if Equestria still isn't your home … than what is?"
Her response had caught him off guard. He tried to think of a good comeback for it, but came up with nothing. She did have a valid point, he thought. If he could never go back to Earth, which seemed likely, and he had pretty much accepted that he could not, then where was his home now? If it wasn't Equestria? He didn't answer, instead changing the subject.
"What about all the restrictions? I talked to one of my friends at the Academy and—"
Storm Runner cut him off. "There are a lot of rumors floating around about the Council. We can't talk about what we do with most other ponies, so rumors abound. Some of the rumors are truly outrageous. Once, I even heard a rumor that Her Majesty keeps us chained up in a secret part of the dungeon even the Royal Guards don't know exists. And that she only lets us out when she needs us to do something." That got small chuckles from the other two Council members. "As you can see, there are no chains on any of us, and we have quite decent accommodations. I also heard a rumor once that she has spells on all of us so that if we ever betray the oath, we will instantly fall over dead. Of course, that rumor isn't true either."
"Alright … so maybe she was exaggerating a bit," he conceded. "But still, it sounds like you need permission to do just about anything. That there are a lot of restrictions."
"It depends on your perspective," the earth pony finally spoke up. "Consider that the Council operates outside of the normal chain of government and serves Their Majesties directly. That means when you are on the Council, there are only two ponies in the entire world you answer to: Princess Celestia, and Princess Luna. There's nopony in between, no chain of command. You report directly to the princesses and they are the only ones who can tell you what to do."
"He's right," the pegasus nodded. "No colonel at the Academy, no dean of the college. You report directly to Their Majesties, and only to Their Majesties."
He nodded slightly, thinking for a moment. "So those rumors … why doesn't the Council quash them? Or one of the princesses quash them?"
"Because the more time they spend thinking about and spreading the rumors they create themselves, the less time they spend worrying about what we really do," the pegasus grinned.
"And what is it you really do?"
She shook her head. "I can't tell you that right now. Other than the bit you already know from the two meetings you were at. And I can tell you that we were the first to know about your arrival here, other than Their Majesties themselves. And we played a big role in the decisions about what should be done with you."
He raised an eyebrow. "Really? well … I guess I should thank you then. For not recommending that she throw me in the dungeon for the rest of my life."
"Well, That's what Moon Song wanted to do with you. But Her Majesty would have none of it."
He blinked and looked at the unicorn, who nodded once, then he looked back at Storm Runner.
"I'm just kidding," she chuckled. "None of us wanted to keep you in the dungeon."
"Oh … well, that's a relief," he said awkwardly.
"I can also say that as a Council member, nothing is off limits to you. The entire Royal Archive is open to you, including all content that has been sealed from the public. And if something happens anywhere in the world that is significant to Equestria, you will know about it. And you'll be one of the first to know about it."
He nodded slightly in response, considering everything she had said. It really didn't sound nearly as bad as Theory Point had made it out to be. And if Equestria was to be his home for the rest of his life, the ability to influence it at such a high level seemed like a good benefit. Also, full access to the Royal Archives—hundreds of thousands of new volumes of literature he had not yet had any access to … that was also very tempting.
"So where are all the others?" he finally asked. "I know there are a lot more Council members than just you three."
"Out doing their various jobs," the earth pony named River Rock responded. The only reason we three are here is because we were up very late last night working on various projects for Her Majesty. But we'll be leaving soon."
"In that case, I should probably let you go … I hope I didn't make you late for anything," he said with a hint of nervousness in his voice.
"It's alright," the unicorn responded. "We don't have to leave yet." He motioned toward the game board on the table. "You play?"
He looked at the game board. It wasn't anything he had seen before. On the surface were chips of various colors that resembled checkers. There was also a deck of cards divided equally between the three ponies. He shook his head slightly. "I've never seen the game before."
"Well, if you join the Council, you'll have to learn how to play it," the unicorn responded. We have games almost every night. Of course, usually there are more than three of us playing. When you don't feel like playing a game, there's always books to read. We even have the latest Daring Do book."
"How'd you manage that? I read in the Canterlot Courier that the new Daring Do book was on a two month back order and the first printing had already sold out eight months before it went to press."
"It's one of the perks of being that close to royalty. They'd start up the presses just to run off one copy if they knew one of Their Majesties … or one of their Council members wanted it."
If Rainbow Dash knew I had a copy of the latest Daring Do book here, she'd probably fight me to get her hooves on it, he thought to himself. Yeah … she'd almost certainly win too.
"Come on. I'll show you around," Storm Runner said, motioning him to the hallway at the other end of the room. She went through a door on her right and he followed, Behind the door, additional doors lined both sides of the hall.
"These are the living quarters," she said as she lead him down the hall, "We each have our own private bedroom, but bathroom facilities are shared," she said as she opened the door to one of the bedrooms, pushing it inward. Inside, was fairly spartan room. There was a bed along one wall and a small writing desk in front of the window. Aside from a few framed pictures, The walls were bare mostly white stone—the same color as the stone that made the outer castle walls. The pictures appeared to be of a personal nature. He took it to mean that Council members were free to decorate the walls, at least as long as they didn't go overboard with it.
She showed him around the rest of living quarters as well before leading him back to the common area near the entrance.
"There's no kitchen here?" he questioned.
She shook her head once. "Not really needed. Most mornings, you will have breakfast with Her Majesty, Princess Celestia. Most evenings, dinner with Her Majesty, Princess Luna. The only meal you really have to worry about is lunch. And the castle kitchen is always open and free to Council members. They can make just about anything you want."
She glanced at the clock above the fireplace, then turned back to him. "I hate to cut this short, but we have to go. But thank you for stopping by. I know you'll make the right decision. I look forward to having you as a brother, if that is what you choose."
"A brother?" he raised an eyebrow.
"As I said, the Council is a very tight knit group. We care about, and take care of each other, as a brother takes care of a brother, or a sister. You can follow us out." She walked towards the door.
"Thank you for the tour," he said as they arrived at the ground floor level of the castle. "It was nice meeting all of you."
"You're welcome," Storm Runner responded. "Good luck, Doctor Peterson. With your decision."
"Thank you," he nodded respectfully, then turned and made his way to the grand foyer before leaving the castle and returning to his dorm room to think …
Four days later …
James stood outside a small stone building in the castle courtyard. He was dressed in a plain gray hooded robe. A simple beige cord tied around his waist held the robe shut, the two ends of the beige cord dragging on the ground behind him. The building he stood outside of was unremarkable. Only two features distinguished it from any other building. The first, was that it had no roof, the top of the building being completely open and exposed to the sky. The second, was the large carving on the wall next to the door. On the left of the carving, was a simple circle. On the right, an engraving of Celestia's blazing sun superimposed with Luna's crescent moon. A straight line connected the circle with the sun and moon engraving. Just to the left of the circle, a bright reflection of the sun was slowly moving towards the right as the sun tracked across the sky above them. He knew from reading about the Council initiation ceremony that the circle on the left represented him, the sun and moon on the right represented Celestia and Luna, and the line connecting the two represented the path he must walk.
He looked up at the sky. The sun and the moon were both visible high in the sky. He had never seen both of them up at the same time in Equestria before, and he knew it only happened for special events. They both looked as if they were staring down at the open roofed building. He looked back down and took a nervous deep breath, letting it out slowly as he glanced again at the bright reflection of the sun inching closer to the circle.
"Don't be nervous," Storm Runner said, standing next to him in front of the door. "You've got the entire ceremony memorized. You'll do fine," she reassured him.
He nodded slightly and tried to calm his nerves, watching the bright reflected light continuing to inch closer to the circle. The edge of the reflection had just passed over the circle, bathing it in sunlight.
"It is time," Storm Runner said. Then she knocked on the stone door three times. It began to glow with magic as it opened. A male voice came from inside.
"Who hast thou brought to us, sister?"
"I bring Doctor James Peterson, of the Royal Equestria Academy, brother."
"Why hast thou brought him to us?"
"So that he may join us as a brother."
"Why does he wish to join us?"
"Only to serve."
"Is he willing to give up all that he is to join us?"
"Has he come of his own free will?"
"Then let him enter, and speak for himself."
She stepped to her right, clearing the way to the door so that James could step in front of it. He stepped in front of the door, then stepped inside, trying to keep his breathing under control. Already, he could feel the magic in the air—the energy building for the spell that would later be cast. The ceremony would help to build that magical energy. Then, after he had sworn the oath, Celestia and Luna would release the built up energy in a powerful binding spell. The energy zipped around him in all directions, making his skin tingle.
Inside the building, at the center of the floor, was a mosaic of gold and silver tiles—again, the golden sun with the silver crescent moon superimposed on it. Around the circle formed by the golden tiles, the Council members were arranged in a crescent—a crescent shaped like Luna's crescent moon. The open end of the crescent faced him. At the mid-way point of the crescent, stood Celestia and Luna themselves. He felt the feeling of awe coming over him again. The same one he had felt when he first met Princess Celestia, and again when he had watched her raise the sun.
He stopped once he was clear of the door, as required by the ceremony protocol, standing still and looking straight forward now.
"Why hast thou come to us?" the same voice spoke again. It was a unicorn, standing to Celestia's right.
"To join thee as a brother."
"Why doest thou wish to join us?"
"Only to serve."
"Art thou willing to give up all that thou art to join us?"
"Hast thou come to us of thy own free will?"
"Then step forward, my future brother, that thou mayst speak the oath of fealty and leave thy former self behind."
He stepped forward into the crescent formed by the Council members standing in a semicircle. Once he was standing in the middle of the tile mosaic of the sun and moon, he stopped and knelt before the Royal Sisters. The unicorn to Celestia's right spoke again.
"To serve Their Majesties, is to serve Equestria. and to serve Equestria, is to serve Their Majesties. To always strive for a better Equestria that benefits all. From the youngest colt, to the oldest mare. For ponykind and non-ponykind alike. For all who live in Equestria are valued citizens of Equestria. To protect and defend, especially those who cannot defend themselves. This is the duty of every Council member. Art thou willing to accept these duties?"
"Thou art reminded that once the oath of fealty has been spoken, it is binding for life and thou canst never go back. Now, if thou art still willing, thou mayst speak the oath."
There is no going back, he thought to himself. Then, he began to speak the oath, still kneeling with his head bowed to the two princesses.
"With the sun and moon as my witnesses
Do I bow of my own free will
Without coercion or duress
Now and forever do I swear fealty and allegiance
To Princess Celestia and Princess Luna
To be true and faithful
In living and in dying
To never rise against them
To protect and defend them against all who would oppose them
Even if it require the forfeiture of my own life
To the Royal Sisters do I swear eternal service
To them alone and forsaking all else
Until death take me
Or the world ends."
Then, he lowered his head towards the floor, kissing the right forehoof of first Princess Celestia, then Princess Luna.
"The initiate has been bound by oath. Now let him be bound by magic," the unicorn spoke again.
This was the part he had been dreading. The part he feared the most. He knew a binding spell would be placed on him, and he knew the spell would last for the rest of his life. But exactly what the spell did, he wasn't entirely sure.
He kept his head bowed as he felt the horns of Celestia and Luna touch his left and right shoulders. He felt a tingling at the point where their horns touched him. A sensation of warmness began at the points of contact and quickly started to move throughout his body, filling him as if it were flowing through his veins. A feeling like electricity traveled through him. But it was not unpleasant. Not at all. In fact, it was ecstasy. In his mind, he reached out towards the sun and the moon, He touched them, first the moon, and then the sun. The very surface of the sun. But it did not burn him. Instead, he felt himself becoming one with them. A calm, Utopian feeling began to fill him, starting at his feet and filling him like clear sparkling water filling a crystal pool. He could feel the connection forming, being woven from gold and silver threads as he was bound to Celestia and Luna. And it felt more pleasurable than anything he had ever felt in his life. The magic surged through him, power flowing from the two alicorns filled him. But despite the power, it was a feeling of calmness, like a mighty waterfall from the side of a mountain falling into a forest river.
He felt their horns leave his shoulders. Gradually, the room returned into focus, and the feeling of ecstasy started to flow out of him as if he were returning to the real world from some fantasy dreamland. But the pleasant warming sensation remained. Vaguely, he was aware of the unicorn to Celestia's right speaking again.
"The cord tied around thee and dragging behind thee represents thy ties that thou must now shed. Let it now be severed."
Celesta and Luna both lowered their horns again, touching the cord on either side of his waist. A small glow from their horns, and the two sections of cord immediately burst into small flames. The cord burned through quickly and fell to the ground. The unicorn spoke again.
"The binding is complete, rise, my new brother, and shed the gray robe. For thou hath now earned the honor of wearing the Council robe."
He stood and spread his arms slightly. The two Council members to Celestia and Luna's right and left stepped forward, removing the gray robe he had been wearing. They placed the white and midnight blue robe of the Council over his arms, folding it closed at his chest. Then a gold and silver cord was tied around his waist to hold the robe shut. Once completed, they stepped backwards to take up their positions next to the princesses again.
"The initiation ceremony is now complete," the unicorn to Celestia's right spoke again. "Thou art now a fully sworn member of the Council, and a brother to us all. May the light of the sun and the moon shine on thee always. And may thou serve thy princesses with honor, respect, loyalty, and humility, for the rest of thy days. For to serve Their Majesties, is to serve Equestria. And to serve Equestria is to serve Their Majesties. Let us all welcome James, our newest brother."
Celestia herself was the first to approach him. She nuzzled his cheek gently with her muzzle. "Thank you. And welcome to Royal Council," she said in her usual caring voice.
The other Council members took turns welcoming him as well, But each kept their welcome brief. There would be plenty of time for welcoming at the small, private initiate banquet that followed. Even Celestia and Luna would attend the banquet in his honor as the newest Council member.
All of them knelt and bowed as Princess Celestia and Princess Luna left the building. The Council members, including James, followed her out.
Once outside, James turned to look at the carving on the building again. The bright reflection of the sun had traveled completely across the line and was now shining on the image of the sun and crescent moon at the other side of the line, marking that he had walked the path and arrived at the destination.
Celestia and Luna were gone now, having quickly made their way back to the castle where they would join the Council again in about an hour for the feast. Yet even though they were gone, he could still feel their presence. It was as if they were still standing right next to him. It must be the binding spell, he thought to himself. The warming sensation was still there. And he hoped it would never leave. It was as if he could reach deep inside of himself and touch it. And when he touched it, a strange sensation like nothing he had ever felt before came over him. When he let go of it, the sensation would disappear, despite the fact that the warmth was still there. The feeling was so strange, he could think of absolutely nothing in his prior experiences to compare it too. But whatever it was, he hoped it would never leave. It was comforting, reassuring, and strength granting all at the same time. As he continued walking toward the castle for the banquet with the other Council members, he looked around briefly, then back forward. He smiled now, certain he had made the right choice …
Later in the day, James settled into his new room in the castle. His only regret now was that he had eaten too much at the banquet, as had all of the other Council members.
He opened the wardrobe door, then stood in front of the mirror, undoing the gold and silver cord that held the robe in place. He made sure to pay attention to the knot that had been used to tie it so that he would be able to tie it again when he put the robe back on. Looking in the mirror, he saw that his eye color had changed from brown to the same magenta color of Celestia's eyes. Later in the evening, after the sun had set, he went back to the mirror again. Now, his eye color had changed to deep blue, the same color as Luna's eyes. So I did remember, correctly, he thought to himself, recalling that all the Council members he had met had had magenta eyes that he was sure were deep blue at the first Council meeting. Another effect of the binding spell, he assumed. His eyes must now be the color of Celestia's during the day, and Luna's at night. It would take some getting used to, but all of the other Council members were the same way.
He climbed into bed and smiled again. The sense of warmness was still there, as was the feeling of presence; the presence of the two princesses. Never before had he felt so whole, as if a void had been filled. He closed his eyes, still smiling as he drifted off to sleep.
James found himself inside the familiar stone building with the seven caskets again. Outside, the towers of the castle continued to burn. He turned his eyes back to the front of the room. The thing that pretended to be Nightmare Moon stood glaring at him with all the intensity of an inferno. It was a look of pure malice and hatred. The image of himself stood next to her again, the collar around his neck, the chain running from his collar to the false alicorn's fetlock, binding him to her. This time, Twilight was no where to be seen. Finally, it spoke.
"I've grown weary of waiting for you, human. I've been more than lenient with you. But soon the time will come where I will force you to serve me whether you want to or not."
"You are too late," James responded confidently. "I have chosen my side."
The false alicorn chuckled darkly in response. "Foalish boy. You say that like you actually had a choice to make. Fate chose for you long before you were born, human. You belong to me, and you will serve me." She stomped her forehoof once, sparks flying from the shoe on her hoof scraping the stone floor. He almost lost his nerve when she stomped, remembering the earthquake the last time she had done so. But this time, nothing happened except for the sparks. He regathered his courage and spoke as forcefully as possible.
"You are too late. I belong to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. I am bound to them for life, and I will serve only them. Now go and trouble me no more."
The false alicorn laughed with a sinister growl. "Do you really think you can get rid of me that easily? By simply telling me to go?" She laughed again. "You will serve me!" she snarled.
"No, he will not!"
James nearly jumped, startled at the unexpected female voice that boomed out from behind him. Even the false alicorn's eyes widened, looking behind James now instead of at him. He turned his head to see Princess Luna, walking towards them, her horn already glowing, her eyes narrowed as she fixed them on the thing that looked like Nightmare Moon. She stopped and stood next to him before she continued speaking.
"He belongs to me and my sister now," Luna spoke sternly. "He is bound to us by oath. You will not have him."
The intensity of Luna's glare increased and the light from her horn brightened. Suddenly, a blinding bolt of lightening shot from her horn, lighting up the entire building as if it were broad daylight. A loud crack as the heat from the bolt caused the air to expand explosively. The lightening struck the image of James, hitting the collar around his neck, splitting it in two. It fell from his neck, hitting the ground with an echoing clang. The image of himself took on a surprised look, then quickly ran towards them, passing them and then fading. The two halves of the collar smoldered on the floor, the edges where the lightening had rended it in two glowing white hot.
"This cannot be!" the false alicorn proclaimed in a rage, the chain she held now dangling limply on the ground with nothing attached to the collar. The false alicorn's eyes became even wider as she stomped her hoof nervously, looking squarely at Luna. "You cannot be here!"
"We are here!" Luna responded, using the Royal Canterlot voice now. "Thou wilt torment him no longer! Be gone with thee!"
Luna lowered her head, her horn pointing straight forward now, then started prancing towards the false alicorn. Much to James' surprise, the false alicorn began to dance backward awkwardly, stumbling under Luna's assault. Finally, the false alicorn spread her wings. She glared at Luna, growling and shouting.
"You and I are one, Luna! Do you forget yourself? I am you! It is only a matter of time before you realize that and join with me once more!"
A dark mist surrounded the false alicorn now, like a dense black fog rising from the floor. It cleared almost as fast as it had come. When it did, she was gone.
James looked down at the collar again. The white hot edges where Luna's lightening bolt had cut it had cooled to a dull orange now. He turned and looked at Luna. "Your Majesty? How did you—"
"It is one of the effects of the binding spell. As long as you are close enough, I and my sister can sense when you are in trouble, and come to your aid," Luna responded. She looked a little shaken herself though, by what had just happened.
"Does it only work in dreams? Or …"
She shook her head slightly. "It works when you are awake as well. And as long as you are within teleportation distance, I or my sister can come to your aid. With time, you will learn many more mysteries of the binding spell. Indeed, some of the very secrets of the Universe itself will be revealed to you through the binding spell. Some, you will learn from your brothers and sisters on the Council. Others, you will learn from me or my sister. And still others, you must discover on your own when the time is right." She looked at the ground now, her expression distant and troubled, a look of deep sadness and concern in her eyes.
"… It's not true, Your Majesty … what it said. You are not Nightmare Moon anymore. Nightmare Moon is gone."
She nodded slightly in response. "Yes … Well, at least somepon … someone believes in me," she said, forcing a small, brief smile. Then she turned, her head lowered to the ground, her ears drooping against her head as if she were tormented by some great inner sadness.
He wanted to follow her. To comfort her. But her image faded into nothingness, disappearing from his dream. The stone walls and floor of the building he was in soon followed, leaving only darkness as the dream ended and he returned to a dreamless sleep.