The Amulet of Shades

by Sparkle Cola

Chapter Six: Burning the Dross

Dull. Day Court had been a rather dull affair. Nothing new about that. Normally the hours of Day Court seemed to blend into one another, and Celestia just endured until she retired to the evening meal. Today was a little bit different, only in that the dullness of the Day Court offered a stark contrast to what had happened this morning.

Not that there had been a national crisis or anything. Those had become far less frequent over the past couple of years, thank harmony. But the morning took a turn for the strange when Princess Twilight’s tail somehow materialized exactly over Celestia’s pastries, ruining the treats as the ash and burnt hair floated down to make a new topping. Celestia figured her former protégé must have been standing a little too close to her dragon assistant while he sneezed or something. While that made for an entirely reasonable explanation, that didn’t stop Luna from laughing her fool head off, making puns and comments such as unloading rare spices from the dock at Twilight.

At the conclusion of the morning tea, Celestia thought that would’ve been the end of it. Instead, Luna stayed up past her bedtime to set up a series of creative and well-timed pranks.

Thankfully, as the day moved on, so did the various hijinks her sister was behind, as Luna retired to her quarters by eleven o’clock. in the aftermath however, Celestia sent a letter to Twilight inviting her to assist her in retaliatory pranks most foul. She hoped for an affirmative reply, but as yet, no reply had been made either way.

Sitting at the head of the new conference table of cherry wood, Celestia scowled as she adjusted her tail, trying to get more comfortable on the newly delivered chairs that were slowly becoming her new nemesis during briefings. Raven Inkwell, her assistant, had wanted to update the decor of the primary briefing room, but Celestia’s flank was having second thoughts of the sitting accommodations. It did give the room a more contemporary feel like Raven had wanted, of course, but contemporary did not equal comfort. Maybe she would give Raven her seat for the next week.

The door burst open as Celestia’s group of advisors trotted in with various documents, and Celestia greeted each in turn. They were followed by a castle servant pushing a cart topped with a food service tray beneath a bell-shaped stainless steel cloche. As the ponies took their places around the elongated conference table, the server lifted the cloche off of the tray with a flourish, revealing the hors d'oeuvres to be featured during the meeting. Surprisingly, the Castle Kitchens had decided to furnish the meeting with pastries of all things. As Celestia looked over the distinctive color of the frosting, she felt her left eye begin to twitch.

“An interesting choice for hors d’oeuvres at this hour, Princess Celestia…” Minty hedged, raising an eyebrow almost up to her bangs as she moved closer. Despite this, Minty’s magic picked out one of the frosted eclairs and held it up for closer inspection. “And what an interesting color scheme for the frosting...”

Misty Veil, a gray unicorn official over foreign affairs, came up beside the light green unicorn who served as the secretary of agriculture and peered over her shoulder, taking her measure of the proffered treat. “Oh, that does look interesting…” Misty blinked in recognition. “Wait, it’s like the coloration of the Princess of Friendship’s mane. And it has sprinkles on top… or sparkles, if you prefer…” She giggled before she lifted one up and took a bite, experimentally chewing it as she looked to the side before her face brightened in recognition. “Nice! The indigo frosting is blackberry, while the violet and pink trim has a distinct floral overtones…” She smacked her lips a few times. “It tastes like violets!”

Squeezing her eyes tightly shut, Celestia resisted the urge to do something rash and smoothed out her facial expression before looking over at Raven. Her majordomo had dropped her head, and was holding her glasses in one hoof while massaging the bridge of her nose with the other. Apparently, Luna had been holding one prank in reserve. Celestia desperately hoped that Twilight would join her for some retaliatory strikes.

* * *

“And that wraps up the info on the current unrest in Minos. Your agents are on hoof, keeping an eye and a wing on it, but for now, the Minotaurs are handling it adequately as an internal matter.” Misty Veil concluded and leaned back into her seat, setting her documents down.

A knock sounded at the door, drawing the attention of the seated ponies, including Minty Sorbet who was startled out of her reverie. Raven Inkwell stood up and opened the door, and returned with a fresh document in hoof after a brief conversation with the courier pony.

“Well, we were about to wrap up, but apparently there was a late tidbit of news from Manehattan that could be mentioned.” Raven returned to her seat, reading over the document quickly before clearing her throat. “Apparently, there was a disturbance in Manehattan early this afternoon.” Raven held up a hoof as her eyes continued to travel over the page. “Among other curious elements of this case, it seems that a middle aged unicorn librarian, with no police record of any kind, decided to bombard all of her library patrons with library books. Ballistically.”

Celestia’s brows furrowed. “What?”

“Well, it seems this librarian attacked all of the library patrons.” Raven’s ear twitched in discomfort. “She was apprehended by a small Police force and brought into the Manehattan General Hospital under sedation.”

Celestia leaned forward, starting to frown. “Were any of my little ponies harmed?”

With a sigh, Raven continued. “There were only a few minor injuries, mostly contusions and abrasions, it seems. Four ponies checked themselves into the hospital and were released after an hour or two, but one had to be be brought in by medical responders due to a concussion. However, there are several ponies seeking psychological counseling from the emotional trauma of the experience.” Raven frowned for a moment, before continuing under her breath. “Hmmph. Must have been hit by some pretty lowbrow literature.

Celestia cleared her throat delicately, causing Raven to duck her head for a minute. “And what of the librarian?” By this time the rest of the briefing advisors were all leaning forward a little, their ears directed towards Raven’s position.

“They attempted a psychiatric examination, but it didn’t go so well, due to the agitation of the patient. And magical scans only hint at some type of magical influence at play, but so far nopony knows what it is. The Librarian is back under sedation at this time, and they are bringing in some experts from the magical school in Baltimare.”

“How very strange,” Celestia murmured. There were of course numerous accounts of violence and theft among the more desperate of her ponies, and such things were normally handled without incident on the local level. Celestia normally only heard facts and figures about such things except for notable cases. This case, however, seemed odd by comparison, especially when the doctors and police were both at a loss for what had happened, and magic seemed to factor into it somehow.

Raven cleared her throat again. “Would you like to convey any messages or take any actions?”

Celestia blinked before responding to the mare decisively. “No. Keep the librarian safe and let the doctors work. Just keep me apprised of any changes to the situation. Also, notify Luna when she is available.”

“Will do, your majesty.” Raven inclined her head in acknowledgement before standing up from her seat. “If there is nothing further?” Raven looked over the assembled ponies. “Very well, then. Meeting adjourned.”

* * *

It had been a delightful afternoon with her cousin, but Meadow once again felt her attention drawn to the window, watching different ponies as they ambled past. Since it was the weekend, Coco Pommel’s shop was closed for the latter half of the day. This was part of the reason why Meadow had decided to delay her visit until later in the afternoon. She had not wanted to impose during Coco’s normal business hours.

“Meadow?” Coco gently probed “You’re sure everything went okay during your studies in Gryphus?”

Meadow shook her head before straightening up on her stool, turning back to look at her cousin again. “Hm? Whazzat?”

Coco shook her head, smiling faintly. “You’ve been overseas for three months, and that’s the third time in the past fifteen minutes that you zoned out on me. I had to call your name three times. Are all the ponies walking past my showroom window that interesting?”

“I wasn’t… well, um…” Meadow’s cheeks colored as she looked down, trying to clear her mind for a moment. There were plenty of half-formed thoughts, snippets of memory, and flashes of emotion from this morning, but it all seemed to roil and circle, never coalescing into a crystalized thought. She came into Coco’s shop feeling anxious and confused, and was hoping that chatting with her favorite cousin would get her mind off of the mess. Unfortunately, she only managed to make herself look tense and distractible, causing her favorite cousin to worry.

Coco got up from her cushion and walked up to Meadow, placing a hoof on her shoulder. “C’mon,” she prodded quietly. “Something is bothering you, and you’ve been keeping it all locked up since you came in here.”

Meadow’s cheeks colored just a little more, and she rolled her eyes to shrug it off.

Coco’s face turned into an amused smirk. “Is it a stallion?” She teased. “A Tiercel?”

Meadow’s eyes sprang wide. “What? No!”.

“Well, c’mon, then,” Coco nudged. “What’s on your mind?”

Meadow’s slouched her head forward, exhaling with a sudden burst of air. “Okay, fine.” She slipped off of her stool and began to pace back and forth in front of the winter fashion display. “I have a friend… somepony who I met during the voyage back from Gryphus.” Meadow dug her forehoof into the carpet a little. “And I think she may be in some sort of trouble.”

Coco’s ears turned back slightly while her brows furrowed. “What kind of trouble?”

Meadow went on to describe this strange mare she had met on the ship, and her later attempts to introduce her to Equestria in general and the city of Manehattan in particular. She had been drawn in by the mysterious nature of this unicorn, who had seemed so intriguing with her archaic speech patterns and her rather pensive and brooding disposition... She had also been drawn in because Tempest had seemed so intense and focused, and yet so sad. Meadow felt inspired to befriend her, and while making new friends was one of the ways Princess Twilight recommended to celebrate the new national holiday of Friendship Day, Meadow was motivated by more than that.

But then things got awkward when they visited a magic shop, where Tempest’s conversation with the store manager revealed just how foreign Tempest’s background must have been. It became obvious that she knew very little about Equestrian Culture. But then there was the library, where Tempest had seemed so happy when they had parted ways. It was only a few hours later when the incident happened and that librarian turned animalistic. Meadow wasn’t even sure why she had been bold enough to barrel straight into the library when all of the other ponies were fleeing in terror. She grimaced as she described the still too recent situation.

“Goodness, that must of been awful!” Coco gasped out, getting up from her cushion to trot over and give Meadow a hug. “I know you enjoy a little bit of adventure here and there— especially if you’re brave enough to spend months at a time in the backcountry of Gryphus— but what possessed you to run into a building that other ponies were running out of? You could’ve been seriously hurt!”

Meadow let out a nervous giggle from her cousin’s concern, enveloped as she was in Coco’s embrace while surrounded by her cream-colored fur, but the sound became tangled into a muffled half-sob. Trying to cover it up, she coughed lightly before clearing her throat. It was comforting to receive such a heartfelt gesture. “Well, you know me, Coco. Always the one to swim upstream.” She gave a wet sounding sniffle.

“Yes, ever the wild one under that unassuming and innocent smile.” Coco pulled back so she could look into Meadow’s eyes, her smile turning mischievous. “So… what was the creature like?”

“It… wasn’t a creature.” Meadow’s eyes took on a haunted appearance. “It was the librarian. But she was acting like some feral creature, and she was hurting ponies. I had to kick over a shelf to distract her in order to get a mother and her child out of harm’s way.”

. “Y-you kicked over a… a whole library shelf?” Coco stuttered. “How in Celestia’s name—?”

Meadow tried to smile as she did a graceful spin before striking a fighting pose. “You remember my days competing in the art of Capomarea?”

Coco gaped for a moment. “That’s right. You were a black belt!” She shook her head, smirking. “So what did you do, pull off a graceful spin/flip before you delivered a crushing blow to that unsuspecting shelf?”

Meadow stuck her tongue out in response to her cousin’s teasing. “Not really...” She resumed her fighting pose before practicing a few spinning kicks into the air, her back hoof making a swishing sound as it passed.

“It really wasn’t anything so dramatic.” Swoosh. “I saw one shelf unbalanced a little, and happened to be in a fortuitous place.” Swoosh. “I just helped it to the ground with a good impact.”

“Fortuitous,” Coco replied with amusement. “Helped it to the ground… Right.”

“As you say. It made for quite the noise, too, but that let me escape with that mare and her son and stay hidden until the police arrived.”

Coco returned to her cushion and fanned herself with a hoof. “So what are you going to do now?”

Meadow’s muzzle scrunched in resolution. “I have to find Tempest. She may be in trouble—or she may be behind it. I’d like to find out if I can.”

“But what if she’s dangerous?” Coco warned. “What if she turns you into a feral ornithologist, and you start hurling birds at ponies?”

“Pfft. Hurling birds at ponies, she says. She’s a good pony, Coco. I can feel that. She is just confused, and in trouble. I think I can help her. And it’s the right thing to try.”

Coco was unconvinced, raising an eyebrow as she glared at her foolhardy cousin. “I think the right thing is to let the authorities handle it. Don’t get caught in the middle of that!”

“It’s fine, Coco. It’s probably nothing. Like I said, she is a good pony, and is probably just scared and confused.” Meadow contended, watching her cousin fold her forelegs over her chest. “Anyway, first things first. I need to pick up some groceries and head back to my condo—there’s nothing in the cupboards, you know?”

“We could always go dine out at El Loco Taco. It’s been a while since I’ve had a good hay-burrito.”

Meadow looked to the side in thought. “That sounds good, but let’s make it tomorrow night. I’ve got a lot on my mind right now, and I need to get my kitchen in order.” Meadow thought a moment more before she brightened. “If it makes you feel better, I could give you a description, and maybe some of your more well-connected friends can keep an eye out for her?”

“I guess if she sticks around Manehattan,” Coco sighed, getting up from her cushion. “I can do that. I was going to visit my brother at his salon anyway. Let’s catch up later tonight, okay?”

Meadow nodded, smiling before she gave her cousin one last hug before they parted. Coco escorted her to the door. “That sounds like a plan. I’ll stop by tonight to see if your friends have seen anything. And thanks for letting me crash here for a few hours!”

Coco waved her off with a hoof. “Think nothing of it, you crazy mare. See you tonight.” Meadow returned the wave before turning to trot down the street, leaving Coco to wonder about the crazy situations her cousin seemed to always get into.

* * *

Narrow beams of light illuminated the stale air of the warehouse. The muted rumble of cranes and forklifts further down the pier caused the nearby window to rattle in its frame. The longshoreponies that worked on the docks seemed to do a lot more driving than the lifting they did back in her day, with the assistance of these bizarre and noisy machines. It only made sense, since there was such a larger population to supply. The only sounds from within the building were the occasional faint scrambling rat’s paws, and an even fainter dripping noise from somewhere in the shadows.

Finding her way into the abandoned warehouse had been a relatively simple matter, as it had been easy to stay hidden in the shadows and use the occasional bit of magic to avoid detection. What was most important was the fact that she had successfully avoided the police, and now had an opportunity to lay low and to plan her next move.

Tempest had spent a good portion of the past hour mentally berating herself for the commotion she had caused, but she was ready to try to push all of that to the side. It was time to review the selected memory she had stored within The Eye once again. Reliving the memory wasn’t something she enjoyed doing— in fact, she detested the experience, as it was made up of a mishmash of friendships long gone, and scenes of horror that struck the marrow from her bones. But harsh as the experience was, it was a necessity. It always helped her clear away the detritus and self-doubt so that she could focus on her singular cause.

Free Luna, above all else.

No matter the odds, find a way.

With The Eye on her side, Tempest felt that she now had a way. However, she would not be able to act if Luna interfered. Not if Princess Luna was under magical manipulation by Celestia.

Tempest initiated the now familiar ritual, one where she set up several magical wards for privacy and protection allowing her to review the memory uninterrupted. It would not do to be discovered unawares while in the throes of such a realistic flashback. And while the experience was harrowing and gave her very real pain, it was at the same time… cleansing. Like a burning fire, it cleared away all of the dross and doubt and kept her mind on her task.

Time to burn away my fears and begin again.

The wards now in place, Tempest crouched in a shadowy corner of the warehouse, trying to smooth out her breathing. She pulled the hateful Eye up and out of her cloak and gazed at the rough hewn surface. Some portions of the memory were rather pleasant, but nearer the end? Well; this time she would try to avoid coming out of it screaming.

Why was her accursed heart beating so fast? Why did her hoof tremble? Such were signs of weakness—feebleness that had to be stamped out. Gritting her teeth, Tempest brought the simulacrum of an eye before her, and activated her horn for the connection.

* * *

“If I should fall… do not reveal your Lunar allegiance to Celestia. She would quickly overpower you, which is something that I could not bear. If I should fall, then your mission will be to bide your time. Become successful; become powerful, and develop your technology of amulets. One day you and your amulets may yet avenge me.”

“…I swear it, mother. I swear it!”

Tempest hugged the Lunar Princess fiercely, nuzzling into her luxurious indigo fur. She felt the powerful alicorn grip her in a smothering hug, a hoof stroking through her charcoal and yellow mane. Tempest couldn’t quite stifle the sobs threatening to burst out, but she tried. After a moment, Luna released the embrace, looking deeply into her eyes. Tempest looked back, almost swallowed up in the ancient abyss within the teal pools she saw there.

“Tempest,” Luna intoned. “You are everything to me. You are part of my hope for a better tomorrow. No matter what happens, I want you to remember that.” Luna placed her hoof lightly upon Tempest’s chest, the glittering silver armored cold to the touch as it rested over her heart. “Remember, in here.”

“Yes, mother.” Tempest dragged a fetlock across her muzzle before looking up and giving her mother a watery smile. “Thank you. Is there anything else before I depart?”

Luna gently shook her head. “Nay, child. You may take your leave.” Luna’s magic flashed, releasing the bindings on the door and deactivating the privacy spell upon the room. The door swung open with a creak. “Go in peace, my faithful student.”

Luna’s voice had taken on her commanding mentor’s edge instead of the motherly tone she had been using before, and she turned back to the maps on the table. Sketching a quick bow, Tempest turned on her hoof, rounding the corner and ignoring the guard that was propositioning her earlier. She turned her head away so he wouldn’t be able to see traces of any dampness on her face, and ignored him when he called after her.

Tempest paced down the corridor, trying desperately to not display the hurricane of emotions she was feeling. It was a mixture of impotent rage and a cloying anxiety that curdled in her heart. It was humiliating to know so much about what upset her mother, and yet to be so powerless to do anything about it but to offer her comfort.

Tempest gazed out a window as she continued to make her way towards the school grounds, estimating the time by the position of the moon. Since the evening meal had already passed, Tempest’s friends were likely still gathered in the commons area of the school campus. In fact she knew they were, because they had wanted to continue the current role playing game that Bright Light was directing.

Saturday evenings were often a social gathering time, and her fellow students could often be found in the dormitory area and spread about the commons with their fellow classmates, either gossiping or reminiscing about recent adventures they had had. Tempest felt a twinge of guilt as she thought about joining her colleagues. How could she enjoy herself among her friends while her own mother was miserable in what seemed to be an impossible political firestorm, the source of which was her sister in an act of betrayal? Not knowing where else to go at the moment and knowing she had a commitment to keep, she continued on her way. Perhaps Alistor, her closest friend and confidant, could offer some counsel.

Rounding one more corner, Tempest’s vision was unexpectedly filled with an expanse of white, catching her unawares and causing her to recoil in surprise. A gentle voice called out to her in greeting.

“Hello, Tempest. How did your meeting go with Princess Luna?”

Tempest swallowed, struggling to regain her poise. It was becoming increasingly difficult over the past two months to not flinch when addressed by Princess Celestia. Luna had been making it increasingly clear that Celestia was the source of the problem, and becoming a direct threat to her rule. It was no surprise that Tempest found her distrust in the Solar Monarch rapidly accelerating into full blown hatred.

Don’t let her see your hatred. Don’t let her see your anger.

“Fine! Yes, the meeting was fine, Your Highness.” Tempest internally winced at how loud that reply sounded, but she pressed on and forced her face into smile.

Like I’m gonna fool Princess Celestia, a pony that has been dealing in political maneuvering and intrigue for more than 500 years.

Celestia’s eyebrows furrowed just a fraction before inclining her head slightly to the side. “Even though your attitude towards me has become disaffected of late, I still want to express my gratitude. I am grateful: truly grateful that you have been such a rock and a support to my sister these past few months. Celestia turned around in the too-narrow hallway to stand next to Tempest, now facing the same direction. Celestia began to lift a wing as if to drape it across Tempest’s back but she hesitated half-way, pulling it back to her side with a twitch.

Sighing, she looked down the corridor. “Walk with me?” It sounded more like a directive than an invitation.

The taller alicorn began to walk slowly down the hall, leaving Tempest rooted to the spot. She really didn’t want to follow, but it wasn’t like she had much of a choice. Standing here for much longer would just make her look petulant and foalish.

Before she could start, however, Celestia turned her head with a sad smile, her gaze probing in a way. “I would be most appreciative if you could accompany me to the castle gardens…”

Giving a stiff bow, Tempest gave her reply. “Of course, Your Highness.” She fell into step with her aunt as they took a left down an adjoining hall, heading back towards the castle and the gardens beyond.

After a minute of walking in relative silence, Celestia looked down to Tempest again. “Tempest, if I may speak plainly…” Celestia trailed off into silence again, looking ahead with a troubled expression.

Watching her aunt out of the corner of her eye, Tempest pursed her lips. She had never seen Celestia at a loss for words, but there was a first time for anything, she supposed.

“I am worried about my sister,” she murmured. “So very worried.” They rounded yet another corner, finally approaching a large archway framing a double door that was flanked by two muscular guards. Without a word, the guards took a half-step to the side and opened the doorway.

As they got outside, Celestia’s horn glowed with a shimmering golden light, causing a near-transparent privacy bubble to coalesce around them. “I am worried about my sister,” Celestia breathed. “So very worried. In the centuries we have spent together in Harmony, I have never seen her in this state.”

Celestia turned away from the central walkway and made her way towards a clearing marked with a few benches placed between several ornamental plum and olive trees. She sat down, indicating for Tempest to do the same on the bench across from her. Not knowing what to say, Tempest took her place and waited for Celestia to continue.

“Clearly, as sisters and co-rulers of Equestria for the past 512 years, we have had many differences of opinion and have even fought. But now? This situation is different somehow. Our relationship has become strained to the point that it feels broken. It’s like I hardly know her.” Tempest struggled to keep her face neutral while Celestia’s steady gaze bore down on her. Unable to maintain eye contact,Tempest looked away, feeling like she was being crushed under an avalanche of emotion..

“I bring this to you my dear student,” Celestia confided, inclining her head. “Of all of my ponies, Princess Luna seems to have grown the closest to you for reasons I cannot quite fathom.” She gave a wan smile. “Suffice to say, you enjoy a truly rare position.”

Celestia’s smile disappeared again. “I have already spoken to Storm Sabre, the Captain of the Lunar Guard, but he has been less than helpful. I am left to turn to you.”

Tempest felt her heart churn in an emotional storm. It had been almost two years since she learned that she was Princess Luna’s daughter, and she had seen these changes from an entirely different perspective. Pivotal in her unique perspective was the fact that the pony speaking to her at the moment was at the source of all of those problems!

“My dear sister seems to be pulling away from everything. She has always had her capricious side, but she has never lacked in her deep and abiding love for our ponies. She has always treated her position as her most sacred duty. But now?”

Princess Celestia brought one of her armored hooves up to her face, frowning as she studied her own distorted reflection on the burnished surface of her shoe. “You might know that she rarely holds her Night Court anymore. What you may not know is that hasn’t made a public appearance for more than seven weeks. The University of Cloudsdale just let me know that she canceled her keynote address for their Commencement ceremony next week. Yesterday she failed to appear as the guest of honor for the grand opening of the new Museum of Thestral History. My sister has become irretrievably distant, and she is disconnecting from everything—including me.”

The Princess looked up again, setting her hoof down before gazing at Tempest expectantly. She was apparently now waiting for a response. Celestia likely wanted a revelation, or at least an explanation of some kind. She would get nothing of the sort. All Tempest felt for the Solar Monarch right now was spite. And she could have all of it.

“Please, Tempest. I wouldn’t bring such matters to a student under any normal circumstances---but these are not normal circumstances. Indeed, I fear that this could grow beyond a familial problem and impact all of Equestria. This problem… it is more important than any other concern, foreign or domestic. And you are the key.”

Celestia stood up, slowly pacing towards Tempest as her voice intoned what she wanted, wavering slightly with barely concealed desire. “You are so very close to her. You have had more private meetings in the past few months with Princess Luna, I dare say, than anypony in a comparable length of time.” Princess Celestia lowered herself to the earth, kneeling before Tempest so that she could meet her gaze on the same level. Tempest leaned back as the pressure of Celestia’s intensity buffeted her, as if she were standing too close to a bonfire.

“Please,” Celestia entreated, her voice lowering to a whisper. “I love my sister; but I don’t understand the depth of what’s happened, and she won’t broach the subject with me. We’ve had our disagreements in the past, but I fear that this is something far deeper. Isn’t there anything I can do to bridge this gulf that has opened between us? Anything to repair the breach?”

It was too much. Tempest broke the spell by tearing her gaze away, realizing to her surprise that she desperately needed to breathe. Gasping for air, she hurriedly got to her hooves and took a few steps to the side in an effort to clear her head.

What was Princess Celestia playing at? Repair the breach?

Her aunt sounded sincere—but after so many meetings with Luna she knew better than to trust that. Celestia was the consummate politician, and being duplicitous was at the very core of her nature. Even now Tempest had nearly fallen into her thrall; but now that she had broken free her heart began to beat again, fill with boiling rage. To think that her aunt was now appealing to those who were Luna’s closest connections, perhaps to find some new angle of attack—some final method of driving the last nail into her coffin? Tempest felt the realization like a cold slap, as if she were seeing the truth for the very first time, and she turned to look up at her aunt, her eyes full of hate.

“Hah!” Tempest startled at the sound of her voice. It sounded sharp and yet hollow, and frigid as the winter sky. “Repair the breach? You, the very pony—the one who…” Tempest stopped herself short. What did Celestia know of Luna’s suspicions? Did she know about Luna’s sources and embedded agents? If Tempest revealed now that she knew of Celestia’s plot to supplant her sister, would it accelerate her plans? She had to speak carefully, and not reveal too much.

“I… my apologies, Princess Celestia. My emotions were getting the better of me. You didn’t deserve that.” Tempest heaved a huge breath before continuing, her mind racing as she tried to come up with a way to put Celestia off of the scent. “She has not brought these troubles to me, Princess. Not in the detail that you have given them. Yes, I have seen that she is under a lot of stress lately, but I am ignorant of the cause.”

For some reason, Princess Celestia had looked encouraged when Tempest began to rant. Now that she had stopped herself and pleaded ignorance to the situation, Celestia’s expression became crestfallen.

Tempest sniffed carelessly and continued. “After all, I am only a student. I am not privy to what goes on behind the scenes in the Diarchy.” Tempest couldn’t maintain eye contact as she said that, so she focused on a particularly twisted olive tree branch lying on the ground. Even so, she felt like she had just won a victory against overwhelming odds.

I should be feeling elated. I just successfully stood up to my aunt while protecting Luna’s interests. Why is it then that I feel so cold and empty inside?

Tempest looked back at Celestia, who was watching her with her ears folded back in silent sorrow. There was an oppressive tension in the air, but after a few seconds, the moment passed. Celestia, the Alicorn Prime, the first in the ruling of Equestria for generations of time, backed up a step. As she continued to gaze down at Tempest, her eyes began to moisten with tears before she took another step back and turned.

“...Excuse me.”

Tempest blinked in shock as Celestia quietly walked back towards the castle, head held low. Did she say too much? Did she reveal something that would cause Celestia to take action against her mother? And could Tempest do anything about it? What could a 2nd year student do to defend herself against an alicorn, let alone defend another, let alone interfere in the greater governance of the country?


She turned aside, walking further into the gardens, emotions roiling without comfort.

* * *

As cathartic as it was to blow off a little steam, the poor earthworms in the garden’s recently plowed soil probably didn’t appreciate the heat. It wasn’t very often that Tempest was allowed to let loose this much power through her horn all at once, and to concentrate it into something hot and destructive enough to damage property. She noted dimly that some of the dirt at the area of impact had turned to glass.

Kicking some of the packed dirt and newly glassed pebbles out of her hooves, Tempest walked back into the castle. Her horn felt overhot, throbbing and inflamed after releasing so much power. Unfortunately, nothing about her situation had changed. Now she just felt tired, and also very late for her meeting with her friends in the commons area back at the school.

After a short walk to the dormitory wing of the castle, she pushed open the heavy wooden door of the commons area, causing a few heads to turn. Scanning the area bustling with classmates and acquaintances, Tempest spotted her friends at their usual table, situated behind the centrally placed hearth.

Tempest smirked as she remembered how her friends had laid claim to this choice location. Alistor was the one to hatch the idea on the second week of school, working to coordinate the schedules of each of their friends so that somepony could always be present at the table, claiming to be saving the seats for the others of the group. By the end of the week, the rest of the school had just accepted that the table by all rights was theirs.

Alistor had rapidly become her best friend. He was a rather diminutive unicorn with a smoky-blue coat and a gray mane highlighted with light and dark streaks, matching the colors of his bizarre cutie mark. Alistor was gifted in a variety of magics, but had mastered none of them. One feature made him unique, however: he seemed to possess a strange magical talent in a field that hadn’t been developed yet.

“Tempest - right on time!” He glanced smugly to his left at Silver Shine, a taller mare in their class who glared back at him. “Some ponies think they can guess at your arrival better than yours truly.” In response to this, Silver Shine pushed a small stack of bits over to him, revealing her pale lavender coat as her arm extended across the table from her flowing black robes.

“Fine,” she glowered. “Your debt is paid.” She leaned back again, tossing her deep blue and fuschia mane. “I’m hardly impressed by your prediction this time, Al. I only placed a wager for something to do while we waited. Besides, you didn’t even look at your mystical fortune-telling book.” She lowered her voice to mutter her next words to Mysty Spirit who was seated to her left, ignoring Bright Light who sat between them. “Should have known that Tempest would be late with her meeting and miss dinner… again.” Her gaze flicked back up at Tempest, only faintly holding back her accusation.

Alistor stuck his tongue out while wrinkling his nose. “Should have known, eh? Well, I did.” Lighting his horn, Alistor brought up a plate of food from somewhere under the table. “Here ya go, Temp. Chef Marinara was working the kitchens tonight, and they made your favorite. I had to fend off Bright Light, though.”

“Oooh, cheese manicotti!” Tempest’s dark mood lightened a bit as she looked at the plate presenting one of her favorites. “Thanks Alistor! You’re the best!” She plopped down on the remaining space next to him and began to dig in.

“Right again, and when you’re right, you’re right...” Alistor sighed, before turning towards Silver Shine with a cross look. “And it’s my codex, not… whatever you said it was.”

Tempest turned an ear towards her friends’ conversation while she stuffed her face full of manicotti. She was really quite hungry, and Alistor had been kind enough to cast a warming spell on the meal before she sat down. Tempest could tell that Mysty Spirit was anxious to start the game, if her fidgeting hooves were any indication, and sure enough, she began to bounce lightly in her seat, her two-toned lavender and sienna curls bouncing cutely as she did so.

“Tempest, you promised!” Mysty whined. “You knew we were all set to launch our new quest in Ogres and Oubliettes. I told you it was going to be at seven o’clock!” Mysty stuck out her bottom lip in a cute little pout.

“I don’t recall any promise,” Bright Light mumbled in deep baritone. He fixed Tempest with a sidelong glance between his long white bangs, setting the O&O book down. “All you did was tell Tempest what time our game was scheduled. If I recall, all she did was give you one of her patented dodges. I think the wording she used this time was ‘okay, we’ll see.’ You didn’t pin her down to an actual commitment.” Mysty folded her arms before giving him a loud raspberry .

Rolling his eyes, Bright Light ducked back behind the rule book. After a moment his voice came out from behind. “And Tempest’s meetings with Princess Luna have been going especially late recently. Hardly a feat of clairvoyance, Alistor.”

“Never said it was, Brightly.” Alistor grinned as he beaned a twenty-sided dice off of the cover of the book, causing Bright to look up and glare at him over the edge. “Just patterns and probabilities.”

Mysty pushed her small figurine forward with a petite cornflower blue hoof. “Okay, I’ve got one. There is a very high probability that my necromancer cleric is getting tired of the pattern of always waiting around for Tempest’s paladin to show up!”

“We can still play, geeze!” Tempest mumbled out through a mouth full of manicotti. “Just let me finish this real quick.” She hoped they could understand her through all of that pasta as she struggled to swallow the mess. “I would have been here a while ago, if not for Celestia accosting me in the hall.” Tempest stopped chewing, looking up into the faces of her friends. She realized too late that saying that was going to get a reaction.

Sure enough, Bright Light was glaring at her, but he wasn’t one to give verbal reprimands. Silver Shine, on the other hand…

“…Accosted?” Silver Shine straightened up, her voice sharp. “Princess Celestia wouldn’t do that! Being tardy might get you guilt-tripped into locking your own sorry flank into detention when she gives you that look, but accosted?”

Tempest huffed. “Well, she didn’t accost me per se, but she did try to get some private information out of me regarding her sister!” Tempest’s friends began to look uncomfortable. She realized that she was bringing the mood crashing down, but right now she didn't care. Her evening had been positively harrowing, and she wasn’t feeling like holding back. “I mean, she was speaking to me as if I could solve whatever it is that is going on between them right now!”

Alistor’s ears perked up as his gaze turned more astute. “What is going on between them right now?”

Mysty fidgeted with her figurine while she tapped a rear hoof against her chair. Bright Light gave out a loud sigh as he starting putting the rule books away, sensing that a simple game among friends was not going to happen this evening.

“You think I know?” Tempest fumed. Alistor just looked back, expressionless. “Just… forget it!”

Silver got up from her chair so she could circle around the table, holding up a placating hoof. “Tempest, Princess Celestia loves her sister. You should know that she is probably just trying to reach out to anypony in a position to help. You are one of the closest ponies to Princess Luna, and maybe because of that, she sees you as one of the few ponies who can.” She gave a sour smile, before nudging Tempest in the ribs. “It’s not like the rest of us are in such an elevated position, you know?”

Tempest tried to keep her expression impassive. It didn’t help that Silver’s comforting message was strikingly similar what Celestia had been saying. She didn’t want to talk about this right now, but it was her own dumb fault for bringing it up.

Silver continued, her voice growing more emphatic. "If your sister were in trouble or depressed, wouldn’t you try to help her out any way you could?"

Tempest pulled away from Silver’s hoof, her gaze turning venomous. “Luna’s not depressed, Silver. She is… well, it’s just different than that! You just don’t know the half of what is really going on!”

“Because you never tell us!” Silver retorted, her face heating up. “You never open up about any of it. It’s always secrets and whispers, and… and... private meetings behind closed doors! If you won’t share whatever it is you are dealing with, problems that all the rest of us are starting to feel all throughout the school, then what good are we? What is it about Luna— “

“—Princess Luna—”

“ —Yes, Princess Luna.” Silver huffed, rolling her eyes. “Whatever is going on is going to end up hurting your friends. What are you are hiding? Or maybe you are just confiding in Alistor?”

Tempest took in a sharp breath, her eyes darting back to the smoky blue colt. She had warned Silver not to say or indicate anything that would illuminate Tempest’s confused feelings towards her best friend, and she could tell that Alistor was looking a little embarrassed as well.

Silver Shine, for her part, seemed out of breath, and after a moment Bright Light came up by her side, placing a heavy hoof around her shoulders. He leaned in to murmur something in her ears before fixing Tempest with his bright blue eyes.

“Tempest? Silver and I are going to head out for a bit. She’d like to talk for a bit, so If you will excuse us.” Bright guided her back towards the doorway.

Alistor was suddenly at Tempest’s side, leaning in to speak to her much the way that Bright had just spoken to Silver. “C’mon, Temp. You probably need a little time to work this all out as well. Why don’t we find somewhere to sit, and you can tell me whatever you are comfortable with?”

“What about me? Mysty called out. What am I supposed to do until you get back?” Alistor looked at her for a moment before pointing to his figurine. Well, you can keep my rogue pegasus character company, I guess. Hook him up with your necromancer cleric.”

Mysty gave him a sour look.

“Look. we are probably done for the evening, Myst. How about you clean up the game and I’ll buy you a muffin tomorrow?”

“Two, or it’s no deal!” Mysty gave him a mock-scowl, folding her arms.

“Two then,” Alistor chuckled. “C’mon, Tempest. Let’s go for a walk.”

* * *

“So, you gonna spill, or do I need to keep talking the whole evening?”

The castle library was dead silent at this hour of the night, as it was just half an hour before the last few patrons were escorted out so that the building could close. Alistor and Tempest had been meandering about the school grounds for about ninety minutes, but they eventually gravitated towards the library, almost without any conscious decision to do so.

The school library had many alcoves and private rooms for study, and soon after they arrived, Alistor had escorted Tempest into one of these, mostly making small talk and rehashing upcoming assignments and reviewing the issues of the day.

Tempest rocked back and forth on the desk she was sitting on, listening to the wood groan and complain while she tipped it from one side to the other. “I just don’t know what to do, Alistor. Princess Luna feels like her throne is being threatened.”

Alistor’s eyebrows shot up. “I didn’t know her anxiety went that deep.”

Tempest slowly slid off the desk to sit next to the smaller unicorn sitting on the floor below her, enjoying the warm contact between them. She had been keeping her distance all night, her emotions a jumble of anger, anxiety, and confusion, but Alistor had patiently stuck it out: listening to her, supporting her, walking with her—just being there for the sake of their friendship.

Tempest took another deep breath before letting it all out. How many times had she felt the need to do that today? “But that isn’t even the worst part…”

Alistor looked back at her, studying her face. “Well, that must be pretty bad then.” He waited while Tempest stared at her hooves for several moments. “Tell me what you can. I won’t force anything.”

“Luna…” Tempest sighed, dragging a hoof across the carpet with a scraping sound. “Luna is convinced that Celestia is the source of the threat.”

The air was heavy as Alistor paused, until he finally drew a long breath. “Um. Wow. Is there anything you think you can do?”

That was an interesting question. He always did have an odd way of asking them. Tempest stood up and began to pace around the room. “There really isn’t anything I can do. As far as I can see it, Princess Luna is being monitored, spied upon, scryed upon, and is the likely the subject of most ponies’ whispers and suspicion. Is it any wonder that she is distancing herself from the public eye? She can hardly trust anypony. I’m a second year student! What could I do?” She stopped to look back at her friend who unflinchingly held her gaze.

Alistor’s eyes became shrewd “…What are you planning to do?”

“What?” Tempest blinked in surprise. “I’m not planning anything. What in Equestria would give you the notion that I would try anything?!”

Alistor’s look of suspicion morphed into a lucid smile. “Methinks thou dost protest too much.”

Tempest pressed her lips into a flat line. “I hate it when you do that. Quit reading me, Al! You are trying to project my—”

“—I didn’t do anything, I don’t even have my Codex out.” He soothed. “Beside, none of my prescient school of magic is needed when you make yourself this easy to read…”

“Yeah, yeah… maybe easy for you.” Tempest thumped him on the shoulder with a hoof, stopping to gaze at him for a few moments before she realized that she had just made the situation awkward. Turning away from him again, she strode up to the front of the room. “Anyway… I’ve been thinking about your offer lately, Alistor.”

A clock chimed out in the corridor, signalling the closing hour for the library imminent. Alistor sat up a little straighter. “Really? You’ve spent the better part of the year explaining why you would never want me to do it. All your philosophy about anti-determinism and self-fulfilling prophecies and whatnot.”

Looking over her shoulder, Tempest smiled sheepishly. “Things change, Al… Ponies change. And I don’t know where else to turn for answers.” Now she had Alistor’s undivided attention. Not that she didn’t before, but now she could see the tension in his face, and the intensity in his eyes.

“Are you sure?”

Tempest blew out a breath she had been holding. “I am. I want you to look.”

Alistor blinked, his face growing pensive and anxious. “With the new information you have shared tonight—I am almost afraid of what I would see.” He slid his codex out of his saddle bag, a rather massive tome with many addendum notes and tabs sticking out all over.

“If you want to know, I will give this the best that my magic is able.” He opened the tome and heaved it on the table between them with a thump, stirring up some dust from the surface. “You know that this kind of magic takes a lot out of me, and it grows harder the more I develop my skills, not easier. But an offer is an offer. Are you absolutely sure?”

Tempest drew in a raspy breath as the feeling of a knot grew in her heart. She had always been resolute in not peeking into her future, or anypony else’s. It just felt wrong. Alistor had offered her a look at the beginning of 2nd year, claiming that his talent had become much more reliable, but she had rebuffed the offer. She didn’t want to fool around with deeper powers involving fate or destiny, and she said as much. Now, after her latest meeting with Princess Luna, it was just too much. She needed more information, some kind of cosmic wisdom. Hopefully, Alistor’s magic might be able to provide a little of what she needed.

“Do it.”

Alistor nodded his head once. “Alright. Just wait a minute while I cross-reference a few things and then re-align them with the new information you just shared with me. When I tune in my magic, I will be drawing all of the connections and associations possible, and all the probabilities that exist between you, Princess Luna, and Princess Celestia. Once I ignite my horn, please don’t interrupt.”

Tempest watched as he flipped back and forth in his book for several minutes, scanning different notes and tables inside. Then, after he had spent time doing that, he opened his book exactly in the middle and pressed his hooves down on either side. Standing up on his hind hooves, Alistor’s horn began to glow. After a few moments, layers of overglow surrounded his horn, and his eyes began to glow as well. There was a ringing hum in the air as the ambient light in the room seemed to diminish, before the pages of his codex began to lift and spread out, almost as if the book were suspended upside down, or subject to no gravity at all. Visually, this struck a paradox as Alistor’s hooves were still occupying the same space, until Tempest realized that the pages had become ethereal.

Eventually, Tempest experienced what felt like a dividing sensation in her body, almost as if she would be torn asunder, but it wasn’t a physical sensation. Her stomach began to twist as if she were under the effects of severe vertigo. She looked up again and found that there were ghostly images of Alistor and his book, repeated in a perfect line off to the left and the right of him. It was almost as if she were seeing the repeated image made by two mirrors facing each other, but instead of being in the way she was viewing the image from the side. It was rather disconcerting, as these images continued on as if through infinity, almost as if there were no walls, or any room or library of any sort.

Finally with a choked breath, Alistor intoned his prediction. “The knot grows ever tighter, drawn from forces and powers beyond us. And conflict, ancient as the cosmos, inevitably will occur and is almost at hand. The light of one will hide the other in darkness until one shall come to free her of such tyranny. This would be enough, except that the power beyond us still beckons, and will appeal to you—at a time where you would least expect it but also have the greatest need. You will step forward as you will be given hope to right an ancient wrong—and because your eye will be single to your cause, you will be blinded—only because you are already sure. You will then achieve your aim, only to find that it was not your own, yet your own freedom may yet be purchased with a cost.”

The shimmering turquoise light in Alistor’s eyes began to fade, and the almost blinding glow being emitted from his horn began to diminish. The apparition of multiple Alistors and multiple codexes faded, leaving him to gasp and fall forward over his book, a trickle of blood from his left nostril. Breathing rapidly, Alistor slid back from the table until he sat in a heap, blinking his eyes and wiping the small amount of blood from his muzzle. Left behind on the table was his Codex, opened to the very back, where a page displaying shimmering writing was gently glowing in a turquoise hue. After a few more seconds, the light finally extinguished, leaving an oversized, unassuming book.

Tempest’s mouth was hanging open. How could it not, after witnessing such an amazing display of magic. She had never seen the like, and it was both beautiful, and terrifying. She felt like her coat was standing on end, and her mind was swimming with questions and a desire to know more. “That was amazing, Alistor! I mean—I’ve never seen the like from any of our instructors—or from anypony!"

The smaller colt gave a tired smile as he leaned forward again, wobbling as if he had enjoyed far too many ciders. “Yeah?” He lisped blearily. “Well, conthider it my Happy Hearthsh Warming Eve prethent… heh. Ow. That really hurts.” He squeezed his eyes shut, rubbing his forehead with a hoof.

“Does it always hurt like that? You even started bleeding from your nose.”

“Well no.” Alistor blinked a few more times, as if he was trying to clear his head. “Actually, I’ve never tried to get an active reading on a princess due to their crazy lifespan. I… wasn’t sure what would happen.”

Tempest sat up, horrified. “WHAT? You idiot! You just did a reading between me and both princesses, and you didn’t know how it would affect you? I mean, you’re an exceptionally skilled unicorn, and an excellent student, but sometimes you are really, really stupid! You could have died!”

"Cool. You said I was exceptionally skilled."

Glaring, Tempest hoofed him in the shoulder.

“Heh. Don’t be so melodramatic.” Alistor turned in order to jump down from his seat, but he lost his balance and fell, landing on his shoulder.


“Ugh! You could have at least told me the risk!” Tempest fumed, still glaring at his downed form. “C’mon, we’re going to the Infirmary.” Tempest magicked the book over to his saddle bags, slipping it inside. “Besides,” she gave him a warm smile, hoisting the saddle bag over her own flanks while assisting Alistor to his feet. “You are a few weeks early for Hearth’s Warming.”

“Everyone’th alwayth a critic.” Alistor slurred out.

Looking into his eyes to check if his pupils were of the same size, Tempest steadied her friend as they made their way out of the room. “Critic, huh?" She smiled. "How’s this for a critic: that prophecy was a little too vague. Couldn’t you have spelled it out better?” She nudged him as they walked.

“Oh pleath. Jus’ take thome paperth, copy it down, and shtudy it at your leisure.”

Tempest pursed her lips in thought before something clicked. “ are lisping on purpose. Your speech was just fine a moment ago.”

Alistor flashed her a cocky smile. “Could be. But if I am all injured and pathetic, I have to lean on you and put my hoof around your withers.”

“Oh, you think so?”

“Sure. And this is only the beginning. Pretty soon you are going to be coming over all of the time to study!”

Tempest tsked as she smirked back a him. “Only in your wild and crazy dreams, Al.”

Alistor just laughed.

After a few moments, Tempest shook her head. “Pathetic my flank. You were scary in there, Alistor.”

“Admit it. You were impressed. You feel like this particular stallion is going places.”

"The only place this particular stallion is going right now is the Infirmary. C’mon."

Alistor stumbled for a moment. “I dunno Temp. You might have to magic me there.”

Tempest studied him for a moment before shrugging. “Yeah, alright.” Her horn activated and Alistor was bodily lifted off the ground, suspended over her head while she continued down the corridor.

“I was kidding, Tempest! Kidding!"


"Ow! The doorjamb isn’t high enough!”

* * *

One by one, windows imploded in quick succession, the glass bursting inward and raining jagged shards onto the stone floor below. Each explosive sound punished Tempest’s ears like a hammer blow. Tempest galloped towards the two vacant thrones ahead, the one on the right trimmed in bright yellows of the day, the one on the left covered in soothing silvers and blues of the peaceful night.

Tempest felt her adrenaline spike as the flying glass came closer and closer to hitting her. At the current rate, she wasn’t going to make it in time. Looking behind her, the throne room seemed to reach backward into infinity, lost in darkness, instead of the back wall she expected to see at about forty meters distance. She quickly turned her head forward again. This was no time to be looking away!

Tempest winced as she felt the spinning razor-sharp edge of the first piece strike, tracing a clean line across her flank. It burned a little, but she expected such a hit would hurt more. She stumbled as she tried to kick harder, struggling for an extra burst of speed. Closer and closer the chaotic storm of glass approached, one window bursting after the next, until finally the windows flanking her sides imploded as well. Flinching, she ducked her head and rolled under the storm of glass shards, covering her face with her forehooves and closing her eyes to brace for the impending lacerations.

Sliding until she came to a stop, Tempest was perplexed to find that everything had gone silent. Reopening her eyes cautiously, she was amazed to find that all of the glass shards were suspended in the air, as if time itself had slowed to a halt. The sight was terrifying, but in a way it was also mesmerizing, dancing lights sparkling off of the edges of each shard in the frozen swarm.

Looking beyond the swarm, Tempest’s eyes settled on the two royal sisters, locked in mortal combat. Powerful magic cascaded around their forms, arcane energies of such intensity that the tapestries had caught fire and the stone floors were beginning to warp and crumble beneath their hooves.

She was too late. She could see the solar energies as they began to overwhelm her mom. But as she watched in horror, something reflecting off of a larger shard of glass nearby caught her eye. Looking there, she saw her own reflection, except her eyes had changed. Instead of her normal green color, the reflection’s eyes glowed a vibrant purple, crackling with arcs of energy. The reflection gazed back at her with a self-assured smirk, before flicking her eyes towards the battling sisters and back again, as if suggesting something with an expectant expression. And as Tempest watched the reflection in her mirror image’s eyes, she suddenly saw what she had to do.

Calling on her well-honed telekinesis, Tempest reached out to envelop the glass shards closest to her. Her eyes widened in shock as she found that she could detect every single edge and angle of thousands of shards, the exact form of each jagged shape. Expanding her telekinesis further, Tempest found that she could envelop and manipulate every individual piece of glass. She was stunned, but this could work!

Turning with a cry, Tempest directed all of the glass shards at top speed towards Celestia, attempting to somehow find a way to penetrate an her Alicorn level shield. At first the blades bounced harmlessly off, but Luna, noticing Celestia’s attention away from her, was able to produce a narrow, cutting beam, opening a seam in the shield that Tempest could exploit. With a shout of excitement, tempest altered the angle and trajectory of each shard so they flattened out, slipping through the seam before tearing into the pristine white coat of Celestia.

Celesta gave a great cry as her flesh was lacerated, falling back as Tempest continued to pour on her advantage. Feeling sure of her victory, she ran at a gallop over to her mother’s side as Celestia’s shield suddenly imploded with a blast. Even before Tempest could arrive, Luna seized upon the opportunity and finished her older sister off.

Then, it was over. The tyrant was gone, her white body fading entirely from view, leaving instead only a pool of blood and some loose feathers floating down into the mire. Exultantly, Tempest leapt up and wrapped her hooves around Princess Luna, with her mother meeting her in a fierce embrace. Princess Luna laughed low in her throat as she crowed, “Well done my student, my indomitable child. Our night can now begin at last!”

Confused for a moment, Tempest looked up into her mother’s eyes, finding to her surprise a disturbing change. Instead of Luna’s lighter teal, the pony before her had irises of a deeper turquoise, with the sclera an alien bluish white. Cat-like pupils filled her vision as she tried to push away. Looking further down, Tempest noticed the creature wore silvery armor, partially covering a coat of fur that was black as a moonless night, and flashing fangs of a carnivore. The lighting of the throne room was suddenly extinguished, leaving nothing visible except for those eyes, and the creature’s laugh gained in strength, echoing around her.

* * *

Waking up with a gasp, Tempest threw her blankets back and hurled herself down from her bunk, landing hard on the floor. She was in a cold sweat, and her heart was racing. Shaking herself, she looked across the other bunks, noting with relief that she hadn’t awoken anypony. Her mind raced as she reviewed the dream she had just experienced before it faded entirely from her waking mind. This was strange. She hadn’t ever experienced a nightmare in her life, only learning later that the reason was because her mother, Princess Luna, was especially vigilant of such things for her. This dream, however, was so vivid, so visceral… Tempest’s eyes grew wider as she thought about it. The images from the dream were not fading. They were as fresh in her mind as if she had just experienced it. What did it mean?

Still breathing hard, Tempest looked out the window and gasped. There, just above the horizon, was a solar eclipse! Blinking dumbly, Tempest’s mind suddenly clicked with the fact that if the moon were to eclipse the sun, that was her mother’s signal that she should come to her aid. Her mother had been calling, and she had been asleep in her bed!

Remembering Princess Luna’s plea, Tempest took off at a run out of the dormitory wing. She briefly considered waking up her friends, or at least Alistor, but there was no time, and what would be the point? What could she even do? What could any of them do? The images of the dream seeped back into her mind, but she shook her head angrily. There was no possible way her telekinesis could control that many moving pieces of glass! Besides, they were just hanging there as if time had stopped.

Tempest flew out the door of the school and bounded across the terrace and gardens separating the school from the body of the castle. The eclipse gave the area an eerie feel of twilight, but there was a wrongfulness to it and it caused the air to feel colder than normal. Why had she been so focused on her rune magic and on amulets that she put off her studies in the area of teleportation?

Panting for breath, Tempest rounded the bushes along the walkway to access the castle’s main door. Surprisingly, the guards were not attending it. Tempest grimaced, knowing that this probably meant trouble. Ahead there was the sound of pounding on wood, and of shouting.

Looking over the situation, it was obvious that a contingent of solar guards was trying to gain access to the throne room, and they were attempting to pry the door with a large bar, while a seperate group was chopping at the wood with axes. Neither were making very much progress, so Tempest skidded to a stop, her mind racing.

She turned and ran for the castle’s massive north staircase, rounding the stairway in the turret downward in a dizzying series of helical spirals. Maybe if she passed beneath the throne room through the Hall of Armor, she could head up the south staircase through the turret and find the situation different there!

Her breaths were growing more desperate as she reached her destination, only to find more guards pounding on the massive wooden doors near the back end of the throne room. In what other way could she gain access? Tempest knew that there were powerful enchantments in place disallowing entry via teleport to any pony not named Princess Luna or Celestia. Besides that, she had never even pulled off a successful teleport! Not knowing what else to do, Tempest ran into the courtyard, looking around wildly until her eyes fell upon the windows that lined the east side of the throne room.

Taking a deep breath, Tempest shouted for Luna, not knowing if her voice would carry through the windows. Without any prelude or warning, all of the twelve windows lining the east wall of the throne room shattered, throwing glass everywhere both inside and away from the wall. Just like the nightmare still fresh in her memory, Tempest covered herself as best as she could while glass and debris cascaded down around her. Unlike her memory, she felt smaller bits and pieces hitting her, though none were traveling fast enough to deliver a cut. Shaking a few stray pieces of glass out of her mane and tail, Tempest stood back up and looked around. Briefly, she wondered how a few shards of glass wound up all the way over to sit atop the heads of some of the militaristic statues adorning the courtyard.

Searching desperately to find a way to climb up to the height of one of the windows, Tempest suddenly experienced a sensation like a free-fall, and all of the air evacuated from her lungs in what felt like an act of the deepest magic. It was as if gravity itself were entirely overruled while the planet held its breath, until the moment passed and the atmosphere was allowed to flow again. A howling voice coupled with a blast of cold wind blew outward from the throne room, and then nothing but utter silence.

Looking back towards the castle doorway, Tempest heard a crash, likely signifying that the guards likely had finally passed the door. Getting, back to her hooves once again, Tempest limped inside following the sounds of chaotic shouts in the air. Behind her, the sun’s began to shine again as the eclipse came to an end.

Despite her lethargy and fear, Tempest pushed into the throne room. The scene was rife with chaos and destruction: guards were running to an fro, trying to give aid and to recover the remains of what seemed to be other ponies, all encapsulated in a resilient crystal-like substance that had apparently become their tomb.

Numb with shock and cold horror, Tempest stumbled towards the thrones at the front of the room, avoiding the guards as they worked. Looking wildly about, Tempest searched fruitlessly for any sign of her mother, but she knew in her heart what had happened. Only one Alicorn remained.

A scream tore itself from Tempest’s throat as she ran forward, attempting to grasp at shards of glass laying around like in her dream. Unfortunately, she found that she was too spent, too fearful, and too horrified to utilize a simple levitation spell. She tripped over something that might have been a leg, but she could only focus on one thing at the moment as she sprawled across the destroyed throne room floor.

“You murderer! You… you heartless TYRANT!” Tempest shouted. She tried to stand up, but her knee wouldn’t support her as pain knifed through the joint. She must have injured it when she stumbled. The pain only redoubled her anger as she clutched at her knee with a hoof, pointing the other impotently at the cause of her rage. “What have you done? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”

Celestia looked like she was in shock, and it looked like she had been crying. After noticing Luna’s protégé on the floor of the throne room, she held up a hoof to the guards attending her and approached. Cuts lined her body, including an ugly vertical slash across her lips that was still oozing blood. “Tempest, my dear. What are you doing here? Come away, you need medical attention.”

“I don’t need medicine! I need Princess Luna back! You’ve killed her, killed her—you’ve taken her away!” Tempest shook as a spasm in her throat closed up her vocal cords, and she fell back, leg pain and other injuries finally beginning to register more fully on her consciousness.

Celestia’s horn lit brightly as she spoke in infuriatingly calm and soothing tones.“Shh… it will be okay, my student. Rest, it will be okay.” Tears continued to stream from Celestia’s eyes as she dipped her head, activating a sedation spell and pushing the magic towards Tempest’s mind, taking the pain away.

* * *

Tempest leapt to her hooves, breathing heavily as she regained her bearings. She bumped into a stack of rotten pallets, gashing her knee, but quickly righted herself and took a new stock of the situation. Only rats were seen as they went running from the pallets she had bumped. Other than that, she was still alone.

Sitting back on her haunches, Tempest reflected on the period immediately after the events of that memory. It was a dark time, full of numbness and despair, where she closed herself off from studies, from professors, and most especially, from her friends. The school counselors were of no help, especially since Celestia was foremost among them, and before long, Tempest had alienated her entire group of close-knit friends. Alistor still supported her from afar, but she didn’t let anypony else get close during that time.

What saw her through this time was a breakthrough that led to a theory of combining amulets for a multiplying effect. Theoretically, if it could be done, a massive network could be created in order to collect almost limitless amounts of magic to great effect. For the first time since Nightmare Night, she had gained hope, just enough of a glimmer that her entire ambition became freeing her mother from Celestia’s banishment spell. She not only succeeded in school, she excelled beyond anypony’s expectations.

Luna had given her a charge. She may have failed to support her mother in her time of need, but she still had the remainder of the charge to follow, and could use her developing amulet technology to make an attempt. And even though her first attempt failed, exiling her across the globe to an unexpected destiny, further opportunity had been granted her again. With the Eye she now possessed, she could channel something completely unknown to Equestria, something far more powerful than what she had previously. However, she would not go foolishly rushing off to a confrontation as she did before.

Not this time. This time she was going to carefully finish her preparations, and have everything in its place. Today had been frustrating, but nothing was really lost. She still had the element of surprise, something she would use to its fullest advantage. Celestia would have her due, and Luna would be released from whatever mental magics had still trapped her will.

Tempest narrowed her eyes as she looked out the window at the setting sun. Enough time had gone by, and she was starting to feel rather hungry. She would take care of her physical needs, find some lodging, and go to some kind of salon to alter her appearance somewhat. Then, she would do what was necessary. She would begin fabricating amulets in earnest. She would link them together to gain eyes all over Equestria once the amulets started to be bought and sold. She would need to find ponies for fabrication and distribution. Maybe here in the industrial district she would find that opportunity.

Tempest stood up and cracked her neck. It was time to begin again. She would infiltrate the country. She would draw Celestia out. She would keep Luna safe. It was only a little while longer, and things would be made right. She stroked her amulet and walked back out the door.

It's on again