Pony Predators of Equestria

by Pentarctagon

Chapter 4 Entering the Shadows

Following several heartfelt apologies and a solemn Pinkie Promise that the Crown would pay for the damage she'd caused, Celestia steps out of the hospital and into the open air of Ponyville's streets, the early morning sunlight bathing the town warming her coat as well as washing away her own embarrassment.

Putting the mistakes of the barely begun day behind her, she heads off into Ponyville, a familiar destination in mind, I think it's about time I heard all the details of this strange little mess.

She only manages to make it half the distance, however, until an annoyingly jovial voice speaks from directly overhead, "Oh, I'm just so proud of you right now. I knew you had it in you."

Celestia closes her eyes for a moment, bracing herself before glancing skyward. Discord's gleeful grin greets her, his mismatched body appearing even odder having been forced into the general shape of an alicorn. Rather than dignify his words with a response, Celestia stiffly returns her attention to the road ahead of her and continues walking forward.

Discord lands to walk beside her, all four of his feet somehow making a clopping sound despite only having a single hoof. "Oh come now, Celestia, you should be proud! That was a wonderful little display of chaos back there. Why, I'd probably have to think for a few whole minutes before I could come up with something better!"

"Why are you here, Discord?" Celestia asks, refusing to look over at him.

"Why am I here? Oh Celestia, how could you even ask such a thing?" he replies, swooning in a fair impression of Rarity complete with a couch appearing out of nowhere. "I thought you knew me better than that."

Celestia speeds up slightly as the Golden Oaks Library comes into sight, intently focusing on the library's door rather than the mismatched creature behind her.

Rather than get up to follow her, Discord opts to snap his fingers, a pulse of his magic causing the couch to drag itself along the ground, leaving small ruts in its wake.

"Why, I'm here for the chaos, of course!" Discord proclaims with a wave of his forelimbs. On cue, the couch's legs let out a grating mechanical sound and retract, a metallic steering wheel sprouting like a plant from the armrest nearest Celestia. Gunning the nonexistent engine with an invisible clutch, Discord and his chaos-driven couch putter along, matching Celestia's speed, "And also for one of Fluttershy's wonderful tea parties. It's been far too long since the last one I attended, really."

Celestia smiles faintly, at which Discord rolls his eyes, "Yes, yes, friendship is magic, etc and so forth."

"In any case, I have something very important to discuss with Twilight," Celestia states. "So if you'll excuse me."

"Ah yes, the 'vampony' you nearly disintegrated," Discord replies, smiling.

Celestia's eyes narrow, "What do you know of them, Discord?"

"Oh, not much more than you, unfortunately. Can you imagine the fun I could have with carnivorous ponies though? I bet I could make half the town pass out just by having one walk down main street eating a steak!" Discord cackles maniacally, lightning flashing ominously in the background.

"Discord!" Celestia glares at him reprovingly.

Discord shrugs, "What? Some species eat meat. It's your own fault for keeping your precious ponies so sheltered." He strokes his goatee, "Though, Fluttershy did mention that the whole town was thrown into a panic from a rabbit stampede once, so I suppose I really should aim higher, what with me being the Master of Chaos and all. Maybe if I made it rain raw steak instead… "

Celestia comes to an abrupt halt, rounding on the pondering draconequus, "Discord, whatever is going on here, you are not to interfere with it. If these so-called vamponies are in fact what Twilight suspects them to be, then the last thing anypony needs is you involving them in any of your games."

Discord gasps, placing a claw on his chest and giving Celestia a scandalized look, "What? Me? Manipulate others solely for the sake of my own entertainment? Why Celestia, I'm offended that you'd even think I'd be capable of such a thing, especially after I made a solemn vow to use my magic for good instead of evil."

Celestia rolls her eyes, "Discord, I was standing right in front of you, did you really think I didn't hear you slip in 'most of the time' at the end? Besides, don't you have that orange juice event to do in Vanhoover soon?"

"You mean that bout of chaos I wanted to do over a week ago, but then somepony got in the way and said I had to schedule it in advance?" Discord grumbles.

Celestia sighs, "Luna and I only said that you had to let us know about it, so we could prepare for the aftermath. Everypony in Vanhoover will still be quite surprised, I'm sure."

"But it's the principle of the thing!" Discord counters, throwing up his claws to summon a large cotton candy cloud, "Scheduled chaos! I ask you, what's the world coming to when a poor draconequus like myself can't even have a bit of fun on a whim?"

"It becomes a more harmonious world, where we're cooperating with each other rather than playing tug of war until something breaks," Celestia answers, ignoring the mass of cotton candy as it careens off over Ponyville to shouts of both terror and jubilation. "And for what it's worth, we are both very grateful for you being so considerate."

"I'm honestly not sure if that makes it better or worse," Discord huffs.

"And I'm not sure if I should be offended by that," Celestia replies, exhaling sharply. "Regardless, I'll make sure to mention it to Fluttershy the next time I see her."

Discord's ears prick, the draconequus glancing quickly at Celestia before averting his eyes, "And what would you do if I decide that what's going on here is far more interesting than some pre-planned event? Use those Elements you don't have anymore on me?"

"Luna and I were young those first times we fought," Celestia replies, her voice level. "And the second, I was unprepared while Luna was still greatly weakened. We would not need the Elements to be able to stand up to you again, if we had to. However, I'm confident it won't come to that. After all, just imagine how disappointed Fluttershy would be if instead she learned that you had decided to toy with a poor, defenseless, hospitalized pony?"

"That – well – I mean-" Discord sputters. "I never said I would do anything. It was a purely hypothetical question, of course."

Celestia raises an eyebrow, "Of course."

Somehow one shy pegasus mare has become far more useful in dealing with you than the Elements ever were anyways.

"I'm also sure the rest of the Element Bearers-"

"Former Element Bearers," Discord corrects.

"I'm sure the rest of the former Element Bearers," Celestia continues, "would be reassured to hear that you're willing to take the wishes of others into account as well."

Discord crosses his arms, with a snap of his claws teleporting them both into the dimly lit Golden Oaks Library, slivers of sunlight slipping in past drawn curtains, "Hmph. Fine. Have your little chat with Twilight then, but never let it be said that I'm not helpful. And I will be keeping an eye on Ponyville whether you like it or not, so make sure you don't go getting your orderliness all over them either."

Another flash of Discord's magic illuminates the library an instant later, Celestia alone in the room by the time the shadows reclaim it.

…well, that could've gone much worse, I suppose, Celestia muses, her thought punctuated by a soft snore emanating from the library's second floor. And I suppose Twilight's letter did say she was tired. I should probably leave Twilight a note and return later. I do have Day Court to oversee, after all, and nobles to endure and paperwork to fill out and… I wonder what kinds of tea Twilight has.

Having rationalized a reason to stay, Celestia clops quietly out of the main library and into the more brightly lit kitchen. Levitating a cup over to the sink, she fills it with water, heating it with a spell before beginning her search for Twilight's tea.

Her inquiry into the kitchen's various cabinets yields few discoveries however, by the end of her search only a few old, dusty teabags hovering in the air beside her. She frowns at the meager selection, distaste and disappointment swirling within her gut in equal measure. Turning back to the cabinets, she searches through them again, this time coming back completely empty hooved despite her best efforts. Sighing, she examines what tea she had managed to locate, washing the dust off the least stale one before lowering it into the heated water to steep.

Returning to the main library, Celestia lights several of the lanterns scattered throughout the room, setting down her cup as she peruses the diverse assortment of books lining the library shelves in search of something to occupy herself with. Finding a few that sound at least vaguely interesting, she sits beside her tea, cracking open the first book while she waits for Twilight to wake up.

Consciousness returns to Twilight slowly, her eyes finally opening to rest on the silent alarm clock beside her bed – panic gripping her for a instant when she sees the time, only for her to shrug it off a second later, instead choosing to roll over and remain in bed as memories of the previous night filter into her mind.

Something tells me I'm going to be glad I got the extra sleep by the time today is over.

Eventually however, she rises to face what remains of the morning, no longer able to the justify staying beneath her sheets.

First things first though, I should send a follow up letter to Princess Celestia with a more thorough explanation.

She descends the stairs, a yawn forming on her lips until a familiar voice reaches her ears.

"Good morning, Twilight. I trust you had a restful night's sleep?"

Twilight's mouth snaps shut with an audible click, her eyes wide as she turns her head to see her mentor looking up at her, a book surrounded by a golden glow held in front of Celestia while a cup of tea likewise floats off to her side.

"I-I-yes, of course, Princess Celestia," Twilight stutters. "I'm sorry; I wasn't expecting you to be here."

"It's quite alright, Twilight," Celestia replies, smiling. "I was dropped in here unannounced, after all. However, I do have some rather important questions regarding the letter you sent me last night, specifically it's distinct lack of details." She grimaces slightly, "As well as your choice of teas."

"There is nothing wrong with my tea," Twilight huffs, faking offense, then smirking. "You just didn't find where I hid them."

Celestia furrows her brow as she scans her memories. Coming up empty, she looks at Twilight curiously.

Swelling with no small amount of pride, Twilight answers the unspoken question, "A hidden panel under the third cabinet to the left from the door, which I enchanted with a minor illusion spell and an aversion ward. So unless you already knew where to look…"

"…you'd never examine it closely enough to know it was there in the first place," Celestia finishes, a smile returning to her face. "Well done. Few enough have managed to stand between me and a good cup of tea. I don't suppose you'd be willing to dip into your stash, so that we might enjoy some of it while we discuss recent events?"

"Not at all," Twilight responds, a spring in her step as she trots into the kitchen, returning a few minutes later with a pair of steaming cups hovering in front of her. Celestia sets down her first cup, levitating the second in front of her and cooling it with a breath. Lowering her muzzle to just above the tea's surface, she inhales deeply, only afterwards taking a small sip.

"One of Zecora's, I take it?" Celestia inquires.

"Mhm. Though to this day she still won't tell me the ingredients," Twilight replies. "I've been working on a chemical analysis to try and replicate it, but… it hasn't produced anything particularly edible as of yet."

A comfortable silence envelopes the pair, for a time both sitting quietly and enjoying the relaxing flavor of the tea. Eventually however, as the minutes tick by, Twilight ventures to speak, "So… you received my letter, Princess?"

Celestia nods, "Yes. Though the lack of information in it caused me to jump to a particularly incorrect conclusion, which resulted in a rather embarrassing confrontation at Ponyville's hospital. The reason for my visit, then, is that I would like you to tell me in detail what you know about what happened last night."

Twilight bobs her head once, and after taking another sip of tea begins recounting the events of the previous night. Celestia remains quiet throughout the entirety of the retelling – until Twilight describes the strange stallion Time Turner had bucked out Derpy's window. Upon hearing this, the cup floating next to her shatters into dust, its remaining liquid contents bursting outwards as well.

"Impossible," Celestia murmurs to herself. "There's no way… "

"Princess Celestia?" Twilight asks, glancing between her mentor and the droplets of tea now scattered across her floor.

Celestia does not move for several seconds, then lets out a deep sigh, "It is nothing, I'm sure; it's simply that your description of the second creature brought back memories of when vamponies did truly tread upon Equestrian soil."

Twilight frowns, "Wait, so what Time Turner saw was a vampony? Vamponies do actually exist?"

Celestia stares at Twilight without seeing her for a long moment before shaking her head, "No. While vamponies did once exist, it is impossible for any to have survived, much less into this era."

"But how have I not seen any mention of them or their magic in any of my books?" Twilight protests, "I've read dozens of books about all sorts of rare and not-so-mythical creatures, and vamponies never appeared even in passing!"

"As I intended," Celestia replies, for the barest moment her shoulders sagging as if the weight of the world rested upon them.

Twilight opens her mouth once more, however Celestia silences her with a raised hoof, "It is a very dark story, Twilight, one that I had hoped to erase from history entirely so that all knowledge of it would be forgotten."

Celestia moves to take another sip of tea, but instead begins coughing – her head moving through the dusty remains of her cup still hanging in the air beside her. Twilight jumps to her hooves and runs into the kitchen, quickly returning with a glass of water which Celestia gulps down gratefully.

After her coughing subsides, she clears her throat and takes a deep breath, "It all began in the Crystal Empire with a unicorn whose name you are, unfortunately, quite familiar with – Sombra. At the time, he was only a Royal Advisor, neither the wisest nor the kindest nor the most knowledgeable, but still well respected within the empire nonetheless. I myself had spoken with him on more than one occasion during various royal visits and diplomatic summits. However, something happened to him, something which changed him from the respected advisor that he had once been into a traitor and a tyrant."

Sadness creeps into her voice, her words slowing, "While what exactly happened to turn him into a pony capable of such evil and malevolence is unknown to this day, the eventual outcome is accurately recorded in the history books. The events which occurred afterwards, though, are not."

Celestia pauses, her eyes distant, Twilight shivering against a chill creeping through her body despite the comforting warmth of her tea, What could be so bad that the Princesses would try to erase it from history?

Closing her eyes for a moment, Celestia sighs deeply, looking to Twilight when she reopens them, "Sombra… knew that very soon Luna and I would attempt to remove the empire from his control. He also knew that he was no match for either one of us, much less both. Vamponies were his attempt to… even the odds."

Celestia shivers at this, the colors of her iridescent mane and tail fading along with the intangible wind flowing through them, "A Vampony, as created by Sombra, is a former pony whose body has been turned into an undead golem powered by the enslaved soul of its former owner. It uses the blood of living ponies – who also become similarly bound if the feeding kills them – to… I suppose refuel would be the best way to describe it. Needless to say, the spells and binding rituals he used to create the first vamponies were some of the most objectively evil pieces of magic Luna and I have ever encountered."

"Though perhaps to better put it in perspective," Celestia continues, looking deeply into Twilight's eyes, "I am to the Alicorn Amulet what the Alicorn Amulet is to Sombra's binding rituals."

Twilight stares at her, mouth hanging open slightly, "Oh… oh wow. That's… that's pretty bad."

Celestia nods, "Indeed. We were alerted to this particular activity by a high-ranking official who had somehow managed to smuggle himself out along with… with most of his family, but by then it was too late. Sombra had already sent a few dozen of his vamponies to infiltrate Equestria. He gave us an ultimatum: obey his conditions, or he would release his vamponies onto Equestrian civilians. Complying with even one of his depraved demands was unthinkable, and any attempt to stall or delay would merely give him time to create more of his vamponies, so we reinforced our cities as best we could before heading North to dethrone him. The battle was over quickly, and we headed home victorious, only to return to utter chaos."

Princess Celestia chuckles mirthlessly as she recalls the memory, "We had hoped that perhaps it would be like cutting the head from a serpent – without Sombra's control, the vamponies would be useless and easily dealt with. Instead it was quite the opposite – without his control they went berserk and simply attacked anypony that breathed. Their ferocity, combined with a golem's strength and immunity to pain, as well as being able to create new vamponies from their victims, meant that the battle was a bloodbath despite how severely outnumbered they were."

Her voice cracks and she pauses again, taking several deep breaths to calm herself, "Even after the initial battle was over, some managed to slip away and continued to spread their taint. It was… bad, Twilight. In all my time ruling, both before and since, I have never seen my ponies so twisted by fear and hate as the year following Sombra's attack. Neighbors accusing neighbors of being vamponies, of harboring vamponies, of setting vamponies on them… it would have almost been silly if not for the fact that they would have gladly watched each other burn."

She pauses once more, swallowing a lump in her throat as her eyes start to shimmer, "It was Luna who suffered most, though. Despite the fact that vamponies weren't actually hurt by the sun, my ponies clamored with me for its protection against the monsters that walked in the night. But as for my sister… rumors began spreading about how, as the Princess of the Night, she obviously had something to do with this waking nightmare, that she was somehow responsible for everything. It became not uncommon for her, a Princess of Equestria, to be harassed in the streets. When she entered ponies' dreams to aid them with their nightmares, they would become more afraid of her than the nightmare. Even her own guards began to fear her, and I… I was too caught up trying to keep Equestria from falling apart to realize how bad it had gotten. So when she came to me seeking solace and understanding, I instead became angry with her for thinking only of herself, for whining about trivialities while Equestria was in crisis, not seeing how much she was hurting. Not until it was too late."

"Nightmare Moon… " Twilight whispers, an awestruck look on her face as she makes the connection.

"Yes, Twilight. That is what truly drove my sister to become Nightmare Moon. Not some petty fit of jealousy!" Celestia spits out the last part as if the mere suggestion were the gravest of insults, a faint smell of ozone filling the room.

Twilight flinches away at this, nostrils flared and hair standing on end. Noticing the look on Twilight's face, Celestia reigns in her emotions – and her magic – though with only moderate success.

"I… I see," Twilight replies, swallowing loudly, "a-and the whole 'erasing from history' thing?"

Celestia sighs, "Fear has a mind of its own, Twilight, especially when combined with loss. I can't force ponies to think a certain way or believe a certain idea. And once Luna had all but validated every claim made against her by becoming Nightmare Moon, even as a Princess there was very little I could do to truly convince anypony that she was as worthy of their love as I. So I did the next best thing. I worked to destroy all knowledge of Sombra's dark magic – every book, every note, every scrap of paper. Everything. I then let vamponies fade from truth into rumors, and finally into myth as the centuries passed, so that my sister would not have to return to the same prejudices following a thousand years in exile. It is one of the benefits of agelessness, I suppose."

"And… Nightmare Night?" Twilight asks, still hesitant.

Celestia chuckles, "I had nothing to do with that, actually, though I am glad Luna has a widely accepted holiday of her own now. The festivities are certainly more enjoyable than the mess of bureaucracy and tradition the Summer Sun Celebration has become laden with. In fact, I've been considering abolishing the whole thing and simply taking the day off instead."

Twilight leans back, slowly processing the story she's been told.

Celestia watches her for a few moments before rising, "I know it's a lot to take in, Twilight, and if you have any questions at all I would of course be happy to answer them, but I must return to Canterlot. Vamponies may no longer exist, but the two ponies who snuck into Derpy and Time Turner's house most definitely do, and certain processes must be set in motion in order to accommodate knowledge of a new tribe's existence."

Twilight nods absently, her mind clearly still elsewhere.

Celestia smiles and raises her horn, the yellow glow of her magic surrounding it, but looks down again before casting her spell, "Oh, also, you should expect Luna to arrive in Ponyville by sundown."

"Huh? Why?" Twilight asks, waking from her reverie.

"The pony in the hospital may not be a vampony," Celestia explains, "however she is clearly a creature of the night, and therefore is my sister's responsibility."

"Ah, right. Of course," Twilight replies with a nod and a weary smile.

Raising her horn once more, Celestia vanishes in a flash of white light.

As soon as she disappears, Twilight slumps to the floor with a groan, I just woke up and I already feel exhausted again…