Twilight's Nightmare

by Nightsclaw

CH 28.3 Broken Minds

Celestia looked into her teacup, seeing if she could divine the future from within its liquid surface. The spoon continued to slowly stir it. It was already perfectly mixed, but the repetitive action and the sound of the liquid moving was soothing to her. 

That teacup was one point of order, one point of stability in her currently chaotic and untrustworthy world. Some of the ponies she had trusted the most, had failed her. That failure had caused her faithful student to be tortured, to discover things she was not meant to know yet and nearly turned her from the correct path forever. 

She thought about her sister’s intervention and Cadance’s help to bring her relationship with Twilight at least towards neutral again. At least she managed to appease the rest of the Elements of Harmony.

Her drink was falling below normal drinking temperature. The barest amount of magic trailed along her horn. She pointed her magic at her goal and just gave it her intent. No spells, no arrays, no rules. In essence Celestia, Princess of the Sun, was attempting to cast magic in the same way as a foal might. Her tea began bubbling as the now boiling liquid roiled and scalding steam rose from the teacup. 

She had not meant to heat it that much, but at least the result of her magic was within acceptable limits. Celestia inhaled the steam enjoying its scent, before downing the tea. She enjoyed its mild warmth as the boiling liquid slid down her throat. She lamented the lack of control that holding so much magic caused her. Turn a whole city to glass? Easy. Warm her tea without exploding the cup? Now that was a challenge. One she had passed today.

She idly considered how many teacups had been sacrificed to help keep her magic skills sharp. Granted, with the advent of Trixie’s newfound passion, that problem was less of an issue. 

After Chrysalis, she wanted more options that did not involve killing everypony in Canterlot she even had a passing dislike of. 

You know it would only make the nation better. Daybreaker casually added to her musing.

Leaving her body unattended Celestia slipped her attention back to her Garden. Daybreaker was sat at the table next to the pristine visage of her Mask. It was like Celestia herself, but unadorned, her coat seemed somehow a purer white and mane just that little neater.

Both of her fragments were busy going through paperwork. The Mask, the political ones; Daybreaker, the military and threat reports. 

Without even looking up, her Mask’s pale golden aura set to producing tea for Celestia.

“Come to join us?” Daybreaker asked scornfully as she set aside yet another sheet of paper, a few licks of flames browning its edges.

“It is often more pleasant to speak face to face,” Celestia replied with a smile.

Her Mask did not respond, it had not been given a task or directly addressed, so why would it. 

“Then, by all means, take a seat and make yourself at home, your Radiance,” Daybreaker said in a sarcastic welcome.

As vexing as her Warmind was, Celestia found herself starting to enjoy their banter more and more every passing day. Yes, she was annoying and provocative, but she made her think. She challenged her mind and was the nearest thing to an equal she had a chance to deal with. Twilight and Cadance were both too young and her sister… Dear Luna was still too much of a risk. As much as Celestia loved her sister, she was still the one that was most likely to fall to a rogue fragment becoming a monster that would have to be stopped.

Celestia moved over to them, taking her place at the table, accepting the teacup. Her eyes lingered on it, it was so much like the one she had been drinking from out in the physical world. One thing that still amazed her, even after all these long years, was how real everything was in her Garden. If she did not keep in mind that it was only a mental construct, it would be so easy to simply walk through a gap in the wall and never return to her endless toil.

She sighed and took a sip from her tea. It was perfect as always, “Thank you,” Celestia said to her Mask.

“You are most welcome, your Radiance.” Her Mask responded in her own perfect voice. The response rang hollow, it was too perfect, fake. It was nothing but the rigid automaton Celestia herself had crafted. 

Celestia let her eyes linger on her Mask, who had no response. Anypony else would have done something, felt something, reacted in some way but not her tool, not her perfect Mask.

“You thinking of granting her a name?” Daybreaker asked, a low purr in her voice.

Celestia looked to her Warmind seeing that she had not even looked up from the paper she was reading. 

“Perhaps…” Celestia answered, thinking of all the pros and cons of such a thing. She hummed thoughtfully and took another sip of her all-too-perfect beverage. “Perhaps. I will think upon it.”

Daybraker’s eyes snapped up to the stone arch. Celestia’s eyes followed, seeing her own body pushing Luna away. Her sister was now sailing to the far side of the room at an impressive velocity. 

“What happened?” Celestia demanded, rapidly retaking control of her body again.

Luna licked your ear. Daybreaker answered in a humour laced voice.

“Luna!” Celestia spoke aloud in an unimpressed voice.

“Sister,” Luna responded regaining per poise after being thrown across the room. She settled her wings neatly and looked pleased with herself, despite her forced movement.

Celestia flicked her damp feeling ear, letting her increasing body heat steam the moisture off from her. 

 “One of you should at least pay some attention to the physical world,” Luna scolded her with a playful grin.

Celestia sighed, settling down behind her desk, looking at the teacup that had smashed upon the floor. She had not even placed it down on the table before entering her Garden. When Daybreaker defended her from the most humiliating of ‘attacks’ her sister had inflicted upon her, her Warmind had no regard for a mere teacup.

Lifting the pieces from the carpeted floor, she concentrated on fitting the pieces together, like a jigsaw puzzle.

Luna reached into her shadow with a hoof and pulled a heavily bandaged unicorn out, dropping him on the carpeted floor with a dull thud. His horn was wrapped in a suppressor ring, and he was clearly under the effect of one of Luna’s powerful sleep spells.

“Sister… why have you just dropped that pony on my floor?” Celestia asked.

“A gift, sister.”

Celestia raised an irritated eyebrow.

“This is one of the ponies that had been… mentally altered and used to try and repeat the Manehatten incident, this time targeting Vanhoover.” 

Celestia felt her eyes narrow and the room started to heat. She pulled her Mask from its paperwork, commanding it to assume its normal duty. As it began managing her reactions she felt her body and magic calm.

Luna smirked, obviously noticing what Celestia had done. “Hiding behind her again?” Luna asked, walking over and considering the various cushions around the room. After a moment, she rejected all of them and conjured her own from the shadows.

“Merely a precaution, not all of us can be as free with our powers as you, dear sister.” 

Luna tilted her head, disregarding the point as she settled down. “You have nothing to fear, I made sure the situation was dealt with.”

“Why did you not inform me at the time?” Celestia could feel that her face was calm and her eyes adjusted to display only a polite query. Instead, of the angry annoyance, she really felt.

“There is no need to hide behind your Mask with me, sister. I did not inform you as there was no time and little you could have done anyway.” Luna waved a hoof airily. “Once the situation was dealt with, there seemed no need for haste, so I waited until you were free.”

Celestia nodded calmly. What her sister was saying made sense. Celestia sat down next to her desk and used her aura to bring over a tea service. She added the perfect amount of leaves to the pot, with a well-practised spell, she set the tea to brewing. 

With the small amount of her attention, she peered into the Stallion’s mind. It was a wasteland, pillars of darkness held foul spells. A central altar to Sombra, and whispering voices dreaming violence against any that would serve the Sun Tyrant.

Such amateurish work. Celestia thought is disdain before her mind turned to remorse. They left nothing of him. She would need to find out who he was from others.

In less than a blink of the eyes, she turned her gaze back to the pieces of the broken teacup. “Thank you for keeping our ponies safe.” Celestia was very glad her Mask replaced the word ‘my’ with ‘our’.

“You know that is not something I need thanks for sister.”

“I know, but that does not make it unappreciated to receive it?”

Celestia noticed a soft smile on Luna’s muzzle. “True,” Luna responded. “As you bring up thanks, I wish to claim that boon you owe me.”

With her golden magic, she floated a single bit next to the fragments of the teacup. “And what would you wish of me sister?” Celestia said using a flash of magic, rendering the golden coin molten.

“Tiz a minor matter, I wish for you to release one of your lesser servants from their Oath.”

If Luna said it was minor, it would not be. If she said lesser servants, that would only be true in their official rank. Currently, she dared not do anything to alienate either Luna or Twilight. Her mind flicked through all the ponies she thought her sister could mean and none were truly vital. 

Celesta nodded “As you wish, so it be done, sister. Whom must I cast aside?” She said as her magic teased the liquid gold into a crazed pattern, forming a mesh in the shape of the broken teacup. One by one, she placed the fragments into their places, using the gold instead of glue or a simple repair spell.

Luna’s magic flared and tendrils of darkness lifted a slightly startled looking Candice from a shadow, placing her upon the lush carpet.

Not knowing how Luna’s guest would react to, what at first glance, might seem like a dead body on the floor, Celestia simply hid the Stallion. She cast a perfect invisibility spell before Candice had a chance to see him. Celestia could not put it past her sister to try and start a rumour that she randomly killed ponies as a joke not caring about the damage such a thing could do Equestria as a whole. 

If she was lucky, Luna would only claim it was her divine ‘wind’ instead of anything more sinister. Daybreaker sniggered at the thought of all the nobles fleeing the court just because Luna placed a whoopie cushion on the throne again.

After a moment, Candice seemed to take in the room rapidly. Quickly she assumed a position of attention. For the briefest of moments, her eyes focused on the teacup. Her eyebrows started to lift but they were held in place by years of professionalism.

Luna moved behind Candice and rested her head atop hers. Candice relaxed against Luna, seeming completely at ease with Luna’s irreverent attitude.

“So, can I have her?” Luna asked hungrily.

A pleased look crossed Candice’s face. The want and willingness to accept her sister plain as day.

“It appears you have already claimed her,” Celestia stated, her voice calm thanks to her Mask. Keeping her reproach from seeing the light of day. Candice was a useful tool, the RGIS would be diminished without her.

Luna’s eyes met her sisters across the distance, clearly saying ‘look what I get that you don’t’. Luna wrapped her wings around Candice from behind and whispered seductively in her ear. “It seems I get to keep you.”

Celestia wanted to snort or at least flick her wing in annoyance, yet her Mask prevented her from doing either. The sparkle in Luna’s eyes meant she had somehow noticed something anyhow.

Candice seemed to revel in the feathery embrace. She subtly leaned back and increased the contact and rubbed her head against Luna.

Candice’s mind was full of blank open acceptance, mixed with a slight haze of anticipation and curiosity held under a mask of professionalism. She had a touch of confusion at the situation, but was playing along out of trust for Luna. 

She could tell that Candice was loyal to Equestria, proud of what she had done in her service. She just wanted to do more and held a desire for Luna… Desires that Celestia hastily averted her mental gaze from. Despite that, she could feel Daybreaker peering in with interest. 

Looking a little deeper, she could see that she also had desires for Twilight. The fact that one of her main goals was to make both of them happy spoke to the purity of her love for both of them. She would need to get Cadance to investigate the mare.

You are letting Luna have all the fun. Daybreaker mentally said, pulling the memories of Candice cleaning Luna’s pegasus ley lines. Celestia could feel a not-so-small amount of envy building, not that Luna had partners, no it was because she could not afford to have her ley lines purged. She had to be able to contain her immense amount of power, and that was part of the sacrifice for being able to do so.

“You always did have a taste for the unique,” Celestia said before shifting her eyes to Candice. “Just take care not to get bored of her too quickly.” 

Candice's mind was curious about what Celestia meant. Still, she was full of confidence that Luna would not get bored, and if even if she did, she knew she could let go without any hard feelings. She had no fear of being dropped like a toy but hoped it did not happen. She wanted her feelings for Luna to be requited.

Luna’s wings blocked Celestia’s view of Candice. “That’s enough of that, dear Sister.” 

“As you wish… Lieutenant Candice, do you wish to forsake your Oath?” Celestia said her voice still warm and calm.

“I wouldn’t be forsaking my Oath to serve Equestria. I would just be changing the parameters in which I fulfill it. That would require being released from my current one so that it can be subsequently taken again with new parameters.”

Celestia nodded once, letting Candice see a hint of respect. “So be it.”

She flicked her eyes to Luna for a moment. Celestia was annoyed at her sister taking Candice. Still, she could respect Candice’s integrity, if not her taste in desiring her sister. 

Luna lowered her wings allowing Celestia to do what was required. Celestia could see that her sister was ready to raise them again in an instant if she tried anything.

Revoking the Oath was easy, it was a little harder not to slay the pony in the process. She made very sure she could do so in plenty of time for Cadance and Shining Armor’s wedding. Wrapping the small piece of her own power concealed within Candice with her will and separating it from her prior guard’s wellspring, she pulled upon it.

A small mote of golden magic emerged from Candice and darted around Luna’s wings, then returned to Celestia. Candice was tracking the orb with interest as it moved. Celestia noticed the muscles in her jaw twitch as she inhaled a shallow breath and could see that Candice wanted to ask something but had held her tongue.

“You are free to walk your own path again, may you choose wisely,” Celestia said, solemnly.

Candice bowed her head. “Thank you, Princess Celestia. I honestly feel I am choosing the right path. Whether or not the path is wise, might only be a matter of perspective.”

Celestia gave Luna a meaningful look.

Luna said in a formal tone, “Candice, please take care of your affairs. Perform any tasks you deem necessary to reduce the disruption of your departure from RGIS.”  

Luna then leaned closer, speaking directly into Candice’s ear. “Make sure to update your will and be ready an hour before moonrise,” Luna said, using a sadistic whisper.

Candice nodded and immediately started towards the door. Her eyes lighting up with interest.

Celestia very nearly directed her Mask to let her eyes roll. She never liked the games Luna enjoyed playing with her toys. It seemed Candice might actually enjoy some of them instead of ending up dying of terror.

As soon as the door was closed, Celestia warded it against sound. “Do you even know who he was?” Celestia asked, looking at the stallion again, letting the invisibly fade from him.

Luna reached into her mane and passed Celestia a file. Celestia shook her head at the words along the top of it. ‘RGIS document do not remove from the main office’ Luna never cared for, or followed any rules. 

For a moment, Celestia considered how nice it would be to just throw all the laws off the top of the mountain and simply rule with an iron hoof. Force the stupid, short-sighted ponies to do what was best for them. If it were not for her Mask, she would have sighed. No, she could not, would not, do that. They needed at least their illusion of choice, the feeling that their lives truly mattered to the universe, even though so few of them actually did.

Again, she considered the amount of happiness the average pony had, just because of the things they did not know. The things that Celestia deliberately kept them from ever finding out.

“Goodday Sister, if you find you need more, the rest of the prisoners are in the dungeon,” Luna said.

Celesta nodded to her sister. “Thank you, and thank you again for helping with Twilight.”

Luna just met her eyes and faded into the shadows. “One of these days I will teach her how to use doors,” Celestia sighed. 

She might not be able to restore the stallion before her, but she could give a little filly and colt their father back, give a mare her husband back. A warm smile crossed her muzzle, she could do that much at least.

She would need to summon his family and use their memories of him to recreate a mind. Since Daybreaker had not raised an issue, it was well within her allowable magic budget for the week. Even with everything bad going on, she could still make her ponies lives better.

She regarded the now whole teacup, the veins of gold running through it, somehow making the whole thing just seem that little bit more beautiful. The scars of metal adding character, telling a story. 

She added the cup to her normal tea service wondering who, if anypony, would dare to comment on it, even if they did not, they would wonder. She would get to enjoy the crazy ideas they came up with even if they never voiced them.

Upon a scroll, she noted all the spells and orders Dark Acolyte had. Once done, she flared her magic, deleting him from existence. She left an empty mind, a perfect blank canvas for her to ply her skills, recreating the beloved father.