Diligent eyes and an observant mind are the trademarks of a true scientist, and Twilight Sparkle was living up to her reputation here. Though teeming with innumerable questions that only continued to increase at an exponential rate, the far more pressing concern lay with the appearance of her mentor.
In their many years of study together, Twilight had seen Celestia in all sorts of moods. She’d seen the princess’s playful side when they’d snuck to the kitchens to filch late night snacks. She’d seen her imperial majesty as she’d conducted audience with diplomats from every corner of the globe. She’d even seen the mountainous weight of her sadness when once, when Celestia thought herself alone, she gaze longingly at the portrait of a young girl with hair the colors of a fiery sunset. Twilight had seen Celestia’s highs and lows, the ups and downs, the roller coaster ride of feelings that all people, even ageless rulers are subject to. But still, she’d never seen Celestia quite like this.
“… Princess,” Twilight said softly as she took the hand of her teacher, “Who is this Nul? What does he plan to do to Equestria?”
“Who cares, Sparkles?” Rainbow Dash smirked. “Whoever this guy is, whatever sort of hot shot villain who thinks he’s gonna go all Khan on us, it doesn’t matter. Alls we gotta do is kick his butt like all the other butts we’ve kicked, and bam. World’s safe another day. ”
“The way you go on, you make it sound like we’re a group of crime fighting super heroes,” Rarity laughed.
“No, she’s got a point there,” Applejack grinned as she gave the cyan-clad flyer a playful nudge. “We started out fixin’ up ol’ Nightmare Moon – no offense, yer highness…”
“None taken,” Luna nodded.
“Then we got Discord from before, Chrysalis from the wedding hubbub, and that funny talkin’ Sombrero feller to boot.”
“Wait, he was Mexican?” Pinkie Pie gaped. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?! I’ve been trying to get some help on my chimicherrychanga recipe for like, forever!”
“That’s a pretty nice scorecard you got there,” Graves replied with a low whistle.
“Thank you, dear,” Rarity smiled sweetly. “A professional opinion is always appreciated.”
“My point being,” Rainbow resumed, “is that whoever this Nul guy is, we’ll take him down like we always do, easy peasy lemon squeezy.”
“And there’s lemonade?!” Pinkie Pie cried. “Why do I keep missing these things?!”
“Your optimism is encouraging,” Luna smiled, though the expression never quite managed to reach her eyes. “I hope you can hold onto that feeling in the days to come.”
“You… er… don’t sound too gung-ho about this,” Applejack observed as a hint of uncertainty came into her voice. “There a reason fer that?”
“The reason is Nul,” Luna replied as the smile completely disappeared from her face. “He’s nothing like you’ve ever faced before. Nothing at all.”
“Well, how bad could it be?” Twilight asked with a crooked grin. “I mean, we did beat the Spirit of Chaos, and he can twist break the laws of physics. How bad could facing this Nul character be?”
“Let me put it this way,” Luna intoned. “If the Discord you faced were on par with the strength of a lion, then Nul would have that of a kaiser dragon.”
“You’re… you’re kidding, right?” Rainbow Dash said with a sickly chuckle. “Discord’s chaos itself, so how could this Nul guy be that much worse?”
“Because unlike chaos, which requires reality for its own existence," the princess continued, “Nul is destruction, pure and absolute. He is obliteration and ruin that reduces all to dust and ash. He seeks nothing but complete and utter annihilation of everything in existence. Discord twists reality, but Nul makes reality cease.”
For a moment, none of the girls said anything in response to the princess’s dire words. In all honesty, none of them really understood the true extent of that description, but the slowly spreading unease across their faces showed they were getting a good start.
“… Excuse me, Princess Luna,” Twilight softly interjected. “But I thought that… well… endings were just a part of the cycle of life, the one you and Princess Celestia control.”
“That is true, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna nodded. “But that is an aspect within the cycle and Nul is beyond even us.”
“I… don’t really understand,” Twilight frowned.
“I don’t think any of us really do,” Rarity added on.
“I suppose this is much to take in all at once,” Luna nodded. “Perhaps it would be best if I began from the start.”
Ebony wand raised, the chamber grew dark as Luna’s ethereal aura filled the chamber with the inky darkness of the night sky with nary a moon nor star in sight. Indeed, the blackness would have been total but for a small speck of light that glittered like the first firefly of summer. It was in this darkness that Luna spoke.
“Long ago,” she began, her voice seeming to ring out from everywhere and nowhere at once, “in ages past and eons long forgotten, the skies lay dark and empty, a vast swath of empty space in which naught but silence echoed. It was through these dark reaches that my sister and I wandered, age unto age for time immeasurable.”
The tiny speck grew larger to reveal itself as not a point, but a pair, two slender figures composed of the purest white light that danced about in perfect harmony to a timeless melody only they could hear.
“I know not when we began, nor why, but my sister and I began to wonder. Why should there be nothing but empty? Why should the skies stay dark? For a time, we pondered these questions, but found no answer. So we began.”
It was a subtle shift at first, the soft shift of pure night into the first shades of dawn, but as the figures continued their endless duet, what once had been steady and balanced slowly grew more festive. There was no break in the seamless dance, but each move and every gesture quickened as if lit by a passion that steadily grew hotter with every step. Faster and faster the two danced, their lights streaming forth and blending together, weaving tighter and brighter till uncontainable for a moment longer, a brilliant supernova of pure white light exploded across the cosmos as the very first star was born.
“All across the skies we flew,” Luna continued as the figures continued their dance and brought forth yet more stars to fill the inky void. “We gave birth to the first lights of creation, the first form and substance to a universe of empty space. For ages, we were overjoyed at the works of our hands. But as we continued and considered what we’d done, we grew… discontent. While we had brought forth light from the darkness, it was still somehow lacking. Incomplete.”
This made no sense. Why would they be displeased? As it stood, the starry sky that surrounded them was absolutely perfect in every way, each star a flawless gem in ways even the most polished of diamonds could only hope to be. But as eyes continued to consider that flawless sky, understanding began to dawn.
Flawless. Too flawless. Too perfect. It was true, each star did shine out clear and pristine, but so did every other. Of the millions of lights they saw, each and every one shone with the same perfect beauty as its billion other neighbors. That overwhelming perfection stifled any life those stars might have and made what should have been beautiful almost harsh in the austerity of its cold, unwavering symmetry.
“My sister and I were at a loss. We knew of creation and the joy of bringing something from nothing. But beyond that first fateful step of denying the dark, we had no ideas on where to go thereafter. For a time, we paused, perplexed at just what we should do. It was in that time that we found that something we sought. Change.”
Bursting from the dark like a magician to his stage, a third figure exploded forth in a prismatic rainbow of vibrant hues and lively lights. The figure did not dance with graceful steps as the first two had, but instead leaped and bounded about with the joy of motion and the excitement of the unexpected in every move.
“From the realm of dreams, where the lines between is and not are blurred, Change came forth. It was he who provided the creative spark, the ability not to bring something from nothing, but to take something and transform it into something new.”
At first, the two slender figures shied back, their pristine light flickering in confusion at the presence of another in their empty world, uncertain of the intentions of one so new and strange. But he did not mind. Instead, he approached a star, darting about to admire it from every angle like a child presented with a shiny, new toy. Reaching out rainbow-hued hands, the third figure covered the star, shielding it from sight as the aurora rippled with delight. And when he released, he revealed a star that no longer did shone with its old, immaculate white. No, now it shone a bright and vibrant blue.
The dance resumed, not between two but shared by three in delightful new steps that seemed somehow more beautiful with the introduction of that wild, new life. The three danced and in their wake, new stars formed in all manners of shapes and sizes and colors and hues. The three danced and starts burst, flaring supernovas like fireworks of cosmic proportions lighting up the sky with blossoms of prismatic light. The starbursts faded, but were not forgotten as they left new materials in their wake.
From the dust of the dying stars, yet more was formed. Born adrift of on cosmic winds created by the movement of three, the remnants of these stars swirled together into meteors, shooting starts, and even planets. Like lode stones drawing together, so too did these celestial bodies begin to cluster. Planets adhered to stars like hatchling to a hen to form the solar systems that in turn congregated into constellations and galaxies and nebulae and still so much more. In an eternity that passed in the blink of an eye, the darkness was transformed from the sterile perfection of simple creation into a vibrant masterpiece of infinite possibilities.
“For ages we continued,” Luna said as the visions of space swirled about. “We traveled the universe, continuing the dance of creation. But even as glorious as all our heavenly works were, we were soon to find something even more splendid.
Before their eyes, the princess of the night magnified a single star, a yellow one that shined with a warm, friendly glow. It was not the biggest member of the starry host, nor was it the brightest, but it certainly had something that made it truly unique. There, next to the star, on a little unobtrusive ball of rock and soil, something stirred. Out from the barren red and desolate brown landscape came a small speck of something green. Something alive.
“Can you imagine our surprise?” Luna laughed aloud, the sound of a girl who’d met her baby brother for the very first time. “Ever since the beginning, the laws were clear: we three created and changed the universe. But now, there was something new, something that strove to grow and thrive on its very own!”
And grow it did. Though small and weak and fragile as a frozen spider’s thread, that little speck of green slowly struggled to survive on that desolate planet. Fortunately, it was not alone. The three figures offered it aid, never taking the fight from the little speck, but nurturing it instead, cultivating it, giving it a chance to explore its full potential.
The speck did just that.
Under the guidance of the three, life thrived, spreading out to all corners of the globe, whether it be on the stony crags in the high mountains or the depths of the sea below. Under their care, life not only spread, but changed as well as it steadily adapted to whatever climes it met. Some hardened into sturdy lichen to survive in the snow swept mountains while others strove towards that shining sun in the wide open fields. And still others nourished themselves in the ancient waters where, in the greatest surprise in all of time, the most fantastic treasure in all of creation was born.
“We three were timeless, ageless,” Luna said as seven eyes looked on, utterly mystified as the first tiny creature opened its eyes. “To us, the universe was merely a canvas and our creations paints to bring it color. But never, not in a trillion, trillion years, had we ever thought that these creations might be something more. Yes, stars were beautiful and galaxies were wonderful. But this? This tiny creature, one so small that a grain of sand would seem a boulder? This was a miracle.”
The three had found a calling, one far greater than any heavenly hosts could compare. Pouring all of their wondrous might into the care of that little speck, the three figures laughed and marveled as it began its journey. From one came two, two to four, so on and so forth till the seas teemed with life. Small though they were, even specks moved not according to the whims of the waves or the blowing of the winds, but according to their own desires. No longer did they struggle simply to exist, they struggled because they existed.
The three continued their work and guided this fragile life towards all it could be. Larger and stronger they grew, some taking to greater depths while others answered the call and made the first steps onto dry land. Under their care, small creature grew. Weak and soft became strong and sturdy as bird and beast and fish finally began to take their form. All across the world they spread, growing greater and mightier with each passing day. With joyful hearts and soaring pride, the three watched as the smallest of specks grew into mighty beings that cast dominion over all the lands and skies. Great dragons, ancient behemoths, grand leviathans, this was the age where life grew full and unbridled.
“Though small in space and matter, this world truly became the treasure of our hearts,” Luna smiled as she gazed at an image of a world long since passed. It was a fond smile, one of warm memories and cherished remembrances as a mother who remembers the child she’d held so long ago. But slowly, that smile faced and warmth turned to frost as off in the distant, just at the edge of vision, something began to stir.
“But where there are treasures,” she spat in words of pure, venomous bile, “there will also be thieves and vandals. As life grew, the darkness stirred in protest. It was out of that darkness, out of the deepest pits of the abyss itself that Nul appeared.”
And the first of many stars disappeared.
“As if summoned by the coming of life into the universe, darkness blacker and fouler than anything we’d seen in all of creation arose. We didn’t know what it was, but we could see clearly what it sought: the end of everything and the return of reality to its cold and empty shell.”
Another star winked out. And another. And still another. But what should have simply been empty space like it once was somehow became somehow… less. It was even darker than before, the black so unwavering and absolute, it was as if even the memory of light vanished in its wake. For those that went out, new stars sprang up to take their place, new creation to fill the void left behind. But though the cycle of destruction and rebirth continued ten thousand times over, each wave of darkness grew a little stronger.
“We tried to stop it, but our attempts were as futile as holding back the tides. Nul advanced and we retreated, having no recourse but to create lights anew to replace those we lost. However, we one day reached a point where we could no longer retreat. The empty planets and constellations, we could afford to lose, but the cradle of life? For this treasure, Nul could no longer have his way and so, in final, desperate bid for salvation, we fought back.”
The skies exploded. All through the cosmos, waves of blinding, prismatic light surged forth against the rushing tides of black. Light was created, light to pierce the dark, now transformed so that its power and splendor grew magnified tenfold and tenfold still. Destruction rippled through the universe as the clash of two absolutes threatened to rend reality asunder. The light pushed against the dark as the dark consumed the light as it flickered a little more with each passing battle. The darkness was never-ending, a bottomless pit that consumed all. The light grew dimmer as the darkness surged and feasted upon the aurora of life. And then, just when it seemed as if destruction was assured, there came an explosion of pure white brilliance the likes of which the universe had never seen, nor would ever see again.
And creation fell silent.
“We could not defeat the dark, but we could contain him. In our final act, the three of us ripped the power from our very beings and together, used it to create a prison, one that could contain even Nul’s unending hunger.” And as the starry sky returned in the brilliant glow’s aftermath, there came a new light. Hanging in the sky was a new great light, one composed of equal part golden warmth and cool silver, two swirling seas that met at a sinuous line of rainbow lights. The light was as beautiful as the three had been, but beneath that radiant glow, eyes could see a shadow lurking underneath. The beast was caged, but not destroyed. You could not destroy destruction itself.