• Published 13th Feb 2012
  • 2,662 Views, 83 Comments

Escape from Castle Midnight - Gojira007

Twilight and her friends must embark on a dangerous quest to a dark new world to save Equestria.

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Interlude 1: Unto The Breach

Escape from Castle Midnight

Interlude One: Unto The Breach

It was late at night. All the other foals, and even Ms. Cheerilee, were sleeping peacefully within the Shelter’s guest bedroom by then. Sweetie Belle, however, remained anxiously awake. Scootaloo had been reunited with her parents, and was thus sleeping with them in another part of the shelter. That left the young unicorn without a friend, and alone in the dark. It was thus with a strong sense of relief that she saw Rarity quietly enter the room. “Rarity!” she whispered, eager to get her big sister’s attention but not wanting to wake anypony, “Rarity, over here!”

With a warm smile, the older unicorn made her way toward Sweetie Belle with elegant steps. As she drew closer, Sweetie saw a small, visibly hoof-stitched blanket draped across her back. It took a moment in the dim-lit room, but before long she realized it was the Special Blanket she and Rarity had agreed to make together after coming in Second Place at the Sister Hooves Social. “Hello there, Sweetie,” Rarity said softly, pecking her sister’s forehead. “You really shouldn’t be up this late, dear, we Ladies need our beauty sleep.”

“I know,” Sweetie replied glumly, “but…I just…can’t. I close my eyes, and…and all I see is the inside of the Boutique Closet, and I can hear those monsters outside, and…!”

Just as she began to tremble at the thought of it, however, the unicorn filly found herself wrapped in her Special Blanket, Rarity’s magic guiding it comfortingly around her. “Shh shh shh, I understand,” Rarity said soothingly, “My dear, brave Sweetie Belle…I know how scared you must be. That’s why…that’s why I knew I had to tell you first.”

“Tell me what…?” Sweetie asked, the blanket’s gentle touch already easing her mind.

“I’m…leaving…for a little while, Sweetie,” Rarity said, smile still holding but unmistakably tinged with regret, “I don’t know when, exactly, I’ll be back. But I promise, I will be back.”

The blanket’s small comfort could not prepare Sweetie for that. “W-where are you going?” she asked frantically, though still careful to keep her voice down, “Why are you going?”

“For you,” Rarity answered, simply but sincerely, “For all Ponyville. So that you don’t have to worry about those Monsters ever again.”

She pressed her horn softly against Sweetie’s. “I…I think I understand,” the younger unicorn said, “It’s an Elements of Harmony thing, right?”

“Right,” Rarity said.

Sweetie then wrapped her forelegs around Rarity’s neck, horns still touching as she pressed herself against her sister. “Then you go get those Monsters,” she said, “Show ‘em what a Lady can do!”

A warm pulse of magic then passed between both of their horns, comforting Sweetie and renewing Rarity’s resolve. “That, I most assuredly will,” Rarity said, reluctantly slipping away from her little sister. “Promise you will take care of yourself while I’m gone, Sweetie.”

Nestling into her blanket, Sweetie Belle nodded. “I promise,” she said. “And I love you.”

“I love you too….” Rarity said, blowing one last kiss for her sister before silently leaving the room.

Shining Armor could almost feel the air grow heavier the moment he stepped in to the shelter’s Royal Hall. Tension, he would have expected; distress as well. But the sense of melancholy hanging over the room was somewhat new to the knightly unicorn. Something else unexpected was what he saw as he looked at the two thrones at the head of the hall. Though Princess Luna sat in hers, pensive in posture but doing her best to keep a calm, dignified face, Celestia’s was empty. “Princess Luna,” Shining greeted respectfully, bowing before the dark-blue alicorn, “I’ve come to report on my progress.”

She nodded. “We hope it is good news,” she said, “We and our sister are in dire need of some.”

Shining followed her eyes as they looked wearily to the side of the hall, where Celestia sat, back to them both, gazing into the night sky through the gentle glow of a stained-glass window. “Well,” Shining said, speaking loudly enough so that both Princesses could hear him, “my soldiers have secured the perimeter around Ponyville as requested. Repair efforts across the town are also going well, and we’ve managed to track down every remaining pony in town and bring them safely to the shelter.”

He waited for Celestia to turn around and start a discussion on any further details (perhaps what measures Cadance was taking to help), but instead she remained still, looking away from him and her sister. Both he and Luna continued to look expectantly at the Sun Princess, but she remained unmoving and silent. It was only after several moments that she said a simple, all-but-whispered, “Good.”

Applejack watched Big Macintosh sleeping peacefully. Part of her wanted to let him stay that way, rather than disturb his well-earned rest with what would undoubtedly be unwelcome news. Ultimately, however, she knew he deserved to be told. He deserved her honesty. “Big Macintosh,” she whispered, tapping him on the shoulder.

No reaction. “Big Macintosh!” she said, more of a hiss this time than a whisper, followed by a sterner push.

Still nothing. Rolling her eyes, the orange Earth Pony finally decided tact was no longer affordable, nestling her muzzle right beneath his ear. “Oh for cryin’ out loud, WAKE UP YA OL’ LUMMOX!”

That did the trick, and Big Macintosh bolted upright, eyes looking about sharply and swiftly. He settled down quickly enough, but even as he realized who had woken him, the slight tension in his eyes did not leave. “Sorry if that was a bit much,” Applejack said sympathetically, back down to an ordinary whisper, “but you always were a heavy sleeper, ‘n’ I’ve only got so much time t’talk t’you.”

The red Clydesdale frowned. “About?”

“I’m leavin’,” Applejack answered, eyes locked with her brother’s, “Tonight. To get Apple Bloom back.”

Even having already guessed it was coming, the words stuck with Big Macintosh in the worst way. He considered asking how his sister intended to actually do that when their youngest sibling’s captors had flown off to who-knew-where, or begging her to reconsider one last time, or even just tackling her to the ground and forcing her to stay. Each option seemed more fruitless than the last, however, and instead all the large work-Pony could do was nod in defeat. It was a gesture his sister returned, placing a comforting hoof on his shoulder. “I just wanted t’say goodbye before I left, ‘n’ that I love you ‘n’ Granny Smith with all my heart.”

Big Macintosh was still frowning, but there was understanding in his eyes as well. The two shared a good, strong hug before Applejack turned for the door. Just as she was about to leave, however, Big Macintosh spoke up. “Bring ‘em home,” he said, firmly but lovingly, “Bring BOTH my sisters home.”

“Well, if we’re all done talking Security,” Shining said to Celestia with a slightly awkward cough, “I was wondering if you’d seen Twilight? I didn’t have a chance to catch up with her earlier, but-“

“Twilight Sparkle is gone,” Celestia cut him off.

The armored unicorn immediately stiffened. “What? No, that’s impossible!” he said defensively, trotting over to Celestia. “She couldn't have been captured, I saw her heading to the Shelter with her friends after the attack!”

Luna too was deeply confused; had they not just seen Twilight Sparkle a little while ago? What could her sister possibly mean…?

When Celestia still did not turn to face him, Shining began to feel impatience overpowering his sense of Royal Duty. “What is it?” he asked her forcibly, “What aren’t you telling me?”

Normally, Shining would not have dreamed of so much as raising his voice to either Princess, but not this time. Not if his little Twilie was in danger. “Your Majesty, please!” he said desperately, trying to circle in front of her.

Before he could, however, Celestia at last met him eye to eye. “Twilight Sparkle and her friends,” she said, trying to speak with her usual equanimity even though an unmistakable strain pulled at it, “have undoubtedly left to try and rescue the ponies taken captive during today’s attacks.”

The unicorn blinked a few times at that, shaking his head in disbelief. “They can't have,” he told her, fear and denial plain in each word, “Our best unicorn scientists haven’t figured out how to go through those clouds!”

Celestia smiled, a strange smile of pride and regret. “We both know,” she said, “that’s no obstacle to Twilight Sparkle.”

“…and you will make sure every last one of your brothers and sisters gets to sleep on time,” Fluttershy managed to finish her instructions to Angel with a good sense of authority, and the white bunny saluted dutifully in response.

Fluttershy watched him hop off to carry out her marching orders on how to take care of their little animal friends in her absence with a gentle smile and a worried heart. She had followed her friends into dangerous situations before (often with some reluctance, admittedly), but this newest situation was something else entirely. So many unknowns tangling up together, looming just under the surface of those black clouds…the shrieks of terrible things…the unfeeling eyes of a beast, looking right at her. That was the part that rattled the pegasus most: in all her years, she had never seen eyes like that before. So…empty.

As if out of nowhere, she suddenly found herself flanked by a wildly-grinning Pinkie Pie. “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeyfluttershy!” she greeted, voice low but energy high.

Taken by surprise, Fluttershy all but fainted on the spot, barely able to retain her scream before realizing it was only Pinkie. “O-oh,” she said shakily, trying to recover a bit from the shock, “h-hey to you too, um, Pinkie Pie. Why are you…?”

“Just wanted to check on you ‘n’ make sure you were all packed!” the bouncy Earth Pony replied quickly, showing off her own satchel. “I know I am! I packed ballooooooooons, and snaaaaaaaaaacks, and s’more ballooooooooons, and some streeeeeeeeeeamers, and my Party Caaaaaaanon….”

Fluttershy considered asking how she could have fit a Cannon into that tiny bag, but as with most Pinkie-related questions, it quickly seemed unnecessary. Instead, she simply murmured, “That’s, um, nice. I’m just about finished myself….”

“Grrrrrrrrreat!” Pinkie said happily, slinging her satchel over her back.

Looking at her friend’s confident face, Fluttershy felt herself needing to speak. “Um…Pinkie…?” she asked hesitantly, “c-can I…um…ask you something…?”

“Well sure you can!” Pinkie answered cheerfully. “In fact, you just did!”

“R-right,” Fluttershy said, giggling anxiously, “Well, um…this…mission we’re doing….”

She rubbed her forehooves together, staring at them to keep her focus. “It’s just…do you think this, um, ‘other world’ is too…evil?”

Pinkie cocked her head to the side in confusion. “What I mean is,” Fluttershy tried again, “the creatures who came from this ‘other world’…they’re not like the animals I know. They don’t seem to have thoughts or feelings of their own. What chance do we have against creatures like that?”

The Earth Pony could only laugh, hugging her friend close. “A pretty good one!” she said, “And d’you wanna know why?”

Fluttershy nodded eagerly. “Because,” Pinkie explained with a wink, “those creatures might not SEEM to have all that stuff you said, but I bet if you look deep enough, you’ll find out they really do!”

And with that, she bounced off, humming under her breath. Picking up her own satchel, Fluttershy followed behind. “I hope you’re right,” she whispered to herself.

“We have to stop her,” Shining said anxiously, “Where was she headed?”

Celestia, however, simply shook her head. “I do not know,” she answered, honest and exhausted, “Nor do I know how exactly she intends to carry out her plan.”

The unicorn scuffed the ground in exasperation. “But you know she has a plan!” he shot back.

“Yes,” Celestia answered gravely, “and for the sake of the ponies she hopes to rescue, we must let her go through with it.”

Again, Shining shook his head, galloping over to the doorway out of the Hall. “I can’t,” he told the Sun Princess, “I won’t!”

Luna could only watch with growing concern as the argument continued. The younger alicorn could tell her sister was fighting with herself as much as with Shining Armor, but that conclusion only left her with questions. “As your Princess, I could order you to stop,” Celestia said sharply, giving her unicorn Captain pause, “but I won’t. I ask only that you listen to what I have to say now.”

Though his body was still set to run, Shining held his ground for the moment, nodding deferentially to his leader. “Twilight Sparkle knows, as we do,” Celestia said, “that in our current positions, we are unable to help those captured by the monsters which attacked us. She, however, is. As her teacher…as her friend…I wish to protect her as much as you….”

With an exhausted sigh, she bowed her head to Shining Armor. “But as a Princess, I see the logic of her plan. Knowing that my options are to protect somepony I care about as deeply as I do Twilight or else to forsake those subjects of mine who have been stolen away by a cruel twist of fate, I must choose the option which protects the most ponies…even at the cost of my own peace of mind.”

She then raised her head again, meeting Shining’s gaze with as strong a smile as she could muster. “I thus ask that we both try to take some comfort,” she told him, “in the knowledge that there is nopony in all Equestria more gifted….”

The Sun Princess felt her eyes drift toward the stained-glass window she’d been looking at before. Shining followed her gaze, and saw an image of his sister surrounded by five other familiar Ponies. “…and that she will not be alone.”

Rainbow Dash had no pack. She had said no Goodbyes. As far as she was concerned, there was no point. She and all her friends were coming home after this was over, rescued prisoners in tow and a defeated enemy in their wake. Goodbyes for that would only cause needless worrying. No, all the headstrong Pegasus needed to know everything would be fine were the speed of her own two wings, the help of her good friends from Ponyville, and the knowledge that another, older friend would be there to help as well. “So OK, Dash, come clean,” Gilda said with her usual briskness as the two made their way along. “You really think your purple friend can pull this off?”

“Trust me on this one, Gil,” Rainbow replied confidently, “if anypony knows how to get to that other world, it’s Twilight.”

“Yeah? You sure you want to get there?” the griffon asked.

Again, however, Rainbow was all confidence. “C’mon, Gilda, you forget who you’re talkin’ to?” she said, puffing her chest out. “And with YOU on my side again? Those Strata-dorks’ll be running with their tails between their legs in no time!”

That got a strained little grunt out of the griffon. “I’ve gotta tell ya, Dash,” she said, “I’m still kind of weirded out about this whole…forgiveness…thing.”

“Yeah, well, that makes two of us," Rainbow replied. "Don't get me wrong, Gilda, I want things to work this time, but there's a lot we still need to work out."

"That's puttin' it mildly," her old friend grunted.

Rainbow gradually slowed down until she'd stopped completely. After a moment, Gilda did the same, looking back at the Pegasus with cautious intrigue. "Look...I'm not gonna pretend everything's back to normal, 'cuz it's not," Rainbow told the griffon, "I'm still sore about a lot of what you did, Gilda. Losing your temper, stealing from good Ponies, bullying Fluttershy...you may not see it, but from where I'm sitting you crossed a lot of lines when you were here before, and that's not even getting into what you almost did this time!"

Gilda's feathers ruffled visibly at her friend's words, her eyes sharpening and beak clenching, but against the odds she was able to keep her cool. "But...the more I think about it, the more I think I kind of messed up too," Rainbow continued. "Maybe I should've tried to help you get used to how things worked in Ponyville, or let you get to know my friends better, or...I dunno...something other than just tellin' you off."

The pegasus then approached the griffon, keeping their gazes locked so that her friend could see the sincerity in her eyes. "Maybe we both messed up, 'n' maybe it'll take a while to make that right again," she said, "but...well...what better chance is there than this?"

She offered up a hoof to Gilda, a small little smile on her face. “Junior Speedsters forever, right?” Rainbow asked hopefully.

Gilda gave an odd little grin of her own, shaking her head a little as she met Rainbow’s hoof with her talon. “These Ponies really have made a sap out of you,” she said with a good-natured chuckle.

With a reluctant sigh, Shining Armor relaxed his body, the readiness to run slowly but surely draining out of him. It seemed there really was nothing either of them could do now. “I am…sorry…if I acted out of turn, your highness,” he told Celestia with a brief but respectful bow.

“I know only too well how deep one’s love for their sister runs,” Celestia replied earnestly.

“Then with all due respect,” the Captain told her, “I ask permission to return to the Crystal Empire. Maybe…maybe making sure everything there is still safe will help...take my mind off of this.”

The Sun Princess nodded. With one last bow, Shining turned and left the Royal Hall, though Celestia and Luna could both tell his feelings were far from resolved. “'Tis good he goes to join Princess Cadance,” the younger alicorn said, gliding out of her throne toward her sister, “Her presence should do much to soothe Shining Armor’s troubled heart.”

Celestia nodded but otherwise did not respond, walking away from Luna and back toward the stain-glass window depicting Twilight and her friends triumphing over Discord. “Sister...!” the Moon Princess blurted out as Celestia passed by her.

Celestia paused, though she did not look back. “There is…much about what is going on now that I do not fully understand,” Luna said, “but…I must ask you something.”

Her sister nodded. “If you did intend to allow Twilight Sparkle to take this mission,” she said, “why did you act otherwise when she was with us before?”

There was a small, almost bitter laugh from the white alicorn. She let her wings stretch a bit, grazing the floor with the edge of their feathers. Closing them back against her body, she answered with a deliberate, controlled pace. “In the past, when I have asked Twilight Sparkle to help fight the dangers that threaten Equestria, it has been against enemies I knew…threats I understood.”

Luna felt herself shrink a little at the knowledge that she had once been one of those threats, but kept listening. “This time, however…” Celestia continued, “This threat, I do not understand. This enemy, I know nearly nothing about. Even with all her abilities…even with her friends….”

She stopped herself, a slight tremble travelling through her body. When she began to speak again, Luna heard a weakness she had never heard in her sister before. “I do not know what will become of her,” she said. “And so…this time…I wanted….”

There was another moment of pained silence. Celestia let her eyes find Luna’s, and the younger alicorn could see the tears trickling down her sister’s cheeks even as she still fought to hold them back. There was a broken smile on her face. “I just wanted to give her a choice.”

Twilight knew she did not have to do this. She knew she could have just ignored the little loophole she had realized was laced into Celestia’s order that she not attempt to venture through the clouds on her own. It would have been easy. Nopony would have been the wiser. “Except for you,” Twilight could all but hear Spike tease in her mind.

So here she was, in the middle of the night, on a clearing near Sweet Apple Acres, preparing to abscond with Ponyville’s Hot Air Balloon, for a Mission filled to bursting with unknowable variables. She had made all the necessary preparations; gave her friends the time needed to make their arrangements, packed her own satchel of supplies, checked (and re-checked) all the Balloon’s parts to make sure they were all in working order, gone over her checklist of preparations twice to make sure she hadn’t missed anything…

“This is it, then,” she whispered to herself, “This is our chance.”

She had done all the calculations. Been puzzling them out and over and around in her brain since before Celestia had even arrived in Ponyville. It was hard to say with certainty, of course, especially since she’d only been able to glean what the Unicorn Scientists had already learned about the Clouds, but Twilight felt confident she had figured out how to follow their enemies to this “Castle Midnight” Gilda had told them about. “Confidence probably isn’t the right word,” her inner Spike again poked at her, “You’re just hoping you crunched the numbers right.”

It was hard to argue with that. Still, hope was about all Twilight had to go on at the moment, and given the stakes, she was willing to take it. “I can do this,” she told herself, “I can DO this.”

“Correction, darling,” a familiar voice whispered from behind.

Twilight turned around and saw Rarity smiling at her. “WE can do this.”

Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Gilda were not far behind, and soon all of them had gathered around Twilight and the Balloon. The purple alicorn nodded to each one of them gratefully, a gesture they all returned (save Gilda, who simply grunted in acknowledgement). Part of her wanted to say something, to make some grand elegant speech about how they would surely triumph and bring their friends and family home safely. Part of her wanted to scream that this was all a terrible idea and they should leave while they still had a chance. Ultimately, though, the part of Twilight that won out was the part that had her simply hop into the Balloon’s basket, motion for Pinkie, Applejack, and Rarity to follow, and turn on the burner.

“Then let’s get to it,” she said.

To Be Continued....

Author's Note:

NOTE: This chapter has been edited to match the show's current canon. You can read the original, unedited version here: sta.sh/0zt6wb7m5m2

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