• Published 5th Jun 2013
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Midnight's Shadow - Ponibius

In the aftermath of the devastating Lunar Rebellion, the newly minted Magus of Equestria, Midnight Sparkle, finds herself embroiled in the chaos in her homeland. Beset on all sides of nefarious foes, Midnight must fight to save Equestria or perish.

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Midnight Begins: Chapter 1

Midnight’s Shadow

Midnight Begins

Chapter 1- An Illegal Purchase

Sometimes I ask too much of my little ponies.
-From The Candid Quotes of Princess Celestia.

I believe that my life gives conclusive evidence that there must be some greater forces in the universe; otherwise, it would be impossible to account for why I have suffered such wholly disproportionate pain and misery in comparison to the ponies around me.

To say the least, my life has been a difficult one. Some would argue that I have no reason to complain. That as the daughter of Sunbeam Sparkle, Archmagus of Canterlot and Grand Vizier, my life up to becoming an adult should have been one of comfort and luxury that the majority of Equestrians could hardly dream of. Those ponies had obviously never met my mother. While ‘tis true that my life was never one of want or privation typical of the average earth pony farmer or unicorn craftsmare, it has been filled with its own unique trials and tribulations.

As was the determination of my mother, my early life was focused on my strict--and on rare occasions, unacceptably harsh--education. Either through private tutors, my mother's personal teaching, or escorting my mother as she conducted her daily business, I was expected to better myself for when I was to serve a royal magus in Her Highness’s service. The mundanity of my daily life was punctuated by periodic assassination attempts on both myself and my mother, being kidnapped on three occasions, finding myself at the center of a riot, experiencing life at the political fulcrum of the Lunar Rebellion, and many other disasters, upheavals, and misadventures. One thing I can not claim for myself was a boring fillyhood.

While I may reflect on my fillyhood on occasion, ‘twill not be the central focus of what I intend to write about. It is true I might be tempted to write about my early years at some later point in my future, but I believe the works of others will prove to be much more useful to those who desire a historical account of the important events of those days. Especially in relation to the Lunar Rebellion, for which I was only a filly of ten winters at the time. (1)

1: Midnight begins her memoirs when she was twenty years old, and is believed to have written her accounts sometime during the latter part of the 2nd century CR.

No, what this work will cover is my early career as a magus, my meteoric rise in fame and fortune, and how I reached the station I have enjoyed for most of my life. A significant motivator for putting my memory to paper was the call of my friends and compatriots to do so. For, at the time of writing my memoirs, I possessed a mixed reputation. Depending on who one would ask, my reputation can range from one of Equestria’s greatest heroes and a figure worthy of exaltation to that of a villain, madmare, or a monster in pony flesh. The reason for such a diverse opinion of myself is in large part due to the adventures revolving around my early marehood.

If I am to be honest, my primary motivation for writing this memoir is for the sake of historical accuracy of the events surrounding my life. I have often lamented in my own study of history how much has not been recorded by the great ponies of our past. How much richer would our lives be if the accounts of ponies such as Starswirl the Bearded, Ephor Pansy, Queen Magnificent, or Apple Dumplings had been made and survived to our day and age? I would like to think we would have benefitted from a firsthoof account of the lives of these ponies, rather than having to depend upon rumors, stories, and legends.

I have left nothing I feel is of importance out of my memoirs, whether to the benefit of my legacy or to its detriment. (2) I have used memory-enhancing spells, divinations, conducted interviews, and contacted extraplanar beings to assist with my recollections. Though I must admit that even with the resources at my disposal, I cannot claim to have a perfect recollection of all events. Not even a pony of my considerable intellect and education can recall every word of every conversation of consequence I have ever experienced. After reviewing my memoirs, perhaps as a result of my repeated recollections to friends and family over the decades and my love of plays, I also noticed a tendency on my part to somewhat dramatize events. I hope this does not detract from the historical accuracy of this account, for the events of this account are as true as I can make them. I will leave it up to the judgement of the ponies who read this to determine how my actions reflect on my character.

2: Based on what we know of this era of history, Midnight’s accounts do appear to be quite accurate, at least for those events that can be cross-referenced with other firsthoof accounts. Any points of contention or controversy will be addressed within the editor’s notes.

My second goal in writing my own account of my life is out of the hope my fellow ponies will benefit from my experiences in some way. My life has been filled with harrowing struggles against all manner of threats during some of the most trying years in Equestria’s history, ranging from beasts and monsters, to warlocks and traitors to the realm, malicious fey, godlike entities, and other foul beings not of this plane of existence. I have fought and, more often than not, defeated these malignant threats against Equestria.

As a result of the accuracy of this account, I suspect this work will only see the public eye long after I have passed from this world, given the inflammatory and controversial nature of some of the subjects I am to cover. (3) Such I find to be a necessary evil, and while my contemporaries will likely not live to see a full account of my adventures, future generations should gain from my wisdom and experience.

3: This was, in fact, true. This unabridged version of Midnight Sparkle’s memoirs were seized, due to being considered a threat to national security, and placed within the confidential records of Royal Archives. They were not seen again until CR 428, when an accounting error resulted in the memoirs being released to the public.

Thus I start my account during the summer of CR 120.

I entered the store to make an illegal purchase. The bell to Cantrip’s Emporium of Books and Components chimed as I opened the door. It was a small establishment, sandwiched between two larger stores. Its presence could easily have escaped my notice if not for the instructions I had been given. It was not a well-lit store; even in the day, the lack of windows and its subdued magical lighting left the interior with a musty, oppressive atmosphere.

The darkness of the store was of little concern to me. I had cast a spell on myself that allowed me to see through the dark without encumbrance. I looked around, seeing various components and minor magical items intended to help with spellcrafting and enchantments lying on shelves. The aisles were so close to one another that only a single pony could hope to fit through. The walls were covered in bookshelves that were laden with books.

At a quick glance, I could tell that many of the materials were of a questionable nature. Not necessarily illegal, but questionable. Obsidian, dried scorpions, and cockatrice scales were rarely used for benevolent purposes. The bookshelves were not of an encouraging nature, with titles like Lethal Home Wards and You; Curses, Hexes and Dark Elixirs; and Great Poisons of Previous Ages. More reputable stores did not typically carry such wares. ‘Twould not have surprised me if the Royal Guard regularly inspected the store for contraband. I was beginning to suspect that the reason for the lack of windows and light was so that nopony would see who was shopping in the disreputable establishment. No unicorn lightly accepted the accusation of practicing as a warlock (4), and Canterlot was a city infamous for its rumor-mongering.

4: A warlock is a practitioner of the dark arts of magic, with all forms of black magic considered highly illegal.

As I was closing the door, a grey unicorn stallion walked out from the back of the shop and stood behind the counter. I guessed that this was Cantrip, the stallion after whom the store had been named. He was a rough-looking pony in his middle years. Clearly of poor breeding with his narrow face and eyes which looked perpetually half-closed, giving him the appearance that he was always about to fall asleep. His eyes narrowed at me as I approached him. “Can I help you, m’lady?”

I felt a moment's hesitation as my heart beat more quickly in my chest. “I am here for the special order from West Trottingham,” I told him, fighting through my nerves to make the final approach to the counter.

Cantrip stared at me for a long moment, and I worried that I had perhaps said or done something wrong in spite of following the instructions I had been given. I felt a wave of relief when he slowly nodded. He silently moved past me to the front door, and I saw him lock it. He then moved back behind his counter and gave me a level stare. “Do you have the bits?”

I fought down the urge to rush and grab my bag of bits to get the foul business over with. But ‘twould not do to appear hasty and act outside the role of a suspicious buyer. “I do. Does thou hath the book?”

Cantrip frowned and once more there was a period of waiting before he spoke. “Show me the bits.”

Part of me wanted to be stubborn about the issue, but it would not serve my purpose if we just stood opposite of one another and glared mightily at each other. I untied my bits bag from beneath my cloak and levitated it over to the top of the counter. I dropped it with what I hoped would be a satisfying clatter of coins. At least it should have been a satisfying sound: carrying hundreds of bits had been uncomfortable. It would have been easier with my telekinesis, but something about floating around a bag filled with more bits than some ponies saw in a year, in a glowing field of magic, in a less-than-reputable neighborhood, struck me as less than wise.

“Here are thy bits.” I raised an eyebrow. “The book?”

Cantrip’s eyes slowly worked their way from the bits and back to me. He gave an affirming grunt. “Aye.” His horn glowed, and I watched the flow of magic he wove. After a moment, a book suddenly appeared, as though out of the aether. I recognized the spellcraft. ‘Twas a magical construction known as an interdimesional pocket plane, a device used for storage. That would explain how he kept the book hidden from anypony else. They could be quite difficult to spot, unless one knew what they were looking for. Fortunately for myself, I had significant experience with such creations thanks to my mother, and she made Cantrip look like a novice in the craft.

I made a mental note of this as I examined the book that was in Cantrip’s light-green magic field. It was an unassuming tome wrapped in a brown cover, likely some sort of cloth by the looks of it. At least, I hoped it was not leather. In any event, I needed to examine it closer to ensure it was not a forgery.

“Might I examine the tome?” I asked in a manner that made it clear that I was not asking a question.

Cantrip made an annoyed grunt and placed the tome down on the countertop. “Flip through it with your hooves. I shall not entertain any trickery from you.” ‘Twas likely that he was worried I would somehow spirit the book away if I used my magic. Probably not an unjustified concern, given his clientele.

I let out a patient sigh. “Very well.” I stepped closer and flipped the book open with a hoof. As I perused its pages, I quickly discovered what I had been hoping to find: a tome of black magic. Within, I found spells that would break at least three of the Laws of Magic (5). A spell to bind the will of another, summoning rituals for a couple of beings from the infernal planes, and a spell intended to violently invade the mind of another. Being found in possession of such a book could get a pony into a great deal of trouble with the Guard.

5: For those unaware, the Laws of Magic are a series of seven laws outlined at the founding of Equestria. Breaking the Laws of Magic can easily result in a pony getting declared a warlock, a practitioner of black magic and an outlaw.

I was about confirm that I found the tome to my satisfaction when I felt something sharp against my throat. I looked down with my eyes to see a dagger wrapped in Cantrip’s green magical field. The feeling of the blade against my throat was quickly followed by one of frustration of my own stupidity. I had become far too enraptured with the tome and had not paid any mind to Cantrip, and he now held me in a most compromising position.

I slowly turned my eyes toward Cantrip, too afraid to make any sudden moves lest I provoke him to slit my throat. I considered asking the store owner an inquiry, but I was disinclined to do so as that would have risked having the dagger cutting into my flesh. Despite what some ponies might say about me, I am not inherently suicidal.

Though I did wonder: what it feels like to have one's throat slit? From what I have witnessed, it seems a most unpleasant sensation. Sadly, I have not yet had an opportunity to make inquiries of anypony who has experienced such. Throat-slitting does have the unfortunate tendency to render ponies incapable of answering questions. Hopefully, I would not have an opportunity to discuss my personal observations on the sensation at any point in the near future. (6)

6: Based on the accounts of some of her contemporaries, many ponies were under the opinion that Midnight must have been a madmare based on some of her actions throughout her life.

Silence hung between us as I considered what a life-threatening injury would be like. Perhaps he had waited in the hope I would start begging for my life the moment he put my life in danger? Or mayhaps he was just letting the weight of the situation wear on me? Mayhaps he had not killed me because he did not wish to contend with the disposal of a body; a pony’s corpse does contain a rather large volume of liquids, and the mess a corpse could create would be inconvenient.

Cantrip finally broke the silence. “Here is what is going to happen,” he said in a low voice. “You shall leave the tome and the bits; I shall escort you to the door and out of my shop. You may retain your life, unless you are foolish enough to return and attempt retaliation..” He pressed the dagger into my throat, forcing me to crane my head back to avoid injury. “Do you understand?”

I nodded with deliberate slowness, to keep from cutting myself on the dagger.

“Good. Back up slowly, no sudden movements,” Cantrip said, slowly backing me up with the blade of his dagger. He came from around the counter, likely to make sure he could keep a steady telekinetic grip on his weapon.

I considered my options. They were not very optimistic. Attempting to rush Cantrip was likely to result in me lying on the floor, choking on my own blood. I considered that less than desirable. In turn, trying to use my magic would result in much the same. After considering it for a moment, I came upon the realization that I could accomplish all my goals by going along with Cantrip’s plan. ‘Twould not reflect overly well on me, but I would live. I was in great favor of that part of my new plan.

But as is the standard of my life, the universe had other plans. Even when I lose, I cannot win.

The front door was kicked in behind me. I turned my head as much as I dared in order to see a trio of ponies enter the store. The pony in the center was a white mare, whose long cloak covered most of her features, though the protrusion pushing the front of the cowl of the cloak suggested that she was most likely a unicorn. The two earth ponies flanking her wore their own cloaks and barding, the metal painted black. It did not take a genius to imagine the earth ponies as the unicorn’s guards. Earth ponies make for good, dumb muscle. Cantrip and I stood perfectly still as the new group of ponies faced us, blocking the nearest exit to the emporium.

The unicorn tapped her hoof, the sound of hoof on stone echoing through the room. “Wouldest thou explain this occurrence, Cantrip?” she asked, finally breaking the silence. She tilted her head to look past the two of us, likely espying the bag of bits and the tome upon the counter. “I hope thou didst not intend to sell my book to another pony.”

Thus marked the complication of this affair. Figures Cantrip would try to rob me over a book he was planning on trying to sell later. It turns out that one cannot trust ponies entangled with the black market. Who would have thought?

“I was merely showing this thief the door,” remarked Cantrip after a moment of hesitation. “She claimed to be working for you, but I saw through her duplicity.”

I felt the unicorn’s gaze turn on me with a scowl. “Is that so?”

I did not like where this turn of events was going. It seemed that Cantrip had been quite busy in his dealings where the tome had been concerned. I wondered if he had been planning on betraying me from the start or had merely seized upon an opportunity. Given his flat-hoofed reaction to the newcomer, I could guess that he did not expect this other buyer to appear when she did.

Based on what I had been paying for the book, my fellow buyer was probably paying at least as much and had likely taken precautions against any possible double-dealings Cantrip may have considered. One of her minions had likely been watching the store at all hours and had summoned his mistress when I had entered the emporium. The unicorn's foresight brought my own lack of such to the forefront and served as a reminder of the dangers of failing to prepare for unforeseen circumstances.

Seeing the noose close around me, I used the only weapon available to me—my wit. “Neigh!” I declared. “This ne’er-do-well declared the tome was to be mine! I knew of no other buyer, and he was in the process of robbing me when you came.”

As a general rule, outlaws are an untrusting lot, due to them believing everypony is as untrustworthy as themselves. I hoped to use this fact to my advantage or at least buy myself some time. At very least Cantrip had not slit my throat upon pleading my case. Likely he worried his buyer would simply dispose of him also if he slew me.

It did not, however, keep him from pushing the dagger harder into my throat, eliciting a sting of pain as it cut into my skin. “She lies! I have never seen this pony before.”

The unicorn mare let out a belabored sigh. “I have had enough of this.” She casually waved a hoof in Cantrip and my direction. “Kill them, then retrieve the tome and the bits. We will burn the store to destroy the evidence.”

Cantrip’s eyes widened, and he took a step back as the earth pony thugs advanced on us. I felt Cantrip’s dagger break from my throat at his retreat. Seeing I was likely to be slain in mere moments if I did not act with haste, I struck out at Cantrip’s horn with a clumsy jab. His focus had been entirely on the menacing earth ponies, and he reacted too slowly to my blow, and my hoof collided with his horn. He gasped in pain and stumbled back away from me, his dagger falling to the floor as his concentration broke.

The danger to my jugular now removed, I drew upon my magic. Desperate for something to stop the earth ponies’ advance, I grasped a nearby shelf and hurled it at my attackers. Far from the most elegant spellcrafting imaginable, but I could not deny the effectiveness of my attack as the shelf crashed into the two thugs. One of them was knocked to the floor while the other was sent staggering into a neighboring shelf, sending various knick-knacks crashing to the floor. I lamented that the shelf did not do as much damage as I would have liked to my attackers. The crowded emporium had prevented the earth ponies from taking the full force of my attack, but it had bought me what I most desired: time.

I sensed movement from behind me, and I turned in time to be smitten across the cheek by my bitpurse. Stars swam over my vision as I stumbled and fell against a shelf, its corner painfully jabbing into my ribs. My vision swirled and blurred as I looked up to see Cantrip wrapping the tome in his magical aura. He dodged a magic bolt shot by his former customer and ran for the back door of his shop.

Cantrip did not make it far. When he reached the doorway, a light green hoof shot out from around the threshold and struck him in the eye. He let out a cry of pain as he stumbled back from the blow clutching at the bleeding eye. He promptly fell to the floor, the bitpurse and tome along with him.

Gale Kicker twirled through the doorway, the pegasus’s magically enchanted cloak and armor causing her to blend in with the shadows. She saw the unicorn charging up another spell and she ducked behind the counter to dodge the incoming bolt of magic. The bolt exploded against the bookshelf, sending bits of paper flying into the air.

“Midnight!” Gale called out to me. “Darkness!”

I blinked as I regained enough of my senses to realize what she intended for me to do. I concentrated, and an inky, swirling black cloud billowed from my horn. It quickly expanded as I poured magic into the spell, and soon the entire store was cast into an impenetrable, dark veil.

The earth pony thugs had tossed the shelf I had thrown at them to the side, opening the way to me. I scrambled down one of the aisles to escape them, the darkness concealing me. The veil didst not inhibit Gale and I. I could see in the darkness thanks to the spell I had cast earlier, and I knew Gale still possessed the talisman I had made for her which granted the same ability.

Her movements now covered by the darkness, Gale jumped to her hooves. She leapt over the counter with a couple flaps of her wings, and, with a grace that defied the difficulty of the movement, trotted across the top of the store’s shelves. She jumped and, with a midair flip, landed in the aisle behind the two thugs. With speed and accuracy that could only come from years of practice, her wings flicked twice each, and she struck both of the hindlegs of each of the earth ponies with her throwing darts. They cried out in pain and collapsed to the floor, grasping at their wounded legs.

I glanced over the shelves and saw Cantrip’s buyer stumbling through the darkness towards the exit. Not particularly wishing for the pony who had given me a death sentence to be allowed to flee, I drew upon more of my magic. I cast my spell, and a wall of ice filled the doorway. The unicorn bounced off of the ice wall, her avenue of escape cut off.

She turned back towards the center of the store, and her horn glowed as she drew on her magic. All she got for her trouble was to have a dart thrown into her horn by Gale. She flinched from the blow and fell against the ice-filled doorway.

Gale was upon her in a moment and extended a wing to place her wingblade against the throat of the unicorn. “I suggest thee cease thy struggles,” Gale said with amusement. She nicked the buyer with her wingblade, and the dripping line of blood stood out against her white coat. “Unless thou seek death this night.”

The unicorn went very still, her eyes looking down to where Gale’s wingblade lay against her throat. I was uncertain if she could actually see the blade in the darkness, but I was confident she could feel the weapon’s enchanted edge.

Gale smirked. “Good filly.” Her wing retrieved a thick metal ring from a small bag upon her side. She snapped the magical inhibitor ring onto the unicorn’s horn, rendering her magic useless. She nodded to me. “If thou wouldst kindly retrieve a set of shackles from my saddlebags.”

I jerked at the request. I had nearly forgotten myself after the excitement of the battle. I suppose I could be forgiven, after nearly being killed. “Aye. Of course.” I walked over to her and did as she requested of me.

Gale pulled out another set of shackles and locked them onto her prisoner while I did the same with the two earth ponies. The unicorn secured, she turned to me and gave me a frown. “Art thou alright? Were thou injured?”

“I am well,” I said tersely.

The earth ponies protested little as I locked their legs together with the shackles. Their injuries and inability to even see me probably crushed any resistance they might have wanted to put up against their arrest.

Gale dragged the unicorn to her hooves only to roughly shove her back to the floor next to her thugs. She turned towards me and leaned her head in to look me over. “Luckily, thy cut is not too deep. Though 'tis best to cleanse it soon-after.” She grasped my head to better view my rapidly swelling cheek. “I do not believe it is broken. Summon some ice to reduce the swelling.”

“I know how to treat wounds,” I grumbled. I conjured a small block of ice out of the moisture in the air and placed it on my cheek. “I just wish thou wouldst have told me that this was thy plan for the night.” I could not help myself but to stomp a hoof. “Thou hath said we would be going to the theater tonight! I knew I should have been more wary when thou wanted to bring so many bits with me.”

“Now do not be like that.” Gale nuzzled my uninjured cheek. I had to close my eye to keep her blue-and-white mane out of my eye. “I just wished to pick up a few things before we went to the theater.”

“‘A few things’ typically doth not involve seizing a tome filled with black spells and the outlaws trying to purchase said tome,” I pouted. I should perhaps have been more suspicious of my friend when she had come to me earlier in the day and told me she desired to go to the theater. The fact that she had asked me to bring no small amount of bits with me should perhaps have raised my suspicions more than they did. “Nor getting my throat nearly cut. Which I can only imagine is an unpleasant experience. Where were thou when I needed thee?”

Gale flinched at the accusation. “The lock to the back door was of a higher quality than I expected, and there were more wards than I planned.” She nudged me in the shoulder and smiled. “Besides, thou accounted well for thyself. If this one—” she punched the unicorn in the ribs, causing her to cough and moan “—had not shown up when she did, thou wouldst have been fine.”

I let out a belabored sigh. “By thy words.” I felt quite cross with Gale at that moment.

Gale gave me a sad frown and looked me in the eyes. ‘Twas a most pitiful gesture. “And I needed thee. Thy uncanny eye with tomes is most invaluable, and thy ability to acquire bits was most impressive. Thou wouldst not allow such a tome to be used, would thee?”

I removed the ice block from my cheek and moved it to the cut on my neck, when it started to sting. “Very well, Gale, I concede on the matter. I am glad that I could help thee. Can thou at least promise me that we shall indeed be going to the theater tonight?”

“Of course, once our business here is concluded.” Gale gathered up the tome and returned my bitspurse. “Didst thou discover where Cantrip was hiding his contraband?”

I looked down at the late shop owner. ‘Twas clear that Gale’s ironshod shoe spike had slain the stallion. “Aye, he was hiding the tome in an interdimensional pocket plane. I am almost surprised some lowly shop owner managed such a feat. A proper magus can manage, but that is with considerable study and effort.”

“Need can drive a pony to do many things.” Gale placed a hoof against Cantrip’s neck, likely to make sure that the shop owner was indeed dead and not just sitting on its doorstep. “Canst thou access it? I would like to see what else he has hidden away.”

I considered the request for a moment. “I believe so.” My horn glowed as I extended my magical senses. I recalled watching Cantrip access the pocket plane, and I found the fold between the planes and started to probe the magical creation. “Hm. I believe I can open it, though I do not know what defenses he might have placed on it. It will take me some time to discover them.” I felt my impatience growing. The next play at the theater was to start within the hour, and ‘twas likely that the best seats were going to be filled soon. “Or I can...” I sought a simpler explanation for what was a fairly complex act of magic. “Collapse the pocket plane. ‘Tis a faster method, and it should release anything hidden within. Though the act will destroy the plane.”

Gale moved to keep an eye on our prisoners. “I hold no objections. As thou will.”

With Gale’s leave, I proceeded to dismantle the pocket plane. The magic of the construction quickly came undone 'neath my assault. I had but a heartbeat to realize the danger of my actions 'fore I was victim to an avalanche of books, wands, vials, spellcasting components, and other such paraphernalia. Lying there under the refuse, I could not help but feel that I had just made a great deal more work for myself.

I merely wished to attend the theater.

“Midnight, ‘tis time to rise!” Mother said, pulling the bed sheets off of me. “Endless night, this ritual should have ended with thy fillyhood.”

I groaned as I blinked against the sun’s torment. I was not a morning filly. Mother was. I supposed that was somewhat inevitable when she had a name like Sunbeam. My attempts to awaken were only further impeded due to being up a great deal of the night helping Gale with her errant errand. My head pounded from sleep deprivation and did little to aid me in weathering my mother’s displeasure.

“Aye, Mother,” I groaned. I rolled out of my bed to stand on the Zebrican rug that covered most of my bedroom floor. My room was well-furnished, not quite attaining the ostentatiousness familiar to some of the elites of Equestrian society. My furniture was made of exquisitely carved darkwood. My bed, desk, dresser, and bookshelves took up most of the room. It had been my room for essentially the entirety of my life, and I had decorated it to serve my own needs and sense of style.

I walked over to my dresser and its mirror to commence with my morning grooming. As was typical, my mother had already taken care of her daily needs. Her white coat was brushed out, and the curls of her long, yellow-and-red mane that always covered one of her green eyes were as immaculate as always. It contrasted sharply with my own dark-blue coat and light-blue-and-white mane.

I picked up my brush and started smoothing out my own long mane. Mother walked up to stand next to me. She was tall for a mare, and that was yet another trait I had not inherited from my sire. (7) Her height was a constant and irritating reminder of my own short stature.

7: Midnight Sparkle first showed up in historical records when Sunbeam Sparkle brought her to Canterlot as a newborn foal during the winter of 100 CR. Sunbeam claimed that she had gotten another mare pregnant through the Magic of Love, and the unknown mare had died soon after foaling.

Midnight’s parentage was an item of considerable speculation in Canterlot. Rumors abounded, ranging from but hardly limited to: Midnight being the result of an illicit affair; Sunbeam having foalnapped her daughter; Midnight being a demon, summoned and disguised by the Archmagus; and Midnight being a particularly sophisticated golem.

She looked at me through the mirror, and her eyes narrowed. “Midnight, how didst thou receive that?” She gestured to the bandage I had put on my neck to cover the dagger wound from the previous night.

My brushing ceased as I considered how to answer her inquiry. “T’was a minor incident from the previous night.” Some foolish part of me hoped that would be the end of Mother’s line of questioning.

“Minor?” She touched the painful, bruised swelling on my cheek. “And this, and this here?” She ran a hoof along the long bruise on my ribs from when I had collided with the shelf. I was almost surprised she had noticed the latter through my coat, but Mother had always been infuriatingly perceptive.

I considered trying to be evasive with my mother, but deep down I knew how this dance would end. She would discover the truth through my attempt to cloud the truth, and I had no confidence in my ability to lie to her. “I made a stop 'pon my way to the theater with Gale,” I told her. “We became entangled in a minor scuffle.”

Mother gave me a haughty scowl. “I have made my displeasure of your association with Gale Kicker most clear. Thine injuries could have been far more grave.”

I started brushing my mane again and tried to not look at her. “I am a grown mare; am I imprisoned, without the right to do as I shall once my duties are fulfilled?”

As was her way, Mother avoided my own difficult question with her own. “And what errand required my daughter to appear as though she were in a plebeian tavern brawl?”

I let out a frustrated sigh. Mother had a most infuriating talent of needling me until she uncovered her desired truth. “Gale uncovered a nefarious, dark tome in a local shop and required my aid to confiscate it. ‘Twas a minor matter which was resolved quickly.”

Mother’s scowl deepened. “And who owned this shop?”

“A stallion by the name of Cantrip,” I said.

Her demeanor became all the darker. “Meet me downstairs for breakfast. Do not tarry, lest it be cold upon thine arrival.”

“Yes, Mother.” I did not entirely keep a hint of irritation out of my tone.

With that, she departed downstairs. I increased the pace of my grooming. It would appear as though fortune was not my companion this day.

Mother slammed her hooves on her office desk. “Would you mind explaining why your daughter killed one of my contacts, Shadow?” Mother had wasted no time getting right to the task on her agenda as the Lady Protector, Shadow Kicker, and her daughter, Gale Kicker, entered my mother’s office in the palace.

Gale appeared much as she did the previous night, her mane wildly swept back, wearing her blood-red armor, wingblades, and ironshode shoes. It was such a rare thing to see a member of the Kicker Clan without their armor that one could scarcely imagine one without it, and Gale was no exception.

As always, Shadow was a striking figure. Battle-scarred and unbowed, her own blood-red armor contrasted sharply with her black coat and braided, yellow mane. Her equipment gave off a gentle hum of magic that was always there in the background. That was not surprising, given the sheer magnitude of all the enchantments on her armament and armature.

In any event, Shadow let out a patient sigh at my mother’s display. “What is this about, Archmagus?”

Mother walked from around her desk to get closer to the two Kickers. “Your daughter slew a contact of mine by the name of Cantrip,” she grumbled. “A petty shop owner, but a pony I used to keep tabs on the movement of certain items. He was an invaluable source of information on the black market in Canterlot, and now he’s a corpse.” She scowled and jabbed a hoof into Gale’s chest. “Thanks to thee.”

Gale gave my mother a condescending smirk. To say Mother and Gale did not get along was akin to saying cats and dogs had a historical misunderstanding with one another. They had traded barbs for the past decade, and it did not look like their exchange would end any time soon. Fortunately, it had never escalated to a violent state. It truly could be much worse.

“I am sure Gale had her reasons for acting in the manner she did,” Shadow tried to assure my mother. Gale continued to smile her confident smirk while Mother fumed. It seemed that Gale was content to hide behind her mother in this matter. I could see little Mother could do in this matter considering Cantrip had been selling highly illegal goods and had then threatened and assaulted a royal magus. No doubt this was something Gale was all-too-aware of. Stars and stones, I cared for Gale deeply, but I did not like being used as a tool in her games against my mother.

“I think we both know her intentions,” Mother bit back venomously. “And by using my own daughter and placing her in harm's way, she adds insult to injury.” I was doing my best to stand to the side, and remain silent and uninvolved. Shadow’s own uncomfortable shufflings told me she would rather be elsewhere. Shadow and I shared this kinship; we were often caught into between the two feuding parties.

Shadow inserted herself between Gale and Mother. “‘Tis done and over,” she said, giving Mother a firm stare. “There is other, more important business I wish to discuss with you.”

“You would so lightly dismiss your daughter’s injury against me?” Mother glowered.

Shadow let out a long breath. “There are far more pressing matters to contend with than the death of a crooked peddler.”

Mother stood looking at Gale and Shadow for a long moment before she relented. A battle had been fought and lost, but I knew from my mother’s countenance that this was not the end of their war. She waved a hoof dismissively. “Very well. What matter be this?”

I saw Shadow’s posture relax now that Mother had allowed the topic to be changed. “News was sent by the mayor of Appleton. (8) ‘Twould seem the town has suffered a series of disappearances.”

8: Appleton was a town east of Canterlot, along the Applelachian Mountains.

“I am aware of the community.” Mother walked back around her desk and sat down on the cushion behind it. “A town filled with recalcitrant rebels from the Apple Clan who have been nothing but trouble. What are a couple disappearances to me next to the other troubles we face?” There was a cold resentment in my mother’s tone, one likely born out of the Apples’ involvement in the Lunar Rebellion and the evils which had resulted from the conflict.

“The relationship between the two clans is naught more than a dry haystack; one spark would reignite their grievances into open warfare,” Shadow stated firmly. “Since the time the letter was written, four ponies are now missing. Without a trace, and nopony any wiser as to the cause. To add to the curiosity of the matter, members of both the Apple and Carrot clans have gone missing.”

Mother leaned forward and tapped a hoof on her desk. “You are worried that there is a danger that the feud between the Apple Clan and the Carrot Clan could be reignited?”

“Aye,” said Shadow.

“The Apples and Carrots are still fighting a decade after the war’s end?” I asked. It struck me as a curious thing. I found it a pointless exercise to fight a war that had already been decided.

Mother gave me a frown she normally reserved for when my wit was not quick enough to please her. “The signing of a treaty rarely brings about an end to the enmity cultivated by conflict. Less so the earth ponies with their typical stubbornness.” She let out a frustrated sigh. “And here I had thought that they had finally tired of killing each other for the sake of petty vengeance.”

“We should nip this in the bud," Shadow said. "Peace has only just begun to truly settle in Equestria.”

Mother retrieved a couple of scrolls from her desk and skimmed one of them. “And am I to hazard a guess that the Guard is unable to respond?”

Shadow’s shoulders sagged with a resigned weariness. “Neigh, the Guard is busy with other matters; a group of griffin exiles have formed a band of reivers and threaten our borders, and all my other forces to the north and south are either busy or ill-disposed to assist in a meaningful way. The nearest unit to Appleton is a squad of the Long Patrol. (9) I have already requested that those available attend Appleton to keep the peace.”

9: The Long Patrol was a Pegasapolian unit that patrolled the borders against monsters and other intrusions. It was absorbed into the Royal Guard to serve the same purpose after the end of the Lunar Rebellion.

Mother put down the first scroll and began her perusal of the second. Glancing over her shoulder, I saw that the scrolls were lists of magi currently in Canterlot and how they were disposed. “You fear that the Patrol may lack the numbers or skill to contend with the situation in Appleton?”

Shadow shook her head. “Neigh, ‘twas my hope that you would be able to send at least one magus with the skills necessary to deal with the matter.”

Mother did not immediately respond, her frown deepening as her eyes moved down her scroll. She growled and tossed the scroll down onto the desk. “All magi of that caliber are otherwise occupied. I have nopony that I would trust with this to send.”

Shadow’s ears flattened on her head. “Verily? There is nopony? ‘Tis troubling that we cannot respond to this budding crisis due to mere ill timing.”

A pall fell over the room, the type that comes with a difficult problem that has no obvious solution. We stood there for a long moment until Gale’s eyes brightened. She nudged her mother in the shoulder and nodded my way. I was not so sure I liked the glint in my friend’s eyes.

Shadow gave me an examinatory glance. “What of Midnight? She is trained, is she not?”

“No, absolutely not.” Mother said without a moment’s hesitation. “She is not yet ready,” she said as she fixed Shadow with a fierce scowl.

“And when will she be ready?” Shadow asked. Mother sat at her desk, not giving an answer. The Lady Protector took the all-too-rare moment of my mother’s hesitation to continue her offense: “She is a grown mare and a magus in her own right now. At her age, Gale had already served in the Long Patrol for two years. Midnight’s career as a magus will not be served by tending to you as a servant for the remainder of her days.” (10)

10: The reforms after the Lunar Rebellion had consolidated Equestria’s various military forces, law enforcement, and royal magi under the Equestrian Royal Guard. As commander-in-chief of Equestria’s armed forces, Shadow Kicker could technically have ordered Archmagus Sunbeam Sparkle to send her daughter on this mission. Though in reality, doing so could have greatly alienated one of her principal political allies in the post-Lunar Rebellion period.

I was not so sure I was keen about this idea as I saw my mother mull over the idea. A part of me was curious to see more of the world and to prove my abilities. A larger part of me, however, was content in Canterlot. It was my home, the place I was comfortable in. I had seen some of the greater parts of Equestria when I accompanied my mother on some matter to places such as Manehatten and Cloudsdale. However, many of those voyages had not been the most pleasant of experiences due to circumstances beyond my control. Canterlot had my home in the Archmagus’s Tower, and the city had the libraries, theaters, museums, restaurants, and other features that I was accustomed to.

I was considering whether I should protest against the idea of being sent to Appleton when Mother spoke up. “Very well. Midnight.” She fixed me with a resolute stare. “Thou shalt deal with this matter.”

“Art thou certain I am—” I started to say before Mother cut me off.

“I have spoken on the matter,” She said with finality. “Thou will go, discover what is causing these disappearances, and put a stop to it. Am I understood?”

“Aye,” I said. It seemed that my fate had been decided on the matter. I surmised it would be better worth my energy to focus on more practical concerns at this point. “When am I to begin my assignment?”

“As soon as arrangements can be made.” Mother put her scrolls back in her desk before turning to Shadow. “My daughter will require a bodyguard. Have you a pony up to the task? The speed of a pegasus wouldst hasten their approach to Appleton.”

“I would like to recommend Sergeant Stalwart,” Gale cheerfully offered with a quickness that raised my suspicions. One can only thrive in Canterlot if one learns to listen to what ponies say and how they speak their words. I would not put it past Gale to have had her selection ready before this meeting began. ‘Twas the way of the city.

I sensed my mother felt the same way, as she tapped on her desk while staring at Gale. “And what are your thoughts, Lady Protector?”

“Stalwart is a reliable soldier,” Shadow said. “He is a steady hoof who knows how to conduct himself.”

Mother grunted and stood up. “When can he be ready?” She looked at me and frowned. “I would like to know how much more time I have with my daughter before she must go.”

Shadow rubbed her chin. “Within an hour or two, I believe. I can send Gale to tell him to ready himself. If Midnight were to meet him at the Kicker Compound, they should be ready to leave Canterlot before midday.”

Mother nodded. “That is acceptable. Come now, Midnight. We must prepare thee for thy task.”

“Um—aye, Mother,” I said. It had all happened so quickly that I was still trying to wrap my head around the events that had just transpired.

In only a few minutes, it had been determined that I was to leave Canterlot, go to a town I had only seen on a map, prevent a community of stubborn earth ponies from killing one another, and put an end to a mass disappearance. I was not so naive as to believe that the coming days would be anything but trouble for me.

Author's Note:

I would like to thank Chengar Qordath for letting me play in his playground for the Lunar Rebellion Era and Winning Ponyverse in general. His help really helped to make this story possible.

I would also like to thank Comma-Kazie for his invaluable help in editing and bouncing ideas off of.

Finally, a big thanks to all my prereaders, Infinion, droplet739, notMurphy, Garbo802, mrjerrio, q97randomguy,
Pav Feira, Swiftest Shadow, Incidental Pegasus No. 5, and JJ GingerHooves for all their work to make this story all it can be.