• Published 14th Oct 2013
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Alpha Centauri - StLeibowitz



Twilight is kidnapped by a sun and told she used to be one too. Rainbow Dash is fighting phantoms of past lives as she tries to rescue her. Powerful alien beings intend to exploit the chaos to further their own ends...

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Prologue: Beltane

Two Thousand Years Ago, Domhan, under the Guidance of the Centauri Sisters...

Alpha Centauri lay atop a woolen blanket, atop a high hill, watching her forest.

A cool breeze washed over the seemingly-endless sea of treetops, sending waves of paler green coursing along the canopy as the leaves danced in the night wind. Overhead, a carpet of glittering stars shone, accompanying the unguided Moon as it sedately plodded along its orbit around the world. Thin columns of pale smoke drifted up from numerous clearings below, twisting in the wind and bearing with them the laughter of the kelpie fillies as they tried to see how many of them could stick together and still catch a wild squirrel. The howling of the wolves as they prepared for the feasts coming later echoed up after the giggling, and the metallic rasping and crashing of the thunderbirds’ feathers against each other resonated like distant thunder as they flitted between bonfires, carrying reports and instructions from camp to camp. She could almost taste the anticipation and excitement in the air – it was Beltane, and everyone expected this Beltane to be one of the finer festivals held in living memory, despite the ongoing war.

Alpha would have loved to be down with her subjects, her little kelpies and wolves and birds, laughing along with the fillies and their parents at their game, organizing the feasts and bonfires with the thunderbirds, maybe even joining the wolves’ choir for the midnight singing contests that were traditionally held to scare off bugganes. Caelum knew she needed a break. Unfortunately, though, she had far more pressing concerns than mere relaxation. Two Nightmares – she refused to think of them as her sisters – were on the loose, with their own followers, and Beltane would be the perfect time to strike. She needed to remain vigilant, for their sakes.

“Pretty night out,” someone commented from behind her. Surprised, Alpha glanced back, and only relaxed her muscles, unconsciously tensed in preparation for combat,when she identified the speaker as her guard captain, Watchful Eye, a kelpie mare with pale green skin and a nearly-black, rivergrass-knotted mane, both cast in sharp relief by the light emanating from Alpha’s own fiery mane. She was wearing nothing except a silver collar to show her rank; odd, when most kelpie guards stayed armored just to avoid the inconvenience of having falling leaves stick to their skin. “You should be enjoying it.”

“I’d like to,” Alpha answered sadly, looking back out at the trees. “It’s a perfect night for Beltane. There’s nothing I’d like more than to just glide down there” – she extended a broad, silvery wing, its feathers sounding like distant thunder as they brushed lightly against each other – “and stick myself onto a cluster of fillies, and see how many squirrels we can catch for the wolves. Or, better yet, enter one of those riddle contests. Maybe even see if I can cook something without incinerating it…” She grimaced, remembering her last attempt at bread. Truthfully, if that “attempt” was still around, Alpha could feel comfortable saying there were three Nightmares haunting the shadows.

Watchful snorted. “But…”

“But I can’t leave them unguarded,” she concluded reluctantly. “The warriors are good for driving off bugganes, or dragons, or roving wolfpacks, but these are Nightmares we’re dealing with! Without me ready to fight at a second’s notice, they’re as good as dead, or worse than dead.” She shuddered slightly at the thought of the laughing fillies huddled fearfully in a buggane’s pot while the monster drew water to make a broth out of them. “I can’t go down and join the festival. It would be irresponsible! If the Nightmares come tonight, I need to be prepared to face them. Not socializing.”

“Hm,” Watchful hummed. Alpha heard the soft crunching of leaves as the kelpie trotted closer. “You know what I think the problem really is?”

“Something to do with my social inadequacies, I assume?”

She chuckled. “Well, that could be it, too, but I think what’s really the problem is that you miss them.”

Alpha frowned. “How is that the real problem?”

“You’re sitting up here hoping Beta and Proxima will fly in at the head of a formation of bugganes and lone wolves, so you can fly in and give redeeming them another shot. You’re thinking that Beltane would be a perfect time for them to launch an attack, and that the festival down there is as good a bait as any to get them back in talking distance so you can try to convince them to join our side again. This whole festival – which is your festival this short-year – is a trap, and good hunters don’t use themselves as bait for a trap.”

“Maybe.”

“Definitely!” Watchful smiled. “Probably in those exact words, too.”

Alpha smiled. She couldn’t help it – Watchful knew her too well. “When did you get so good at reading my mind? Have those funny horned kelpies Tia’s so proud of been giving you lessons?”

“Well, you did sort-of raise me,” she laughed. “I had to figure you out at some point, or I’d never be able to weasel extra snacks out of you.”

The sounds of flutes being tested and lyres being tuned began to drift up from the numerous camps, interrupting the crickets that had dominated the night previously. The insects cut their songs off with irritated, abrupt clicks, surrendering rule of the airwaves to the cheerful music of the kelpies. Alpha idly started tapping a hoof to the rhythm; the first piece had the upbeat tempo of a dance, a reel perhaps. She didn’t really dance, tending more to watch from the sidelines, but it still would have been nice to see her subjects enjoying themselves.

“Sounds like they’re starting a dance,” Watchful said, unnecessarily. “You sure you don’t want to head down? Even the Guard is involved. You’d probably have a better bet of driving off a Nightmare raid if you were down there. You know – with backup?”

“I think Caisleanard showed just how much use ‘backup’ is against Proxi,” Alpha responded, trying to keep bitterness from her voice. “And Uisceban, and Northcastle, and Doeblin…”

“You sound just a bit bitter there, my Queen.”

“Why do I even bother?”

“You wouldn’t be Alpha Centauri if you didn’t keep bothering.”

“Hmph.” Alpha suppressed a sigh as the reel picked up; what if there was no attack tonight? What if she waited, and watched, and waited and watched until the Beltane bonfires’ embers were cold and dead, and Proxima and Beta never seized on the opportunity? What if she wasted a perfect night to spend with her subjects, based on her admittedly uncertain prediction that the Nightmares would attack?

Watchful lay down on the blanket next to Alpha. “Come on…” she grinned, leaning against the Queen’s side. “You know you want to. Nobody likes seeing you unhappy up here on this hill.”

“Can they really see me?” she asked.

“Your head’s almost as bright as some of the smaller bonfires down there.”

She glanced back along her body and sighed. “Watchful Eye?”

“Yes?”

“Did you really just lean on me, knowing full well that we both have kelpie skin, and that kelpies stick together permanently until such a time they are brought in contact with water?”

Watchful grinned mischievously. “Yes. Looks like you’ll have to head down to the festival now, if you want to get unstuck from me.”

Alpha sighed. “It certainly does look like that, yes.” She stood up, dragging Watchful up with her. The kelpie scrambled to get her hooves back underneath herself in surprise. “Come on, Watchful, let’s go find someone with a bucket of water.”

Ten minutes of crashing through the forest later, Alpha and Watchful burst into the first firelit clearing they came across with twin roars. The fillies and colts scattered with childish screams; the thunderbirds shot into the air like startled crows. Even the wolves started, leaping to their feet and baring their teeth at the intruder. Only the adult kelpies failed to show their surprise, for all of them knew exactly what a kelpie covered in sticks and leaves and stones looked like, since all of them had suffered through the same condition before.

“Subjects!” Alpha roared. “Your Queen requires water!”

The kelpies laughed; the wolves rolled their eyes and chuckled to themselves. Soon enough, a trio of thunderbirds swooped overhead, lugging a rain-dense cloud behind them. With much crashing and rattling, they kicked and bullied the cloud into yielding its water earlier than it had intended, and Alpha and Watchful were soaked. The detritus of their descent through the dense underbrush washed off quickly, and the water flowed after it, failing to adhere to their slick pelts.

“Your mane’s out, my Queen,” Watchful giggled. Alpha beat her wings and crashed forwards into the roaring bonfire; compared to the temperature of her celestial form, the burning heat was almost like laying in a dim pool of Proxima’s sunlight – though the assembled beings gasped in shock all the same. Grinning, she clambered up the cone of blazing logs until she stood at its peak, and struck a haughty pose.

“Let the Beltane festival commence!” she decreed, her eyes flickering with magic and reflected firelight as she amplified her voice to be heard across the forest. The cheer that rose afterwards was loud enough to drown her out, even so.

------

When the dawn came, Alpha still felt half-drunk with happiness. At some point during the night, she’d evidently fallen into a dry riverbed, and hadn’t found any water to dislodge the coating of dust and pebbles on her right flank. She’d managed to stagger back up through the forest to her hill, and now stood once again where she’d lain at the start of the night. Along the east horizon, a faint reddish glow was visible. Puzzling.

“Told you everything would be fine!”

She snorted, amused, as Watchful Eye stumbled happily out of the bushes on the edge of her clearing coated in leaves and sticks and a few unfortunate caterpillars, though she didn’t seem to mind in the slightest. She never had, not even when she was a filly and not quite heavy enough to break off the thin tall branches she climbed up to and then got stuck on like some kind of odd fruit. “See? No Nightmare attack!”

“I still can’t help thinking something’s wrong,” Alpha sighed. She frowned at the subtly brightening glow on the horizon. It almost looked like Proxima Centauri was being raised, but that was ridiculous – Domhan was in orbit around her, where it had been when the civil war began, and where it would stay until the civil war ended…one way or the other.

“The alchemists could probably grind you up and use you to make a potion specifically intended to cause anxiety,” Watchful said. “Honestly, I’m the captain of the guard and I don’t worry as much as you.”

“You aren’t the only kelpie capable of defeating your sisters’ Nightmares,” she pointed out.

“Hm.” Watchful stood next to Alpha, looking out at the anomalous predawn light. “Pretty sunrise so far. Didn’t know you could change the sun’s color.”

“I can’t.” Taking a calming breath and closing her eyes, Alpha detached herself from her body, casting her mind out to find her star. She could sense it, barely, on the distant fringes of her awareness – a warm, welcoming, brilliant spark of white light. On Domhan, her body frowned. Something was seriously wrong. Seriously, seriously wrong; her mind jumped back into her physical form, and her eyes snapped open. “We’ve left my orbit.”

Watchful gave her a wide-eyed look of shock. “We’ve what?”

“Alpha Centauri – my star – is farther away than it was last night. Much farther.” The red glow on the horizon was getting brighter, extending in an arc from the north to the south. In silence, they watched the rising of a far different sun than what had lit the morning not a day earlier. It was a huge disc, brilliant crimson and flecked with dark sunspots. Eventually, Watchful had to avert her gaze to avoid being blinded, but Alpha didn’t need to – and couldn’t.

Somehow, while she had been celebrating during the night, the planet she was on had been stolen from her.

A wild wind whipped across the red-lit forest, sending the dark green leaves into a frenzy. For a moment, Alpha could have sworn she heard faint, manic laughter, but the sound was drowned out by the distant-thunder noise of a thunderbird diving in.

The bird landed in front of them with a crash. Alpha had to hold in a gasp at the sight of him – the kelpie-sized bird looked like he’d been fed through a whipvine patch. His feathers were bent and grimy, and stuck out wildly in clumps; one wing lay uselessly at his side. The red slick of blood darkened his golden plumage in more than a few places, and when he spoke, his voice was painfully weak.

“Buggane attack,” he gasped. “The Nightmares are here.”

Watchful looked to Alpha. “We should – “

“Rally the guard,” Alpha ordered calmly. “Get them outfitted. Arm and armor yourself. I’ll hold them off while you prepare.”

“My Queen – “

Go!” Alpha commanded. More softly; “Go, Watchful. I can handle myself well enough – I’m a star, after all. A few bugganes are no threat to me.”

Reluctantly, Watchful nodded and galloped off into the forest again. Alpha returned her attention to the thunderbird. “Where?”

“Outermost…camp!” he wheezed. “Came as soon as the sun rose!” – he hesitated and used the moment to suck in a painful breath – “My Queen, is that – “

“It is Proxima Centauri, yes,” she confirmed grimly. “The Nightmares were busy last night. Rest – I’ll handle things from here.”

“Yes…my Queen...” With what sounded worryingly close to a death rattle, the thunderbird toppled over and was still. Alpha checked to ensure he was still breathing before taking wing herself.

From the air, she could see that the attack had only just begun; trees were shuddering under blows from the great mole-like beasts favored by Proxima and Beta, panicked screams and shouts were audible, and flashes of conjured lightning illuminated the undersides of the trees, but the fighting was only around the outskirts of her subjects’ camping grounds. Nothing suggested deeper penetration by the burrowing bugganes, or salient raids by the Nightmares’ wolves. If she acted quickly, the raid could probably be driven off with minimal casualties. She picked a particularly embattled-looking clearing, where a pair of what looked like elephant-sized, bipedal, tusked star-nosed moles were holding back the combined strength of one of her wolf packs. Broken warriors lay scattered across the clearing, and still the wolves attacked, despite the enormous size advantage the bugganes enjoyed and were using with deadly efficiency.

Her landing was swift and terrifying. Like a lightning-wreathed comet, she dropped out of the sky, landing atop one of the black-furred monsters and killing it instantly with a mix of electricity and sheer force. She spread her wings quickly, before the other buggane turned to face her, and delivered the strongest blast of lightning she could muster directly into its chest. With a high-pitched squealing roar, it staggered backwards, sweeping its powerful arms frantically to keep the wolves off, but they dodged its claws and soon brought the monster down.

A scarred, grey-furred wolf detached itself from the pack and loped over to Alpha’s position atop the first buggane. “My Queen, many thanks for your aid. We are hunters, not soldiers – I do not believe we could have held it off much longer,” he growled. “The pups are safely away now. How can we help?”

“There’s another clearing to the west. Last I saw, another buggane had a few kelpies and their foals trapped there,” she answered gravely. “Take your pack and see if you can distract it long enough for them to escape, or for the Guard to arrive.”

“Yes, my Queen.” He nodded, but hesitated before carrying out her command. “My Queen, Woodfang and Leaper were my finest buggane-slayers – ex-Guard, both of them. These things hacked them apart in one blow – both of them!”

“We were taken by surprise,” she replied sourly. “I will not allow it to happen again. Hurry!”

He hesitated again, but turned to go. “Of course, my Queen. I fear we may be facing more than simple conscripts, though.”

“Duly noted.” Alpha watched him go, the rest of the pack following as fast as they could. She prepared to take wing again and intervene elsewhere, but another gust of wind raced through the trees, bringing with it the same twisted laughter, but this time it didn’t fade. It intensified.

The trees moaned as the wind strengthened and kicked up a veritable tornado of dead leaves and forest detritus, eventually resolving itself into two smaller gyres – and when they cleared and the gust subsided, left in their place were two dark beings. Like kelpies in form, graced with the wings of thunderbirds and the strength of wolves, with flaming manes matching the colors of their stars, the Nightmares looked very similar to Alpha herself – except they were clad in metal armor of shadow black, and Alpha was unprotected.

“Were we not a credible enough threat to you, Alpha?” the Nightmare of Beta Centauri jeered, stepping forward from the ring of dead plants their spell had left in its wake.

“Such a foolish Queen,” Proxima Centauri laughed, grinning ferally. “Such a fool, to leave the night of Beltane unwatched. And now Domhan belongs once more to me, as it rightly should.”

“I spent the night celebrating our festival with our subjects, Proxima. You were welcome to join us – it is a celebration of the suns, after all,” Alpha said, hopping off the dead buggane. Where her hooves touched the ground, roots and grass snaked up her legs, wrapping around them and detaching themselves from the earth to form living armor for the Queen.

“It is a celebration of one sun,” Proxima hissed. “Your worthless subjects much prefer spending it with you than spending it with us!”

“Of course, I would expect you to be blind to that,” Beta said, beginning to circle around to Alpha’s right. “After all, you were blind to it before. Why change when you already have what you wanted?”

“I was never blind to it, because it was never a problem,” Alpha retorted. “Beta, can’t you remember before this petty war started? Centuries upon centuries of happy Beltanes and Imbolcs together? Samhains spent with Proxima, as well, with all of our subjects? You were never neglected! And you, Proxima, as well – you had Domhan for fully half of the year! What about our arrangement suggested you were left out?”

“Blind!” Proxima snapped. She began to circle in the opposite direction from Beta, a sneer fixed on her face. “Blinded by your own brilliance, O arrogant sister. Now, though, I will cut you out of the picture, and I shall rule as a goddess.”

“It is time for a new order, Alpha. Three stars are a bit much for any one system, really.” Beta grinned. “A duality is a much more stable arrangement, don’t you agree?”

“Were you both in your right minds, I would welcome a break.” Alpha answered with a sigh. “But with you both acting like spoiled foals, I cannot in good conscience leave this world to you. If what you want is me out of the way for a while, so be it – just return to your senses, please!”

Blind,” Proxima spat. Before Alpha could react, the Nightmare flared her lightning-filled wings and delivered a blast of electricity straight into the Queen’s chest, hurling her backwards against the buggane’s corpse and tearing the air apart with a deafening clap of thunder. Her armor was incinerated in an instant, and the burst of pain told her that she’d likely broken a rib, but she was alive. Blinking back tears, she tried to stand again, but it was all she could do to stay upright with the buggane’s support while preparing her own spell.

Proxima chuckled darkly. “Really, Alpha? Is that all it will take?” She turned to an almost concerned-looking Beta. “Come, sister. Let us take care of the rest of her band of allies and bring this war to a victorious close.”

“No,” Alpha growled. Her eyes flared brilliant violet, and in a flash of light the Three Sisters were gone. Watchful Eye and her squad of kelpies broke into the clearing just in time to see their afterimages fade.

------

Another flash of light split the night sky across the planet, above a ring of rune-carved standing stones in a clearing in a snowy pine forest, as the other mouth of Alpha’s portal spat the sisters out. There was no impact; each managed to open her wings and slow her descent before hitting the ground. Where they landed, the heat of their manes and tails evaporated the snow, with the exception of Alpha. She glided to a soft landing in the very heart of the three concentric rings of rock pillars. Though the Nightmares could not recognize it, she, at least, knew what the ring was: a trap. An end to the war. Peace.

Proxima’s fires flared brightly and hotly in fury, boiling off an even larger expanse of snow and causing Beta to cringe backwards. Alpha ignored the blast of heat, sitting sedately in the geometric center of the magical focus. Beneath closed eyelids, magic began to glow in her eyes again.

Cheater!” Proxima screeched, rounding on the Queen. “We had you by the throat, sister! You are defeated! Return us at once, you – you – “

“Proxima, calm yourself.” Beta snorted. “We have her in an even worse situation than before. All our bugganes, rampaging through her camp, and no infallible Alpha Centauri to save them…”

“Of course – perfect! Perfect!” the other Nightmare cackled. “In the hour of defeat, you abandon your subjects. Truly, they placed their faith in the wrong star, Alpha. Now, let us finish this.”

“I agree completely,” Alpha managed to say, smiling wryly. She could feel the spell taking shape in the ground around her – a banishment to render the Nightmares impotent. The idea had come to her when observing kelpie parents discipline their foals; if a child could be calmed by some quiet time in their room, perhaps stars could be soothed in the same way? If anything, Domhan would have some peace.

“Then you will concede victory?” Beta asked.

“Then I will end you, sister.” Proxima laughed, and began to advance threateningly towards the still-stationary Alpha. Beta shot her a shocked look.

“Proxima, no!” the other Nightmare exclaimed. “Our plan was to – “

“Our plan has changed,” she answered simply. “She would always be a threat to me – but now I will end that threat permanently, while I have the chance!”

“Surely, you mean a threat to us?”

“Of course, Beta,” Proxima assured her sweetly. “But Alpha dies.”

“Proxi, please – “

“Proxi?” she whipped her head around, barely-contained fury in her snakelike eyes. “Proxi? I am a goddess, sister! I am Proxima Centauri, the Red Queen! Never use that childish nickname for me ever again! Do you understand?

Stunned, Beta froze as the Nightmare returned her attention to Alpha.

“Why are you still smiling?” Proxima asked coldly, looking down upon the eldest sister. She snorted. “No matter. It was wonderful to know you, however blind you might have been. I will ensure Beltane remains as a memorial for the Queen who abandoned her subjects…if anyone will celebrate it.” She spread her ebony wings, arcs of lightning crackling between iron feathers like bolts in a stormcloud. “Goodbye, Alpha…”

No!” Beta shouted. Like an arrow, she crashed into Proxima’s flank, nearly bowling her over with her momentum. The darkness that had covered her coat was peeling away like ribbons now; her golden wings were spread wide, ready to intercept any attacks. Her eyes, once red and slitted, were now back to what Alpha remembered as her sister’s – round of pupil, blue like the summer sky, and completely clear of the dark taint of the spirit that had possessed her for years. “I forbid it!”

“I will deal with you next, vermin!" Proxima hissed. She spun and delivered a precise buck to Beta’s vulnerable throat, sending her staggering backwards, gasping for breath. The path clear, the Nightmare opened her wings again – and Alpha felt a trillion volts of electricity sear her heart, cut deeper than anything physical ever could, and drive the life from her body.

Beta screamed as Alpha was hurled against one of the standing stones, dropping like a sack of apples as she hit it. She didn’t have much time left, but she had enough; her eyes snapped open, coursing with energy and light even as the edges of her vision began to fade. The spell was cast, and for a moment the stones of the ring glowed in a rainbow of colors. Proxima didn’t even have time to let out a wail of despair as she was banished.

The world faded away quickly, but Alpha never stopped smiling. Beta’s terrified, tear-streaked face filled the last clear portion of her vision. She might have said something – “I’ll be back, sister” – but before Beta could answer, she was too far gone to hear her response.

------

In the center of a frost-rimed ring of standing stones, Beta stood vigil over the body of her sister until the red dawn touched the tops of the fir trees. When she looked up at the imposing crimson circle of the dwarf star, she swore the sunspots almost looked like Proxi.

------

In darkness, a glittering violet speck of a soul floated, alone, stripped of its power, and hungry for more. It hung in the void like a snowflake, small and fragile but unique, a packet of magic containing the sum total of a mare. Silently, it drifted towards a triple-star arrangement and its gathering of other sparks, looking for companionship, but something etched into its primitive memory caused it to reject that world – there was too much pain there, too much baggage, even if it couldn’t recall what that pain was from.

So, the spark drifted back out into the void, ethereal winds ripping at it, trying to extinguish it – a candle, adrift in a stormy sea in the dark of a cloudy night. It needed a body, to shelter it as it tried to grow back to what it once was; it needed a host, to let it live again. If the triple-star system was unsuitable, it’d have to seek elsewhere for something to call its own, but there was nothing close enough for it to…

Oh! Yes, there was! A single star, alone save for its blazing-with-magic child world and its softly singing moon. There were sparks on its world, a multitude of other souls hinting at a richness of potential experiences, and the dense ley lines would provide fertile soil to grow back into a star. As eagerly as its limited capacity would allow, the soul began floating towards the star something in its vague memory called Celestia.

It almost didn’t make it.

Hesitant, uncertain, the spark of a soul slowed as the magic of Celestia’s child world became twisted, chaotic – manipulated and pulled like pasta in the hooves of a curious newborn foal as a very familiar entity tried to wrest control from the star. The spark began drifting once again, forced by hungry void-winds, sure that Celestia would take care of matters before it arrived. If anyone with the ability to observe the thaumato-physical plane that souls inhabit had looked in the general direction of the comet shell on the system’s edge at around the Fall and Defeat of Discord (nobody did), they would have seen the spark.

Unimpressively, and unobtrusively, at what Equestrians would date as Year 200 of the Eternal Sisters’ Reign or Year 20 Before Nightmare Moon, the spark reached Equus, and inspired for itself a new body. It was a pegasus, and it came into the world in blood and pain and loud, infantile crying, but it was a start, at least. It – she, now – had time. It would be maybe a thousand years in such a magic-rich environment before she could return to the heavens, but it’d be an interesting millennium, to be sure. So many things to learn and experience, so many lives to live, after all.

Quietly, the soul of Alpha Centauri lived out a life on Equestria. And then another…and another…and another…and another…a hundred quiet lives passed, and a thousand years to add to its long journey through the interstellar medium, until at last in the capital city of the greatest nation on the planet, in the shadow of the Sun, a unicorn foal with a purple coat was born to a mare named Twilight Velvet and a stallion named Night Light.

Author's Note:

And now for another multi-parter. This time, I have things planned out ahead of time - so if I don't finish this I give you all my permission to be greatly displeased and make big frowny-faces at your computers.

Please rate and comment! If you dislike something, I cannot improve unless you tell me what I did wrong! If you like something, I always appreciate feedback!

07/10/14 - Edited for spacing betwixt paragraphs as later chapters have.