• Published 14th Oct 2013
  • 3,768 Views, 229 Comments

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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Chapter 7: Complications

Slamming doors on cloud houses were not common things. Slamming, after all, generally required two solid objects to hit each other with great force – and clouds, with few exceptions, are not solid things. Nevertheless, when Rainbow Dash glided in to a landing on her house and shoved the custom-crafted front door closed behind her, it slammed in its frame like the real thing, thanks to a fine lattice of rare stormcloud cirrus woven through the fluffy cumulus exterior. Seething with emotions, she dropped head first into the nearest couch in her living room and groaned.

I’m going crazy, she repeated. There is a unicorn past life living in my head and making me hallucinate.

It was night outside. After the debacle with the Princesses, she’d fled fast and far, eating an early dinner alone in Cloudsdale so she could dodge her friends’ embarrassment. She was going crazy, and she’d proven it, right in front of all of them. No way in Tartarus would they believe her story now! Applejack already probably thought it was complete hogwash, and that was before she’d gone and destroyed the place. The simmering feeling of shame Dash felt over the whole thing only worsened when she considered that AJ hadn’t seen Cloud Ferry behind her, and probably believed herself to have been the target of Dash’s outburst – and Rainbow Dash hadn’t even bothered to apologize before running! She almost felt sick.

A shudder ran through her body. She really felt sick.

Still shaking, she pulled her face out of the vaporous cushions of her sofa and staggered towards one of the doorways in the room, off in a corner; beyond it was a short hallway with a window, and another door into her kitchen, where she had some old medicinal herbs Fluttershy had forgotten when she’d come to treat Tank for some kind of turtle disease a week or so prior. Medicine worked for any species, right?

Slightly dazed, she paused in front of the window and found herself staring out across the lights of Ponyville at night. She was reminded passingly of the pillars in the Celestial Court. Maybe her window was just like those things – maybe what the window was showing wasn’t Ponyville at all!

She noted how everything looked wrong in the feeble light cast by Luna’s moon. Nothing like her moon. Too silvery, not nearly enough red; it made everything look pale and washed out, not vibrant like hers did!

A wave of nausea forced her to lurch towards the kitchen again. Once inside, she stumbled towards some cabinets, throwing them open and knocking everything aside that wasn’t what she was looking for. Granted, she wasn’t entirely sure what she was looking for, but it would help – of that she was certain!

She found the herbs Fluttershy had left and immediately ignored them. They wouldn’t be any help at all. Some of the spices she used for Gryphonian food were on a counter, those could be of use – treating the symptoms, at least, which was about all she could hope to do until she knew the pathology of whatever was making her feel bad. Did she have anything for nausea? Not to calm it, but to make it worse? Maybe she’d eaten something bad at the restaurant earlier. She’d need a mortar and pestle, probably, to mix whatever she found, at least, probably best to search for that before the ingredients. Blenders worked like a mortar and pestle, right?

How do I know what to do?

She ransacked another cabinet, tossing odd items of kitchenware out of her way in her mad search. A metal bowl would do for a mortar, but she didn’t have anything to grind things with – at least, she was fairly certain a whisk wouldn’t work. Nor would a blender, that had been a mistake, that would just slice things very small.

Where do you keep it?

She collapsed against a wall as the shaking worsened. You’re another one, she realized with a sinking feeling. You’re another one of those memory-things Beta dredged up!

You’re going to die without my help. Let me help!

She sank to the floor. No! All of you, just leave me alone!

You need help!

We all die if you do!

Help you!

Help us!

Go outside. That one was louder, more distinct, and more insistent. Go outside!

Why? So you can do some kind of creepy moon-magic? she demanded.

Get out under the night sky, the voice insisted. It sounded much more familiar than the other new ones. Go! I can do nothing while you are inside.

A brief compulsion brought her back to her hooves, and she immediately made a beeline for her observation deck – the stairs were down another short hallway across the kitchen from the first (she was suddenly very glad she’d put stairs in) but it felt like she was marching across a desert, harried by half-seen shapes forming and vanishing in the corner of her eye. By the time she reached the bottom step, she could barely keep herself standing. By the time she reached the top step, she was practically dragging herself on her stomach, and a dull, burning pain had spread through every limb and much of her chest; her wings felt like every feather was being plucked out, repeatedly – pins and needles worse than anything she’d felt before. With a gasp, she shoved open the cloud trap door at the top of the stairs and hauled herself out onto the smooth plane of stratus she’d sculpted into a stargazing deck. As soon as the starlight hit her, the pain began to fade – and with it, the glimpses of other ponies chasing her.

She lay on her back, trying to catch her breath as she stared up at the stars. Warmth slowly returned to her limbs as the strange combination of numbness and pain was driven out by whatever had helped her survive. Long minutes of stillness passed as she recovered, before she rolled shakily to her hooves once more – and found herself face to face with someone she’d never expected to see again.

“Ghealach!” she exclaimed, surprised. “What are you – how did you get here?” Suspicion seized her. “Or am I just hallucinating again?”

“You are not hallucinating,” Ghealach assured her. “I bonded you to me. Certain secondary effects are implicit in that relationship – such as the ability for instantaneous communication over effectively infinite distances. That is the only reason you remain alive right now.”

“I was going to die?” she repeated incredulously. “From what?”

“Phoenix beak dust is a powerful magical reagent, Rainbow Dash,” she explained. “It is favored – and used solely – for its ability to store an effectively infinite amount of magical energy, and release it quickly under the correct stimulus. It is this property that makes it useful in astral projections and other high-demand spells…and it is this property that makes it a deadly poison. It will spontaneously absorb energy from high concentrations of magic – such as yourself.”

“Is that what was just happening?”

“The final stages of it, yes,” she confirmed gravely. “It will leave you a desiccated husk, if not dead then as good as such. I have bolstered your aura with a flow of my own power – it should be enough to stave off your inevitable death, but the powder will kill you, given enough time.”

“Isn’t there any way to get rid of it?” she demanded, trying to calm herself down. I’m going to die, she thought. Discord’s stupid prank is going to kill me!

“You could undergo a full lung and digestive track transplant,” Ghealach answered drily. “The powder has the unfortunate tendency to bond permanently to strong magic sources, much like iron filings to a strong magnet. It will not let go of you until you possess little more than the environmental level magic – and for a living being, that means death. Permanent death” – her voice became grave – “for even the soul has magic in excess.”

“Great,” she muttered, swallowing. “Just bucking – oh what do you want?

“This is your fault,” Cloud Ferry hissed. A look of surprise crossed her features, and she vanished like she’d never been there. Dash caught sight of a glow fading in Ghealach’s eyes.

“I have figured out why I could not detect her arrival on my moon,” she said, her eyes focused still on where Ferry had been. “She is not real.”

“Gee, really?”

“She is a phantom,” Ghealach continued. “A personality rebuilding itself from shreds restored by a memory scan. While this may not be significant to you yet, Rainbow Dash, it is reassuring to me; when we overthrow the meddlers, I will resume the watch over Domhan – but I cannot do that in good conscience if my abilities have been degraded by millennia of disuse.” She turned her attention to the pegasus. “You did not mention your instability to me when you agreed to this.”

“I didn’t know you’d be doing some kind of freaky mind-sharing thing with me!” Dash protested. “I just thought you were going to help me get my friend back!”

“You were mistaken. I do not give aid for free,” she said. “You will help me end Beta Centauri’s reign, and I will help you recover your stolen friend. As these goals seem to overlap, I will exact no further price.”

“But being able to mess around in my head, too – “

“Is a secondary effect implicit in bonding you to me,” she repeated irritably. “There is nothing to be done about it now. Get used to it.”

Dash groaned with annoyance and flopped over onto her back again, intending to calm herself down with a bit of stargazing. She tried to pick out familiar constellations – the lopsided ‘W’ of the Queen, the expanse of the Bull, the two lines of stars that made up the Fish; there weren’t many that she knew, since she was still new at the hobby, unlike Twilight who probably knew the name of every star and celebrated each one’s birthday and wedding anniversary. For some reason, Ghealach found that thought to be funny.

“Where is Twilight, anyways?” she mumbled. “Where are you, even?”

“I am around Domhan,” she answered patiently. “And Domhan is in the Centaurus system, under the protection of Beta Centauri.”

“And where’s that?”

“You cannot see it from here. You are too far north – although, south of this world’s equator, it would always be visible at night.” She turned to look behind them. “We are not alone.”

Dash rolled over again and turned to see what Ghealach was talking about – and let out another annoyed groan. “What, am I going to start hallucinating you, too?”

Luna didn’t laugh. “Our interrogation of thee was left uncompleted earlier, Rainbow Dash.”

“Yeah, because I flew away!” she retorted. “Don’t you have a country to rule or something?”

“Who is this?” Ghealach asked curiously. “I am sure I’ve never met her before, but she seems…uncannily familiar.”

“This is Princess Luna,” she answered. “She’s in charge of the moon and night and stuff.”

“Now that we are both aware of this fact, may we proceed to more pressing matters?” Luna asked wryly. “We have only a short break in our schedule tonight, after all.”

“Look, we both know I wasn’t talking to you!” Dash snapped. “Don’t try to pretend I’m not crazy. It only makes me feel less sane.”

“Very well,” she conceded. “Though, perhaps, we could do more than try to make thee feel sane…Madness, after all, is under our purview, both directly – through inheritance from Discord – and indirectly – as the mad live in a state closer to a waking dream than reality. We are the patron of lunatics – which, now that we think about it, may be where that unfortunate word derives its origin from…”

“How depressing,” Ghealach deadpanned.

“Don’t you – “ Cloud Ferry tried to rematerialize, but another quick spell from Ghealach kept her in check.

“I am forced to agree with the phantom, however,” she admitted. “Any interference by her may be enough to sever my flow of strength to you – which, I repeat, is the sole thing keeping you alive.”

“Right,” Dash agreed. She turned back to Luna. “No thanks. Somepony messing with my head is what caused this. I don’t think I’m ready to have somepony else digging around in my head again just yet.”

“You draw from the phantom’s diplomacy with surprising ease, when pressed,” Ghealach observed.

“Hey, I can be diplomatic when I want to!” Dash said. “You don’t get into the Wonderbolts Academy without a lot of brown-nosing.”

Luna frowned, but nodded reluctantly. “Very well. As thou art the Bearer of Loyalty, we will respect thy wish. The matter of who did this to thee, however, remains unresolved.”

“Just because I had one insane outburst, doesn’t mean what I told you was – “

“According to thy story, it was Beta Centauri who kidnapped our sister’s student,” Luna spoke over her. “And she did this because she believed Twilight to be her own sister. As this being burst into our throne room while we were holding court, and – we believe the colloquial term is – ‘fried’ half a dozen of our guards earlier that same night, thou canst perhaps imagine we would be interested in hearing this account in full. Thine own subsequent vanishing and reappearance, comatose, in Discord’s castle, face-down in a ritual circle of an unknown substance, we would also very much enjoy hearing explained, so far as it is pertinent to the previous issue.” Her horn flickered as she sculpted a seat out of Dash’s house. “So. Speak.”

She spoke. She recounted – again – what had happened at the party, skimming over that portion slightly since she knew Luna had already heard of it and once again skipping her argument with Twilight as unimportant. She then told how she’d gone to Discord for help, due to his proximity, and got him to teach her how to perform an astral projection – which garnered a cocked eyebrow from the alicorn. Dash pressed on anyways, going over how she’d gone to visit Caelum, but omitting her visit to Ghealach’s moon at Ghealach’s suggestion.

“I do not know why she is so familiar,” she explained. “And I have not waged a millennia-long war with another immortal and held my own despite her power by being incautious. Until I know why, I would prefer such information to go unshared.”

When the story ended, Luna nodded thoughtfully. “And Caelum lied to thee about Twilight’s whereabouts?”

“Yep.”

“Didst thou learn the truth from her?”

“Uh…no.”

“Wouldst thou care to explain why not?” Luna asked slowly. Dash smiled sheepishly.

“I…may have attacked her and made her rip me to shreds.”

Luna facehooved. “Thou…attacked her?”

“Yeah.”

“The Queen of the Heavens?

“She was trying to stop me from finding Twilight!”

“Rainbow Dash, Loyalty is a valuable trait, and one we used to embody as well,” Luna started, her voice growing more severe with each word, “but even at the closest point in our relationship with the Element of Loyalty, we would have stopped short of attempting to beat an answer out of a being infinitely more powerful than us!”

“Did you ever have to try to do that to save a friend?” Dash demanded. Luna was silent. “Yeah, I didn’t think so. She was lying, I knew it, and I had to rescue Twilight. I still have to rescue Twilight! As soon as I can, I’m going to try another projection and go to Beta personally to get her back.”

“Thou wilt do nothing of the sort,” Luna growled. “Idiot! Dost thou not realize how close thou camest to bringing the wrath of the most powerful being in the universe down upon the rest of thy friends and family?”

“She was – “

“That makes no difference,” she cut her off. “Thy part in the solving of this problem is at an end. We will take care of this matter in a more…in a less potentially cataclysmic manner. If thy display with Caelum is any indicator, thou going to Domhan personally may be enough of an international incident to spark the first interstellar war Equus would ever experience!”

Rainbow Dash remained cowed into silence by the Princess’s fury as she continued. “And dost thou realize what thou hast done with thine astral projection, Bearer? If thou art telling the truth – and we have no reason to believe thou’rt not, unfortunately – thou didst use an illicit, poisonous substance to perform the ritual. This alone, without the international incident thou hast caused, would be enough to earn thee jail time if it were solely up to us – “

“I was trying to save – “ she protested, but Luna ignored her.

“ – but past that, it is a veritable miracle thou art still standing,” she pressed on. “Powdered phoenix beak is – “

“ – a potent magical poison, stores a lot of energy, could leave me drained of all magic and kills my soul,” Dash interrupted, finally managing to get a word in. “I know!”

“Thou art aware, of course, that thou art one-sixth of Equestria’s best defense against outside threats?” Luna asked. “That, if thou wert to die, we would be far more vulnerable to foes such as Sombra and Discord? And that thou hast essentially guaranteed thine own imminent death?”

“I – “

“Thou wilt be under guard,” she concluded. “Thou wilt be placed under house arrest until we are able to untangle this mess.”

“What?”

“Thou hast brought this upon thyself, with thine own actions.” Silently, a pair of bat-winged guards materialized from the night shadows and stood next to Luna. “Ensure the Bearer of Loyalty remains confined to her home. We will have a chirurgeon dispatched to see if anything can be done about the contamination.”

“This is ridiculous!” Rainbow Dash protested. “I’m the best chance Twilight’s got for getting home!”

“Art thou really?” the Princess asked sardonically.

“I can’t possibly do any worse than you or Princess Celestia!”

“Your temper will get you into trouble,” Ghealach warned. “She is unaware of my presence. You are not helpless. House arrest or not, I will not allow my agent to remain trapped and useless to me.”

Dash gritted her teeth in frustration, but she knew Ghealach was right. Arguing now would likely only worsen matters. “Fine.

“Thou mayest have a point, though,” Luna grudgingly admitted. “Perhaps a messenger more neutral in Beta Centauri's eyes would be best. We shall dispatch Discord to negotiate – he hath proven himself to be reliable in matters of diplomacy.”

“Oh, so Discord’s completely fine, but me – “

“Discord is not the one who nearly destroyed Equestria most recently,” she pointed out. She blinked. “As odd as that may be to say.”

“This – “

“As much as we would enjoy debating the particulars of thine actions, Rainbow Dash, we have other matters to attend to this night.” She turned to the guards. “You will be relieved come morning. She is not to leave her house – are we understood?”

“Yes, Princess!” they confirmed.

Before Dash could say anything else, Luna turned back to her. “Thou seemest familiar,” she murmured, almost to herself. “But we cannot place why. Not familiar in that we have known each other before, but…” She frowned. “A doctor will be dispatched by our orders immediately. The matter of Twilight will be dealt with, worry not. Good night to thee.”

Rainbow Dash could only watch as the Princess beat her wings and rose into the midnight sky, and soon she was only visible by the occlusion of the stars as she moved. She was tempted to test the guards – to fly fast and far and see if they could stop her from leaving whenever she wanted, really – but one look at the pair, agile yet strong stallions both, with relaxed confidence and unconscious poise that hinted at lightning reflexes and years of training, was enough to cure her of that impulse.

Grumbling, she pulled open the trap door again and stormed down the stairs, slamming the thing behind her. Despite her foul mood, she grinned as she heard the pained yelp of one of the bat-winged ponies as his hoof was caught by the slamming storm-woven panel. Then, her grin faded as some fragment of her subconscious left in the wake of Beta’s “scan” – more like a spike driven through her own consciousness to crack it like an eggshell and let the white and yolk ooze out, really – corrected her. It’s a longma, the fragment insisted. Not a ‘bat-winged pony’!

Just leave me alone! she pleaded mentally. Why won’t any of you bucking phantoms just leave me alone?

------

The castle hallways had been uncomfortable after the scene in the throne room – not due to any change in dimensions or occupancy, but because word seemed to spread at lightning speed through the servants, and kelpies dropped into hurried bows and curtsies whenever Twilight passed them. Even guards, where there were any guards, nodded their heads in deference as she and Beta made their way through the dry portion of the castle towards the “observatory”. Windows had been more common, giving picturesque views of the castle coral gardens, but Twilight still hadn’t been prepared for the view that greeted her when she and her fellow queen entered the bubble-topped tower projecting out of the sea floor, and she saw the stars.

They weren’t really stars, she supposed, looking out through the unmarred glass and blue-green water at the glittering lights of a distant underwater city, but they came closer to matching her…their…the stars’ beauty on a moonless night. It was a metropolis, that was certain, on the scale of Canterlot. Maybe even larger. Lights spread like creeping vines in thin ribbons up rises in the seabed, hung from globes floating above the city, and covered the ground like kudzu. From their twinkling, she could make out the shapes of pyramids, towers, and squat houses; walls were outlined with shimmering golden luminance, encompassing the city and revealing the height they were at – she could see over the walls from this vantage point!

“Here we are!” Beta declared cheerfully as they entered, stepping quickly aside to let Twilight in through the door. “Maybe not what you were expecting, but I like it a lot more than watching everyone else dancing around up in the sky. Most of them don’t even have planets of their own – irresponsible gasballs.” She glanced upwards unconsciously. “Don’t tell them I said that, please.”

“You wouldn’t have said that back when I left,” Twilight murmured, trotting slowly closer to the bubble, fascinated by the sight of the city. She’d never seen a major population center from above before; she’d been too unadventurous as a filly to climb to the peak of the Canterhorn, and too heavy as a mare for most pegasi to carry into the sky for an aerial tour. Then, of course, she’d left, and Ponyville from above at night was…unimpressive, to put it gently. “You were jealous of them then, I think.”

“I’ve changed a lot,” Beta admitted. “For the better, though! All for the better.”

“What city is that?” she asked. Mentally, she tried to devise some sort of method to estimate the population by the number of lights she could count, but gave up once she realized the number of lights per building varied at random between structures. “It’s huge!”

“ ‘An Cathair’, everyone calls it,” she replied. She giggled. “Yep. ‘The City’. Original, huh? I didn’t name it, that was the founding family, back before we were Queens and Proxi…yep! They were original then, and they’re just as original now too! ‘New’ this, named-after-a-major-nearby-body-of-water that…”

“What happened to Proxi?” Alpha asked curiously. She glanced away from the city, and realized Beta seemed to be trying to hold back tears. Concerned, she stepped away from the window and enfolded her sister in a quick wing-hug. The feeling of feathers rasping against feathers was almost unfamiliar.

“Can we maybe not talk about it?” Beta pleaded. “This – this was supposed to be a happy day! I found you again, I brought you home again, I introduced you to the court and they seemed to like you…can't we talk about this some other time?”

“After you tell me what happened to her, sister.”

“She’s still up there,” Beta answered after a few seconds. “She’s still stuck up there and can never come back down.” Before Alpha could respond, she pressed on. “I saw the spell you used to defeat her, Alpha. You forgot a few runes.”

Twilight blinked and folded her wing back in. “I forgot a few – no! I can’t, I had that – she had that planned – “ With a frustrated groan, she pulled away, the residual moisture in her coat being enough to eliminate its super-glue-like properties, and started pacing. “She had that planned, down to the last second, the last rune! I can remember” – a vision of a ring of standing stones, new and freshly carved, flashed through her mind – “I can remember what it was supposed to look – no, I didn’t have enough time – “ Another groan, and she dropped onto her rump. “This – she was supposed to get loose almost – but I guess that’s probably for the best. I’m…I’m sorry, Beta. I – she didn’t know.”

“Are you okay?” she asked worriedly.

“I’m completely fine!” Twilight answered quickly – too quickly to be wholly believable. “I just – it’s weird, Beta. There’s me, and then there’s Alpha in here too, and sometimes the dominant personality switches between the two of us.” Irritated, she dropped her head against the side of the glass bubble, and tried to ignore how strange not having a horn to impede her progress was. “I’d say I was crazy, but I’ve been crazy before and it was nothing like this. The Equestrian Royal Psychological Society makes a living off of making distinctions between forms of insanity, though, maybe I should have actually read some of their ‘science’ publications. A working knowledge of psychology like I have in almost everything else might have been useful now.”

“You just need some time to adjust, that’s all!” Beta responded with a smile. “We’re going to go on a tour of the major cities on the surface soon, so everyone knows you’re back and the nobility can get to know you. I can postpone it…say, three days? So you can rest and try to figure that out. I’d offer more help, but – “

“But you can’t,” she finished sourly. “Thanks for nothing.”

“Maybe the tour will help take your mind off of it,” she suggested, trying to cheer Twilight up. “I kept a few of your old favorite spots preserved over the years – like that hill you always sat on to watch the sunrise! It’s in the middle of the biggest nature preserve on Domhan. Or the Coral Gardens – I’m not entirely sure what you were trying to do with those polyps in the pit, but I kept crossbreeding them like you were doing – “

“Did you record any of the results?”

“ – no,” she concluded sheepishly. “Should I have?”

Twilight sighed. “It would have made things easier for me, but I guess I can retrace the generations and derive some characteristics of past polyps from their current states…it’ll give me something to do, at least.” Something to distract me from the fact that I’m partially insane and further from home than any pony before me ever had the ability to be…

“Well, you have anything you request,” Beta said. “You’re a Queen again. They’ll do anything you ask them to – the servants, I mean. The nobility might need some more convincing, but that’s what the tour’s for! I’m sure they’ll like you.”

“I hope so.” She shuddered at the thought of playing politics with Domhani nobility – if they were anywhere near as insipient as Equestria’s nobility, she was sure the trip would be intolerable. Trying to ignore her feeling of dread, she returned her attention to the twinkling lights of the glowing city and pretended for a moment that she was back in Orion, waiting during a lull in the music of the spheres for her chance to rejoin the dance. The thought of reminiscing about Ponyville only occurred to her a moment later, and strangely, it seemed almost…unappealing.

Author's Note:

One-day delay was due to rewriting a good portion of this chapter to be better - just "better" in general, more fully developed, more realistic, etcetera (it was Dash's conversation with Luna). Unfortunately, this will likely mean some delays from the daily schedule I've been keeping for future chapters, as I had a two-chapter buffer that I must now rewrite to reflect the the new story canon.

Thanks for reading so far, and once again thanks for the chapterly feedback!